YOU don’t expect to come away from a fish and chip shop with a perfect pearl of wisdom. Cod in crisp batter, yes; golden chips, certainly – but homespun philosophy ranks well below the mushy peas and curry sauce.

But it was in a chippy tucked into a narrow lane in the old fashioned Pembrokeshire seaside resort of Tenby that I got the answer to a question I’d been mulling over since arriving in this farthest flung corner of Wales: where are all the tourists?

The scenery was as spectacular as anything Cornwall or Devon can offer, but whether wandering along huge sandy beaches, pottering around the candy-coloured streets of Tenby, or tackling the rocky headlands and surf sprayed coves of the coast path, we practically had the place to ourselves.

“It’s a different world out here,” said the cheerful chap wrapping up our double haddock and large chips.

“Most people don’t even know what’s here so they stick with what they know. But it’s safe, friendly and beautiful. Why would you want to be anywhere else?”

Oxford Mail: Chart House, TenbyChart House, Tenby

He was right, of course. We happily drive five hours to Cornwall and pay over the odds to join the summer crowds and traffic jams, but rarely give South Wales a second thought.

Admittedly we were visiting well out of season, on a blustery week in November, but the sense of solitude was palpable – and in uncertain times like this, the absence of crowds is a relief.

Tenby is a charming place – the perfect blend of fishing port and holiday town which has been sparred the tawdry trappings of most seaside resorts. Instead of neon-lit amusement arcades and fairground rides there are independent fishmongers and butchers, craft studios, surf shops and a covered market bursting with fresh local produce. Friendly pubs stock great local craft beer and fishermen offer mackerel fishing trips from the harbour. It’s polite, cheerful and quirky.

We climbed past subtropical palms to a ruined castle and chatted to the volunteers in the curious lifeboat station. Built on piles at cliff height, the lifeboat is launched down a steeply sloping slipway. The stilted former lifeboat station which totters precariously over the sea next door, was converted into a family home, starring in an episode of Channel 4’s Grand Designs.

Oxford Mail: Pembrokeshire. By Tim Hughes

Tenby old lifeboat house. Pembrokeshire. Picture: Tim Hughes

Our home for the week was more landlocked but also a design lover’s dream.

Chart House is a Grade II-listed five-bedroom Victorian town house on a narrow lane linking the town centre to the the cliff top, from where steps lead down to an award-winning beach.

What appears to be a cosy family home opens up, in the manner of Doctor Who’s Tardis, into a beautiful house stretching up five floors (including an attic games room).

There are five bedrooms, a choice of two sitting rooms with TVs, a pair of bathrooms and an en suite, and the video game kid’s den in the loft. The heart of the house is its spacious modern kitchen and dining room. Evenings were spent cooking fresh fish and gorgeous steaks bought five minutes down the road, and playing games at the large table. It would suit a large group of friends – or a couple of families – perfectly. You can be as sociable... or not, as you like.

Oxford Mail: Pembrokeshire. By Tim Hughes

Chart House

We loved it. In fact we loved it a little too much, and it was always a bit of as struggle to get out. Though we were here to walk and the famous Pembrokeshire Coast Path beckoned – in fact, it passes just yards from the front door.

The national park-protected coast is a riot of splintered rock with arches and sea stacks – most notably the iconic Green Bridge of Wales and steeple-like Church Rock. And oddities and curiosities abound.

From Tenby you can get a boat out to the monastic island of Caldey, home to a community of Cistercian monks, colonies of seabirds and even red squirrels. If friars and cormorants are your thing, visit in summer though. When we rolled up we were told the next boat out was in April.

Instead we trekked along the cliffs through the wilderness of the Castlemartin army firing range (make sure the red flags aren’t flying), to tiny St Govan’s Chapel – a 14th century stone church built into a cleft in a rocky headland.

Oxford Mail: Pembrokeshire. By Tim Hughes

St Govan's Chapel

If you didn’t know it was there, you’d miss it – which is rather the point. Now a place of pilgrimage, it marks the spot where the 5th century Celtic missionary Govan hid to escape a gang of pirates. According to legend, a crack opened up in the cliff, in which the holy man hid. You can still see the ‘indent’ of his rib cage on the rocks – or something that looks very much like it.

Evading the buccaneers, Govan decided to stay, living on sea fish and drinking water from the spring which still bubbles above the chapel.

It’s a magical spot, particularly on a winter day, with the waves crashing on the rocks in ferocious explosions of spray. We were the only ones there.

Oxford Mail: Pembrokeshire. By Tim Hughes

A rather more famous saint is celebrated further north. St David – or Dewi – the Patron Saint of Wales, is buried at the cathedral in the city (the country’s smallest), which bears his name. Dewi is famed for a somewhat bizarre, and possibly superfluous, miracle in this rolling part of Wales... the creation of a new hill.

More miraculous, perhaps, is his cathedral. It’s a grand structure with stout tower which would be more at home in a large city rather than a sweet tangle of windswept cottages and monastic ruins. It is also well hidden, practically invisible until, reaching the crest of a hill, it reveals itself in all its glory at the foot of a steep wooded valley.

It is hidden for good reason. As well as pirates, these lands were plagued by Vikings – some of whom stole St David’s shrine. More vandalism was dispensed by raiders through the ages, right up to the protestants of the Reformation. Now it’s a slightly surreal place of peace.

The road back to Tenby skirts wide beaches facing the Atlantic. Again, the only people we saw were the hardy surfers who have taken Pembrokeshire to their hearts. It seems a shame to spoil the secret, but why let them have all the fun? Go, stay and explore; just don’t tell everyone about it.


The facts:

Stay: Chart House, Tenby is a luxury self-catering town house, sleeping 10 in five bedrooms.

Oxford Mail: Pembrokeshire. By Tim Hughes

Welcome hamper at Chart House - the Welsh cakes in particular were a big hit

Price: £1,388 for up to six people for three nights in off-peak periods. In mid-high season, Chart House is let as a ‘sleeps 10’ property, with all five bedrooms available. Prices start at £2,743 per week for up to 10 people (or £560 per night).

Oxford Mail: Pembrokeshire. By Tim Hughes

Book: A Book with Confidence’ Covid policy offers a full refund if someone in your party tests positive in the run-up to the holiday. Book at 


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