Welcome to the Cleddau. This beautiful ria (a flooded valley formed at the end of the last Ice Age) is an ancient trading route, attracting settlers from all over Europe. The Ministry of Defence planted non-reflective water weeds on its banks to prevent the Luftwaffe from locating military locations and ships during the war. This means even today, it's barely visible from the air and obscured by thick woodland.
I love the estuary, for its hidden creeks, tidal marshes and wildlife. It’s surrounded by woodland, and packed with quirky chocolate box villages, captivating wildlife and places to discover by canoe or kayak.
For walkers, the 60 mile Landsker Borderlands Trail contains some stunning sections along the Cleddau, but also dives deep inland to the source of the Eastern Cleddau in the foothills of the Preseli Mountains, before looping east into Carmarthenshire.
Lawrenny is on a peninsula of the Daugleddau estuary, where it branches off to the Cresswell and Carew rivers. It's one of my favourite spots and where you will often find me floating lazily on the river in my sailing boat. Named one of the top villages in the UK by 'The Times’, and tucked down windy roads, don't let first appearances deceive you. There is a lot going on in this little village.
Surrounded by ancient oak woodland, the Lawrenny woodland loop is one of the best family trails in Pembrokeshire. Steep wooded banks lead down into salt flats and marshes. Look out for otters, wading birds and the occasional seal going off course.
The Little Retreat is a great hub to book family activities, try stargazing with planetariums, art lessons, bushcraft, wild swimming and paddle boarding. Book a stay in one of their stargazing tents, complete with telescopes or soak up the moon from the hot tubs. Also home to one of the top UK wellbeing and adventure festivals, The Big Retreat Festival.
Castles and trails
With over 600 castles, wherever you go on holiday in Wales you won't be too far from a historic site. Two options to visit are Pembroke Castle, the birthplace of the Tudor dynasty, where you come over all medieval simply walking through the gates, and the deeply romantic Carew Castle. With a long and illustrious past, tucked away in the far reaches of the Carew River. On a clear night, the lack of light pollution means this is an awesome spot for stargazing. The millpond acts like a mirror reflecting an impressive natural light show. This castle is said to be haunted. The ghost of a ‘white lady’ seen drifting from room to room, and a Barbary ape regularly haunt the grounds (although I’ve never stuck around late into the night to find out!). Carew tidal mill is also a great spot to bring your buckets and nets. At high tide the mill wall is teeming with crabs and marine life. Just make sure you carefully return any creatures back to the water.
A family favourite on our list is the Cresswell trail. An excellent cycling route that starts at the castle and winds through the sleepy inlet of Cresswell Quay. Passing through tidal creeks, salt marshes and a butterfly glade.
If you are looking for a quieter family spot, head to Wiston castle. Now no more than a ruin, it's one of the few remaining motte and bailey castles. Built by Flemish warrior and chieftain, Wizo. If you're looking for a long bike ride, try Wizo’s ride. Meandering through the Eastern branches of the Cleddau, passing three castles including Picton castle and gardens. Blackpool Mill on the tidal reach of the Eastern Cleddau is also a great family trail to explore.
Explore the coast
Just South of the river, you will find the coastal footpath, stretching 186 miles. I used to live in nearby Stackpole, and I can highly recommend the Stackpole Inn for a warm welcome and award winning food, although word is out so be sure to book in advance.
Head to Bosherston Lily ponds, teeming with dragonflies, otters and heaps of wading birds. Continue over the causeway and arrive at the beautiful Broadhaven South beach. A perfect spot for a family picnic. At mid-tide, a massive blue crater to the east floods with water, known locally as ‘Blue Crater’. Continue east along the cliffs to discover the famous Barafundle Bay, and refuel at the Boathouse Tea-room in Stackpole Quay. Head back over the dunes towards Stackpole woodlands, and you will discover one of three ‘dancing stones’. In local folklore, the devil summons the rock once a year (together with two others near Stackpole Farm and Sampson Cross), and the rocks are said to dance long into the night to the sounds of the devil's flute.
You can also find a wonderful family beach in Freshwater East, easily accessible with toilets and ice cream vans. If you're looking for a family day out, head along the coast and scramble down to Bullslaughter Bay. One of the best places in Pembrokeshire for flotsam and treasure hunting. The current here is strong so do not enter the water.
If you have starry nights in mind, then head to Broadhaven South car park. The only place in Pembrokeshire where you can take a 360° view of the Milky Way. Spot the rare Greater Horseshoe bat - nearby Stackpole is home to Wales' largest colony. Another excellent spot for starry nights is nearby St Govan’s chapel. A tiny hermit’s cell built into the cliff. Count the steps down and up again – legend has it that the number is never the same!