In the heart of the Pembrokeshire National Park the Western and Eastern Cleddau, Carew and Cresswell Rivers come together. These are the four arteries that feed the Daugleddau Estuary with its steep wooded banks alternating with gently sloping farmland. Its mudflats and marshlands make it nationally important as the chosen winter home of thousands of wildfowl and waders.
Nick Tonkin felt the call of its beauty and made his home here too. The son of a Devon beekeeper, it was here he set down his hives and with his wife Annette established Coedcanlas, purveyors of exquisite honey. In the beginning, they sold the honey in bulk alongside a business breeding queen bees that were then sold on to other apiarists. Struck by the special quality of the honey born of the unique flora of the area, it seemed a natural step to start selling it directly and thus the Coedcanlas brand was born.
With food and drink there is always terroir, that combination of elements that goes to make up the character of what finally arrives on our plate or in our glass: the land on which it was grown or raised, the vagaries of the climate, the human hand that made its final form. Nowhere can you find that quality more clearly than in a honey like Coedcanlas, because it isn’t one honey at all says Nick:
Early honey will be darker, born of sycamore and hawthorn, later in the year much lighter from blackberry flowers and clover, completely different characters." Little of this can the beekeeper control: "It depends when the good weather comes, whether we get consecutive days of sunshine and what is in flower when it happens."
And the weather will determine the yield too. In a good year the warm weather will coincide with a bee population at its peak and Coedcanlas will make as many as 15,000 jars but in a poor year that can decline to as little as 3,000 as it did in 2016.
There’s little that Nick can do about the weather but his interventions can be crucial. Every year hives are taken from their lowland homes around the end of July and found space on farms in the Preselis where the bees can gather the nectar from the wild heather strewn across the hills for the Coedcanlas Wild Welsh Heather honey.
The brand is simple but strong, labels tell the story of what’s inside and what’s inside is not always honey. In the winter months, the bees are awaiting the warm weather but Coedcanlas is still in production making amazing marmalades from organic Seville oranges, organic sugar from Cuba and organic Sicilian lemons. There is olive oil and almonds from Sicily too and maple syrup from Canada. But it’s honey that is the heart of Coedcanlas, a heart filled with the wild flowers of Pembrokeshire – the bluebells, the dandelions, the may, the blackberries, the wild clover and of course the wild heather the bees enjoy on their holiday in the hills.