Last weekend we went down to Pendine Sands in South Wales for 3 days. Pendine has a wonderful long sandy beach and is the place where the British Land Speed Records were held in the 1920s. It has a special meaning for me because my grandfather was an engineer with the Sunbeam Racing Car team. A Sunbeam car driven by Malcolm Campbell set the British record for a mile at Pendine in 1924 and Granddad was there.
Right on the front overlooking the beach is the Museum of Speed and on display there is Babs, a racing car that crashed when attempting to set a faster record in 1927. That car was driven by John Godfrey Parry-Thomas who was killed in the accident. The wrecked car was buried in the sand dunes. Then in 1969 a man called Owen Wyn Owen got permission to dig up Babs and rebuild her. She is on permanent display in the museum but is drivable and goes out to rallies. Mum told me that Granddad was there when the accident happened and it was quite emotional to visit this place where Granddad had been more than 90 years ago and to see the car.
We travelled down on Friday and, after unloading the car and having a quick snack, we went for a walk around the holiday site and the village. Pendine village is quite small, just a few houses, a pub, 2 convenience stores, a couple of cafes and a row of shops beside the beach selling crafts, clothes and ice cream. By contrast the Pendine Sands Holiday Site where we were staying is enormous, straggling along the road, creeping up the hill and curving around rows of little houses like a hungry cobra. I wondered what the village had looked like in Granddad’s day, probably just the pub and some of the old cottages.
On the Saturday it was raining intermittently and very windy. After visiting the Museum of Speed and scanning all of the old photos of the speed trials in the hope of seeing Granddad followed by a quick walk on the beach where the wind almost blew us away, we decided to drive along the coast to Saundersfoot. This was a favourite holiday destination of ours when the children were young. I remember a time when Christopher disappeared on Saundersfoot beach. He was about 4 at the time. It was a glorious hot, September day and the sands were packed. Hubby had left me with the 2 children and gone to play on the putting green. Cat was asleep in her baby seat; Chris was building a sandcastle ; I was reading a book. Then I looked up and Chris was nowhere to be seen. I grabbed Cat and walked the length of the beach both ways. He had vanished. I was making for the path up to the town when I met Hubby coming down. I told him Chris had disappeared and I was going to the police station. Hubby suggested one more look on the beach and there he was, right at the other end from where we had been sitting, playing with some older boys. When we reached him I asked him what on earth he was doing and he replied, ‘Playing with my friends.’ That was Chris, totally independent and self confident and always making new friends wherever he went. Unfortunately last Saturday wasn’t a beautiful sunny day, it was wet and blustery, but we still went for a walk along the beach and around the harbour and it looked as beautiful as ever.
On Sunday the weather was better, dry, and even occasional sunshine. We drove down to the local beach and walked along the little street where the tourist shops were. Right at the end was a cafe selling Sidoli’s ice cream. That took me back to my childhood. Sidoli’s had a cafe in Shrewsbury where they sold what seemed like dozens of different varieties of ice cream. I always chose the green one because it was my favourite colour. This time I had salted caramel. Then we climbed up the steps to the headland. I have to be careful of steps nowadays as my knees are dodgy and sometimes they can give way on steps. Fortunately they were not steep and there was a handrail or I wouldn’t have risked going up, they were actually easier than the stairs at home. From the top the view of the sands was spectacular and you could easily see how speed records were held on this beach which is almost 7 miles long.
The tide was right out and we were able to walk around the headland to where we discovered several caves.
After lunch we drove to Laugharne a few miles along the coast in the other direction from Saundersfoot. We have recently been following a TV drama called ‘Keeping Faith’ which was set in Laugharne and it looked a very beautiful place. It is also where the poet Dylan Thomas lived in the last years of his life. It is a small town, not much bigger than a village on the esturary of the River Taf. It has a very picturesque castle and the views from beneath it out over the estuary to where it meets two other rivers were beautiful.
We walked around the castle to The Boathouse where Dylan Thomas lived. It’s the white house down by the river in the distance.
From The Boathouse the view of the mudflats was amazing.
Then we walked back and on in the other direction. When we came back we found the tide had come in right across the path to the car park! I had seen a sign saying ‘Beware of high tide’ but assumed that was a warning not to walk onto the mudflats.
Fortunately we had not parked where the water was and we found there was a little alley between the houses which led up onto the main street so we could walk around to the other side of the car park, otherwise we would have had to either get very wet or beg someone to let us though their house.
The next day was Monday, time to return home. We decided that first we would return to Laugharne to go into the castle as we hadn’t had time the day before. It was a wonderful old ruin with more fantastic views. Afterwards we had coffee in a lovely old cafe. I have totally fallen in love with Laugharne and am thinking of returning when they have a poetry festival in the spring. On the other hand I also want to return to Pendine when they have the hot rod races on the sands and that is in June, so we may have to go to the area twice!
Laugharne castle from the Dylan Thomas carved statue.
We planned to visit the National Botanical Gardens of Wales that afternoon as it was on our way back, but before that there was somewhere else I wanted to see. Our route took us through Carmarthen where my great grandfather Thomas Henry was born. His father worked on the Great Western Railway when they were building the line through South Wales. They lived for a few years in a little village called Pensarn just south of Carmarthen and Great Grandfather and his sister were baptised at the nearby Church at Llangunnor. We found the church nestled on a hillside in a beautiful spot, overlooking the River Tywi and the South Wales hills.
Unfortunately the church was locked, but that didn’t really matter, I could imagine them all standing there, my great great grandparents with their 4 children, maybe some friends, possibly even a relative come from their home Gloucestershire for the christening. A year or two later they moved to Wolverhampton. Thomas Henry was Granddad’s father. Strange that Granddad should visit Pendine, only 18 miles away from where his father was born.
By now we were more than ready for lunch so we set off for the National Botanical Gardens of Wales. This is set in the grounds of what was Middleton Hall, an old mansion. Most of the hall was burned down in the 1930s and the gardens were created in the grounds in 2000. We enjoyed a lovely meal in the courtyard of what had been the stable block. The gardens house the British Bird of Prey Centre and we went there first as the birds were due to fly. We saw the most wonderful flying display by peregrine falcons, owls, red and black kites and a golden eagle. The birds flew really low, almost through the audience. This is the golden eagle.
Next we went to the butterfly house where we saw some beautiful butterflies, but the creature that most impressed me was this enormous moth. The tiles that it is lying on are about the size of house bricks.
Afterwards we spent a lovely hour walking through the gardens before it was finally time to go home.