Explore West Wales

Sailing journalist, Sam Llewellyn continues his series of anecdotes from around the UK. This month, Sam explores the sights of West Wales.
04 Jul 23

Wide shot of boat moored in West Wales

The wake is a long white tear in the blue western end of the Bristol Channel. The course is northwest, parallel with the coast of Pembrokeshire, and low grey islands lie across the horizon.

St Anne's Head light looms white on the starboard bow. It is the seaward end of Milford Haven, a splendid cruising ground in its own right. Hard-a-starboard, and in we go. To port, the moorings at Dale look over a blue expanse thick with sails. Victorian forts slide by, then miles of LNG docks and oil terminals, refineries like crashed starships, tugs fussing round enormous tankers, and the channel leading to Pembroke with its medieval castle. Further on, the best part of ten miles inland, lie the marinas at Neyland and Pembroke Dock. Broad-reach on the last of the flood past the quiet creek of Lawrenny . This morning the mackerel were running off St Anne's Head. This evening the sea-trout are jumping by the anchorage in one of the estuarine pools above Picton.

Next day there are more serious fish to fry. The tide roars round this corner of Britain. The island of Skokholm is out there, and beyond it the Wild Goose Race. Skomer and its positively Antarctic profusion of bird life looms ahead. There are mooring buoys in the bay on its northern side, and the sky is thick with puffins, and in the night thousands of Manx shearwaters drift in and thump down by their burrows on the land.

Wide shot of puffin with food in its mouth

The way to dodge many tricky races and overfalls is to choose Jack Sound, the worst of the lot, and get it over with. The tide can run here at six knots, and there are rocks; but with a moderate breeze and a fair tide it is a passage that gives great satisfaction.

St Bride's Bay opens out ahead. To seaward Grassholm is white with gannets, and the Bishops and Clerks sit in the middle of what can run like a salmon river. Leave beautiful Solva, an anchorage, drying moorings and a charming village, for another day, and swoosh up the next tide race between Ramsey Island and the mainland. After a remarkably short time the standing waves are far astern, and it is time to put up the helm and point the nose northeast.

There is still plenty of tide, moiling darkly in the turbulence off Strumble Head. The busy ferry port of Fishguard has fuel and supplies, but there is plenty of both on board, and the nose is pointing into Cardigan Bay, where life is quieter.

Wise shot of rocky coast of West Wales

The coast is savagely cliffy towards the bay and estuary at Newport, a useful stop in any breeze without north in it, with the Preseli hills, source of the Stonehenge rocks, rising behind it. Then comes the huge sandy estuary of Cardigan, in 1800 one of the great ports of Britain, now silted up. From here it is possible to strike north for the Pwllheli and the Lleyn at the northern end of Cardigan Bay, and beyond them Anglesey. Not today, though. The shore of the bay is trending northeast. Contact Range Control on Channel 16, because the sea may be a charming blue, but this is the Cardigan Bay Danger Area, home on some days to live firings. The reward for getting through this lot is a quiet anchorage and a refreshing pint ashore in New Quay.

The ability to take the ground is increasingly an advantage as we slide northeastwards. Aberaeron, with its stone-lined drying basin surrounded by candy-coloured Regency buildings, is accessible an hour and a half either side of high water. Beyond Aberaeron the cliffs become lower, the land less interesting; but there are compensations, noticeable when a swoosh under the bow indicates that the bay's pod of bottlenose dolphins is providing an escort.

Green and rocky coast of west wales

Finally, there beyond the forestay is the sprawl of Aberystwyth under its hill. Down with the sails, on with the engine, and follow the transit in. Twenty yards off the port bow a surfer vanishes behind his break. Past a couple of fishermen under the light on the north breakwater and round we go, towards the visitor's berth and the many facilities of one of the principal cities of Wales.

Discover more:

For more adventures, join Sam as he recalls the sights from his first two explorations of this series, travelling across the Bristol Channel and South West

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