Extracts from a guide to Pembrokeshire waterways

Tucked away in Wales’ south-western corner is an undiscovered coastline of awe inspiring natural beauty and variety. Pembrokeshire’s coastline is amongst the most beautiful in Europe, a mix of rugged cliffs and headlands, sheltered bays and coves, long sweeping beaches and a variety of fascinating offshore islands beckoning from across the water. In complete contrast are the tranquil waters of the Cleddau Estuary, a maze of wooded backwaters and creeks holding a succession of delightful villages. This is all part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park whose jewels are, undoubtedly, its offshore islands, the largest of which are Skomer, Skokholm, Ramsey, Grassholm and Caldey. These are internationally important for their seabird and seal populations.

Inshore waters found on the Cleddau Estuary allow you to brush up on your skills and find your sea legs before heading out to offshore waters that are amongst the most challenging in the UK. The network of creeks is full of pleasant surprises from waterfront pubs to an abundance of wildfowl and wading birds. Admiral Nelson described the Milford Haven Waterway as one of the finest harbours in the world. It was developed as a whaling port in the late 18th century but did not prosper until the docks were built in the 1880s when the town became known for deep-sea fishing and gained a reputation for engineering.

On the water …..

Pembrokeshire’s varied coastline caters for all types of watersport. The sheltered waters of the Cleddau Estuary are ideal for canoeing dingy sailing, yacht cruising, water-skiing and power boating. Once out of the entrance of the Haven, motor cruisers and yachts are free to explore the islands, secluded coves and coastal villages. Those without their own means of water transport can have an adventure on the Dale Sea Safari boats or cruise at a more leisurely pace aboard a yacht charter.

Dale, located near the mouth of the Haven, is recognised as one of the premier windsurfing sites in the UK for learners and speed sailors alike. Just around the corner, the beaches at Broad Haven and Newgale are a mecca for wave sailors.

A great way to explore the coastline is by sea kayak with voyages ranging from multi-day trips out to the islands to easy paddles exploring sheltered coves and sea caves. Expert stunt caneoists are drawn by great white-water action at the Bitches rapids in Ramsey Sound. Open Canadian canoes are ideal for discovereing the tranquil backwater reaches of the Cleddau Estuary.

Crystal clear, clean waters with spectacular underwater scenery are an ideal combination for scuba diving. The area has one of the few Marine Nature Reserves in the UK, Skomer, which offers underwater naturalists an unrivalled wildlife experience. Current swept reefs offer rewards for more adventurous divers with plenty of drift diving available.

Surfers are well-catered for with beaches such as Manorbier, Freshwater West, Newgale and Whitesands catching consistent waves.

The Islands….

Skokholm – Skokholm is the first island encountered when cruising north of Milford Haven and easily recognisable with its Old Red Sandstone cliffs. Managed by the Wildlife Trust West Wales, it is a National Nature Reserve of European significance. Similar seabirds as found on Skomer inhabit the island and it’s surrounding waters. The lighthouse was built in 1916 and is fitted with a special red filter that offers some protection from predatory gulls for the thousands of shearwaters and storm petrels that return after nightfall. Dale Sailing Company runs a boat service during the summer season on Mondays, which is accompanied by a guided walk.

Skomer– lying just off the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast this National and Marine Nature Reserve is one of the most important in Europe. Dramatic coastal scenery and carpets of wild flowers in spring and summer form an impressive backdrop for the half a million seabirds that breed here annually. It offers probably the finest opportunity in Southern Britain to admire hundreds of thousands of birds including razorbill, fulmar, guillemot, kittiwake, chough, short-eared and little owls, peregrines and the comical puffin. At nightfall, thousands of manx shearwaters, some 160,000 pairs, over half the world’s population return to their burrows on the island and on adjoining Skokholm to breed in spring and summer. Dolphins, porpoises and seals are often seen whilst in transit to the island. Dale Sailing Company operates a daily ferry service except on Mondays together with round island trips and evening cruises.
Grassholm – Grassholm is one of the more distant outposts some 11 miles out to sea. It has the largest gannetry in southern Britain with 33,000 pairs on the island in the spring and summer months. Although landing is not permitted, boats can quietly and safely approach the northern cliffs for a breathtaking view of the colony. The surrounding waters are good places to spot Atlantic grey seals, porpoises, dolphins, sunfish and basking sharks. Even killer whales have been seen in recent years. Dale Sailing Company operates round trips on Mondays and Fridays.

