A long week­end

Jonty Pearce cruises his home wa­ters of Mil­ford Haven, dis­cov­er­ing some of Wales’ best wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies and a rich in­dus­trial her­itage

Yachting Monthly - - CONTENTS - Words Jonty Pearce

Mil­ford Haven: dis­cover the har­bour’s hid­den gems. Jonty Pearce cruises his home wa­ters to dis­cover wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies and a rich in­dus­trial her­itage

AHEAD, THE IS­LAND NA­TURE RE­SERVE OF SKOMER GLIMMERS LIKE A MI­RAGE

The dis­tinct chain­saw buzzing sound of a puf­fin call greets our ears as my wife Carol and I drink in the at­mos­phere of Skomer’s South Haven. This clas­sic an­chor­age is just one of the de­lights of Mil­ford Haven. Nes­tled into the is­land’s south-east cor­ner, we are sur­rounded by high cliffs teem­ing with avian wildlife: Manx shear­wa­ters, kit­ti­wakes, ra­zor­bills, guille­mots, choughs, and buz­zards busily criss­cross the bay as they bring home food from the nearby mar­itime larder. The song of seals echoes in the cliff caves and their mu­sic can be heard through the evening, whilst dur­ing the day their in­quis­i­tive heads pop up be­tween the boats. For me, there is no better place to wit­ness na­ture at her best.

It was the sec­ond night of our long week­end away on board our Southerly 105 ketch Aurial, and again we were count­ing our­selves lucky to have all of this on our doorstep.

Two days ear­lier we had left the shel­ter of Ney­land Yacht Haven and nosed Aurial past the boat­yard of Dale Sail­ing, giv­ing the statue of that great in­dus­tri­al­ist Isam­bard King­dom Brunel a nod as we pass the re­mains of the ferry quay he con­structed for the Pem­brokeshire ter­mi­nus of the Great Western Rail­way.

Lord Nel­son de­scribed Mil­ford Haven as ‘the finest port in Chris­ten­dom’ and even to­day, the 19 miles of Welsh es­tu­ary, which has been used by seago­ing folk since time im­memo­rial, still de­liv­ers, with its mix of green fields run­ning down to the wa­ter’s edge, his­toric forts and wildlife.

Our first overnight stop was to be the pic­turesque vil­lage of Dale on the north­ern side of the en­trance to Mil­ford Haven es­tu­ary. We leave the soar­ing Cled­dau Bridge that guards the peace­ful up­per wa­ters of the River Cled­dau be­hind us and add the ebbing ti­dal thrust to Aurial’s sails. In Pem­brokeshire, the tide is king and pas­sages must be planned in con­cor­dance with its flows. We take care not to be swept on to the many nav­i­ga­tional marks out­side Pem­broke Dock; while tankers don’t come up this far, the Irish Ferry does, and we know to watch out for its tran­sits at 1230 and 1500. We ap­proach Carr and Wear Spits which re­quire large craft to dog­leg round them, but as its halftide, we can cut straight across their shal­lows to en­ter ‘re­fin­ery­land’, the se­ries of petroleum pon­toons that ex­tend out from the shore on ei­ther side of Mil­ford Haven town.

The chan­nel lead­ing to Mil­ford Dock and Ma­rina heads away to port but we are head­ing for the shel­ter of Dale Roads, so sail past the im­mense LNG car­rier’s berths op­po­site pic­turesque East An­gle and the al­lure of the Old Point House pub.

Ahead are the im­pos­ing Napoleonic forts of Stack Rock and Thorn Is­land ris­ing up out of Mil­ford Haven, a re­minder of the sig­nif­i­cant role the port played in Bri­tain’s sea­far­ing past. Here, we pick up a slight swell from the open sea as we cross close to the es­tu­ary’s mouth. All be­comes calm as we con­tinue past Dale Fort into the shel­ter of Dale Roads and its many moor­ings. Es­chew­ing the deep-wa­ter float­ing pon­toon for a shal­low spot close to the vil­lage, we lift our keel and rud­der and drop the hook. Once all is ship­shape, we take to the dinghy for the short trip to the award win­ning Grif­fin Inn, and its prom­ise of some of the best fresh seafood in Mil­ford Haven and Welsh real ales.

