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Why Tenby is top for a seaside break

Award-winning beaches, hidden history and a retro arcade make this Welsh wonderland the ideal location for a family getaway. By Neil Lancefield.


(Coastal Cottages/PA)

“Boats, boats!” squeals our two-year-old daughter as the view of the harbour overwhelms her.


My wife and I share her enthusiasm for the glorious panorama we can see from inside the holiday home that will be our base for a break in the Pembrokeshire seaside town of Tenby.


Looking out of the bay window in the lounge, to our left is a long stretch of sandy beach, in front is the sea, to our right is the ruins of a castle. And below us are boats, dozens of small vessels – many used for fishing – moored at the harbour. This is the ultimate room with a view.


Lower Anchorage overlooks Tenby Harbour (Coastal Cottages/PA)

The first image brought up by an online search for “Tenby” was photographed close to where we are standing, and we are not surprised to see people stop outside the front door to take a photograph.


It is tempting to spend our entire holiday inside the townhouse named Lower Anchorage, watching the tide come and go, completely forgetting about everyday life. But tearing ourselves away sees us rewarded with plenty of fun, family-friendly activities.


Neil and his family build sandcastles on Tenby’s South Beach (Neil Lancefield/PA)

Tenby is renowned for its beaches, which have won awards for being not just the best in Wales, but the whole of Europe. We first head to South Beach, which is only a 10-minute stroll away. After a morning building sandcastles, skimming pebbles into the sea and exploring rock pools, we have lunch at Salty’s Beach Bar and Restaurant (saltysbeachbarandrestaurant.co.uk; mains from £16). While many beachside venues limit their offer to fast food and ice cream, Salty’s specialises in quality seafood and wine. Our meals are superb, providing an excellent accompaniment to the glorious sea views.



It looks a calm day on the water, but a visit to Tenby Lifeboat Station shows us what happens when people get into difficulty in the sea. The RNLI has saved hundreds of souls in danger off the town’s shores over the years. Its station features a public viewing gallery, where we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with locals and holidaymakers to watch a practice lifeboat launch. These take place every Monday night, weather permitting (rnli.org; free).


The crew – wearing their distinctive yellow and red all-weather kits – stride onto the vessel. With preparations completed, a siren wails and the boat hurtles down the slipway and crashes into the sea before speeding off into the distance.



After a day of fun in the sun, the traditional Welsh weather means we inevitably wake up the following morning to the sound of rain tapping on our bedroom window. A quick check of the view outside shows the only people braving the conditions on the beach are dog walkers, so we plan some indoor entertainment for the day.


Heatherton World of Activities (heatherton.co.uk; free but credit passes should be booked online in advance) is a short drive away and offers a wide variety of pursuits, with exciting names such as Water Wars, Zorb Football and Masterblaster. We opt for Indiana’s Soft Play, which provides the vital combination of keeping us out of the rain, while ensuring our toddler is entertained with ball pits, slides and ride-on toy cars. A two-hour session leaves us all a little weary, so we head back to Tenby seeking a less strenuous afternoon.


We find Serendipity Games Centre, which is a classic seaside amusement arcade with electronic machines involving skills such as tossing ping-pong balls into cups, shooting basketballs through a moving hoop and throwing balls at targets. One of the aims of these games is to earn tickets which can be redeemed for toys and souvenirs. We play until we have enough to walk away with a haul including a Slinky, a VW camper van money box and a caterpillar keyring. As the games cost £1 a go, I suspect it would have been cheaper to buy the items in a local shop, but we would have missed out on the fun of trying to beat the high scores on the machines.


Neil’s wife and their daughter relax in the lounge (Neil Lancefield/PA)

We spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the comfort of Lower Anchorage, which is one of hundreds of holiday homes on the books of agency Coastal Cottages. The yellow, semi-detached, four-bedroom property is among dozens of pastel-coloured Georgian houses overlooking the harbour. It is neatly furnished and has everything we need for a self-catering break, including a fully-equipped kitchen, washing machine and garage large enough for a medium-sized car with a roof box.


Neil and his daughter explore rock pools (Hayley Lancefield/PA)

Multiple visits to beaches mean we end up with sand in shoes, clothes, bags and pretty much everything else. Fortunately, Lower Anchorage has a ground floor wet room, which we use to store our beach gear and avoid bringing sand into the living areas. The house is on a road adjacent to Tenby’s main shopping street, providing quick access to a mixture of independent and chain stores largely aimed at tourists.


We manage to resist Roly’s Fudge Pantry (rolysfudge.co.uk) for the first couple of days, but eventually the sight of its produce being freshly made in the shop window draws us inside. After painstakingly choosing which flavours to buy – or rather, which ones not to – we leave with a bag full of the sweet treats, while attempting to convince ourselves we will give most of them away as gifts, rather than demolish them before we get home.


Part of the town walls, with St Catherine’s Island in the background (Neil Lancefield/PA)

We then take a stroll to view the remains of Tenby’s town walls, which are said to be among the best preserved in the UK. They date back to medieval times, but modern buildings complement the stone structures, rather than overbear them.


Another insight into the history of Tenby comes from a National Trust venue showcasing what life was like inside a prosperous merchant’s home when the town was a thriving port in the 15th century. The Tudor Merchant’s House (nationaltrust.org.uk; adults £6.50, children £3.25) contains locally-made reproductions of furniture, wall hangings and ceramics copied from pieces dating back to that period.


The Tudor Merchant’s House recreates 15th-century life (Neil Lancefield/PA)

We’re intrigued by the latrine tower which leads down from the bedroom at the top of the three-storey house to the ground floor. A volunteer guide assures us this was “very advanced for its time” but peering down into the cess bit at the bottom, it’s hard to believe this was luxurious in any era.


Towards the end of our trip we take the opportunity to explore more of the region, driving an hour to Fishguard for a guided walk. Ian Pattinson, a former Royal Navy captain, is incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgeable about this part of north Pembrokeshire, which is much quieter than Tenby as it is relatively unaffected by commercialisation.


As we take in a stunning vista including Fishguard Harbour and St George’s Channel, Ian describes the area as “like Cornwall but without the crowds”. He demonstrates the value of walking with a guide by pointing out a stone next to a stream, marking the spot where a mass baptism took place in 1905. There is no way we would have spotted it or learned about 94 worshippers being immersed in water on a cold January day if I was walking here on my own. Ian says with a smile: “Anywhere else would have a proper information board, but in typical Pembrokeshire fashion, we’ve got a hidden stone.”


A stone marks the spot of a mass baptism (Neil Lancefield/PA)

Our final night at Lower Anchorage is spent nestled on the sofa, watching the sunlight fade over the bay one last time. With bags packed, I wish we could either stay for longer or take the view home with us. We decide to settle for a third option, and vow to make a swift return to again see the sand, sea and boats.


How to plan your trip

Coastal Cottages (coastalcottages.co.uk; 01437 765765) offers seven-night stays at Lower Anchorage from £860; three-night weekend breaks start from £645.

 

BRITISH BREAKS

Discover the best places to visit across the UK with British Breaks, www.gbbreaks.co.uk.

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