Ramsey – Ramsey Island, managed by the RSPB as a nature reserve, is renowned for its seabird colonies, spectacular sea caves and the ferocious tidal race through the Bitches. A major attraction in late summer is the chance to sea its Atlantic grey seal population when the first of the white-furred seal pups is born.


The stunning coastline of Pembrokeshire has over 50 of the best beaches & bays in Europe, all washed by sparkling clean seas. The beaches at Whitesands, Freshwater West and Newgale are renowned surfing beaches while others in more sheltered locations such as Broad Haven and Dale are perfect for windsurfing. Yachts have the advantage of being able to visit the more remote sandy coves such as Watwick and Mill bays. There are excellent, lively beaches & harbours at Saundersfoot and Tenby or totally unspoilt, remote, rural beaches such as those at, Marloes (Marloes sands and Musselwick), Broad Haven South, Freshwater East & Barafundle.
Dale – Dale was once a prosperous port exporting ale to Liverpool amongst other cargoes, it has now developed into a favourite port of call for craft of all sorts. Dale has a shingle beach with some sand at low tide. The seafront at Dale is quite attractive – this was a smugglers village in Tudor times. A pontoon provides easy access to the Griffin Inn, Dale Yacht Club, Planet Dale, West Wales Wind & Surf Centre, village shop, art gallery and post office. Dinghies, catamarans, windsurfers and surfboards are for hire and water-skiing, wake-boarding and ringo rides are also available. An all year round outer pontoon is located opposite Dale Fort.

Martins Haven – Martins Haven is a stony beach, with an embarkation point for boat trips to Skomer Island. The beach is popular with divers, both for diving within the bay, and for launching.

St. Brides Haven – St. Brides Haven is an attractive little cove consisting of sand (at low tide), shingle, and pebbles, with interesting rock pools. It is excellent for bathing, and as it faces northwest, is well sheltered from the prevailing southwesterly winds, and has good views across St. Brides Bay. The cove is named after a sixth century saint, Brigit of Kildare, and the small church above the beach is dedicated to her. An early Christian cemetery lies between the church and the beach, and stone-lined graves can be seen in the cliffs near the ruined limekiln at the head of the cove.
Watwick Bay – Watwick Bay is a popular beach to visit by yachts on a day trip from marinas in the Haven as it is located at the mouth of the Haven.

Broad Haven – Broad Haven is located next door to Little Haven, the village has a late opening mini-market, a watersports shop and the Galleon pub where the Thai fish soup is a favourite with the locals who like their food hot! The intimate restaurant upstairs specialises in seafood with recipes coming from all over the world.

The seafront borders a large, west facing, open expanse of beach, hemmed in at each end by cliffs which attract geologists from all over Britain because of their unique features. These include a number of stacks, the most impressive of which is Den’s Door at the north end of the beach, with two arches through its base. Also of interest is the intense folding and shattering of the cliffs, and the huge whaleback’ rock known as the Sleek Stone, again at the north end of the beach.
Little Haven – Little Haven is a picturesque village facing a small sandy cove with pebbles above the high tide line. The beach faces north west and offers some shelter from the prevailing south westerly winds. It is well-served by three pubs and a number of restaurants specialising in sea food. Local arts are popular with an exhibition running in the local hall from the 27th July and to the 8th August. In the past, locally mined coal was shipped from Little Haven in small sailing vessels.