In the morn­ing, we head out to sea past the sandy beach of Watwick Bay, al­ready fill­ing up with leisure craft of­fload­ing fam­i­lies keen to en­joy its seclu­sion and lack of road ac­cess. St Ann’s Head Light­house sits promi­nently at the Haven’s en­trance and we turn to star­board once clear to catch a fair stream down Broad Sound to­wards the wildlife par­adise that is Skomer Is­land.

In front of the cliffs, the low sun glints through the haze of spray made by the break­ing swell on the rocks, while to port, the RSPB re­serve of Skokholm Is­land snoozes peace­fully. Ahead, the is­land na­ture re­serve of Skomer glimmers like a mi­rage, and a pod of dol­phins bow-wave us be­fore head­ing off to gam­bol and feed. Be­yond them, gan­nets plum­met ver­ti­cally into the sea, keen to par­take of a rich shoal of fish. We pass the rocky por­tal of Jack Sound lead­ing to St Bride’s Bay and en­ter Skomer’s South Haven. This is ar­guably one of the best spots to an­chor in Wales, with its shel­tered bays and dra­matic cliffs, and world-fa­mous colony of manx shear­wa­ters and puffins.

Equally tran­quil is the glo­ri­ously colour­ful Up­per Cled­dau River, where the only sounds come from cows low­ing in the fields – our next des­ti­na­tion.

From Skomer’s South Haven, we pick up a south-west­erly breeze that wafts us back past St Ann’s Head, the Forts, Mil­ford Haven, and Pem­broke Dock un­til the Cled­dau Bridge soars above us. The flood tide gives us a push as we pass first the

Jolly Sailor and then the steep bank op­po­site what was HMS War­rior’s home while she was used as a fuel hulk prior to her res­cue and ren­o­va­tion. The river turns north­wards and passes wooded cliffs for the ap­proach to Lawrenny. Ben­ton Cas­tle over­looks the tree-lined pas­sage of Cas­tle Reach be­fore we turn the cor­ner into Beg­gars Reach where woods con­tinue on the left and green pas­tures line the wa­ter on the right. Ahead shim­mer Llangwm’s moor­ings – the clear patch in the mid­dle in­di­cates shal­lows. Black Tar is marked by a slip­way on the left at the end of the houses; after the moor­ings peter out, the mudflats of Sprin­kle Pill stretch out op­po­site the old min­ing quay of Land­ship­ping. Pic­ton Point marks the con­flu­ence of the Western and Eastern Cled­dau – the lat­ter is shal­lower and can only be rec­om­mended to ex­plor­ers in dinghies. It leads up past the great his­toric house of Sle­bech Park and, if a spring tide per­mits, to the limit of nav­i­ga­ble wa­ters at the dis­used Black­pool Mill. The Western branch passes the old quays of Hook and New Mil­ford be­fore reach­ing the bridges at Haver­ford­west, though mast­less boats can con­tinue to the town’s quay. An­chor­ing in these top reaches re­quires cau­tion – while the cen­tral stream is deep, the mar­gins slope to form a muddy V shape. My favourite rest­ing place lies south of Pic­ton Point just up­stream of Black Tar; the boat may swing with the tide but with such good hold­ing, this shel­tered place of refuge is snug when the wind and waves of the open sea make us long for peace. In ages past, the area thrived with coal min­ing and fish­ing but nowa­days, few signs of its past mar the scenery – only the quays of Lawrenny, Land­ship­ping, Cresswell and Hook re­main. We set­tle down to the sound of noth­ing but na­ture and re­flect on our glo­ri­ous day.

THIS IS AR­GUABLY ONE OF THE BEST SPOTS TO AN­CHOR IN WALES

Ney­land Ma­rina pro­vides a snug moor­ing, with the Cled­dau bridge be­hind

Skomer is the perfect spot to watch the wildlife

Ney­land Yacht Haven has 420 fully ser­viced berths

Aurial on a glo­ri­ous day in Pem­brokeshire

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