Sandy Haven – Sandy Haven, on the eastern side of Sandy Haven Pill, below Herbrandston, has a sandy beach, with some rocks. On the western side, below Sandy Haven, the beach is composed entirely of rocks and pebbles. There is a walkway across the river at low tide, but be careful that you do not find yourself on the wrong side with the tide rising – if you get cut off it is a four mile walk back round to the opposite bank. It is possible to swim here, but there can be dangerous, unpredictable, and fast currents at some stages of the tide, especially at the mouth of the estuary, so beware. Sandy Haven Pill is a delightful creek popular with sailing boats and canoeists.
Lindsway – Lindsway Bay is a small triangle of sand flanked by rocky outcrops below almost sheer cliffs within the Milford Haven estuary. There are good views out to St. Ann’s Head from both the beach and the cliff top. bathing here is relatively safe, although there can be fast currents if you go too far out to sea. Great Castle Head, just to the south east of Lindsway Bay, is the site of the Iron Age fort – today a navigation beacon for shipping using the waterway sits on top of the headland.


Druidstone Haven – Druidstone Haven has a long sandy beach, west facing, with a pebble bank behind the high tide line. Usually quite secluded, Druidstone Haven, lies in an impressive setting, with steep cliffs on either side, and to landward. The base of the cliffs at either of the beach is exposed at low tide and be explored, but take care not to get cut off by the incoming tide, especially at the south end, where it can rise rapidly. Beware of currents, if bathing here. The nearby Druidston hamlet derives its name from the 12th century Norman knight, Dure.
Nolton Haven – Nolton Haven is a small, relatively sheltered west facing beach, made up of sand and shingle with rock pools and cliffs on either side. As with Little Haven to the south, coal was shipped from Nolton Haven in the past, and on a flat grassy terrace above the beach was the old coal storage yard. Much of the coal came from Trefane Colliery, the remains of which still stand spectacularly above the cliffs about a kilometer to the north. A pub serving food and refreshments can be found at the top of the beach.
Barafundle -Often hailed as the most beautiful beach in Pembrokeshire, Barafundle definitely has an exotic touch to it, with blue seas, fine golden sands and trees and sand dunes behind the beach. East facing, well sheltered from prevailing winds, Barafundle is owned and managed by the National Trust, and was originally part of the Stackpole estate, owned by the Cawdor family (they built the wall above the beach about 200 years ago as part of the estate’s Deer Park).

Tenby – Tenby Harbour, with its centrally located and welcoming yacht club, is overlooked by one of the finest historic towns in Wales. It is Pembrokeshire’s main holiday resort, and its beaches reflect this – plenty of facilities and winners of various environmental awards. North Beach consists of a sweep of golden sand, with occasional rocks, including the prominent Goskar Rock, dotting the beach. It is back by the harbour and castle at the southern end. There is a promenade above the beach all the way from the harbour to the cliffs at the north end. Bathing here is safe, although beware of the odd rock here and there.

The southern (harbour) end of the beach is quite well sheltered from Pembrokeshire’s predominantly south westerly winds. The impressive old walled town of Tenby looks down on the beach from above. The National Park Authority has been involved in a long-term enhancement scheme in the town in recent years, and there is plenty of historical and architectural interest to be seen in a stroll around Tenby.
Whitesands – One of the most popular beaches in Pembrokeshire, Whitesands is a large sandy beach surrounded by magnificent coastline, and with views of Ramsey Island and several smaller islets out to sea. The beach has a Blue Flag and is popular with surfers, canoeists, sail boarders and divers. Facilities include toilets, a shop and slipway for launching small boats. This part of the coastline is rich in wildlife, and apart from the variety of sea birds which may be seen passing to and fro, you may occasionally spot seals, dolphins and porpoises out to sea. Whitesands is a good base for short walks along the coast path and to the summit of Carn Llidi, from where there are superb views of the St. Davids Peninsula and much of Pembrokeshire. If you get tired of the beach, there is also plenty to occupy visitors in the nearby ancient cathedral city of St. Davids.

Saundersfoot – Saundersfoot has a large, south-east-facing expanse of golden sand and is one of the most popular stretches of coastline in Pembrokeshire. Bathing here is generally safe and the beach is very popular with families. There are also opportunities to enjoy sailing, surfing, powerboating, canoeing and diving. Although now a major holiday resort, Saundersfoot developed initially as a harbour for the export of locally mined coal in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The coal industry no longer exists, but the harbour, at the south end of the beach, is still busy, especially in summer when numerous pleasure craft dock there. There are shops, cafes, pubs, toilets, phones, etc.

The Estuary …..

Milford Docks – Milford Haven, on the Cleddau Estuary, is one of the deepest natural harbours in the world. It was developed as a whaling port in the late 18th century but did not prosper until the docks were built in the 1880s when the town became known for deep-sea fishing and gained a reputation for engineering. The present-day marina offers boat repair facilities, an easy access slipway, and a plethora of all weather attractions including a museum, golf course and the Kaleidoscope interactive discovery centre for children. There are plenty of restaurants, pubs, tearooms and the Torch Theatre nearby.
Neyland – Neyland is the home of Dale Sailing Company Ltd. who provides numerous facilities that include a well-stocked chandlery, boatyard and repair service. Neyland Yacht Haven is situated further up the tributary and offers a fully equipped marina, chandlery, yachting equipment and clothing, bar and restaurant. Known as Brunel Chandlery, this unique dual business has been producing a friendly and efficient service for over 10 years. Whilst seated in the licensed restaurant, everyone has a panoramic view of both the Cleddau Estuary and the mooring pontoons. The background outlook on to water, boats and trees is stunning and makes for total enjoyment of a full meal, snack or just a cup of tea, every day of the week throughout the year. An after dinner walk or cycle along the old railway line to the north of Neyland will bring you to a conservation area full of wildlife.
Burton – At Burton, a warm welcome awaits you at The Jolly Sailor whose restaurant and lounge have fine views over the Haven waterway. The floating pontoon leads directly into the Jolly Sailor’s beer garden. The Beggar’s Reach, near Burton, is also easily accessible by boats from the nearby jetty. Meals are served in both the restaurant and bar.
Landshipping – Landshipping is a small village and quay located on the beautiful upper reaches of the Cleddau. The Stanley Arms has its own mooring for visitors to the pub.

Lawrenny Quay – Lawrenny Quay is a popular stop for all types of craft who can come ashore via a slipway or floating pontoon. The waterside pub and hotel nearby serve refreshments and bar meals. A marine shop and boatyard are also close.

Pembroke Dock – In 1814 the Royal Navy moved from Milford Haven, in protest at Lady Hamilton’s extortionate demands for rent, and crossed the Cleddau to Pembroke Dock. This became renowned for building formidable warships and still retains its maritime links with daily sailings to Rosslare in Ireland.

Other Harbours and Quays …..

Porthgain – Steeped in fishing and industrial history, Porthgain is a delightful sheltered harbour situated mid-way between St. Davids and Fishguard. Good food is available at the Sloop Inn and the Harbour Lights restaurant, both conveniently located by the harbour. An art gallery can be found adjacent to the restaurant.

Solva – Solva is an ancient port that was once full of sloops and schooners, brigs and brigantines, many of which carried coal from the Pembrokeshire Coalfield that flourished from Tudor times to the beginning of this century. The harbour and town are now a thriving centre for visitors who enjoy the wide variety of pubs, restaurants, shops and art galleries.

Stackpole Quay – Stackpole Quay is a sheltered cove with a small harbour used by local fishermen. It was built by the Cawdors to ship locally quarried limestone and import coal to heat Stackpole Court.