Landscape (UK)

HILLTOP FORTRESS OF THE FISHES

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Little is known of Tenby’s early history, but its Welsh name, Dinbych-y-pysgod, which translates as the ‘little fortress of the fishes’, paints a picture of a fishing settlement gathered around a fort. The first recorded reference to the town appears in an anonymous poem that probably dates to the 9th century. Called Etmic Dinbych, or ‘In Praise of Tenby’, its exact meaning is subject to debate, but the poet seems to be pleading for reconcilia­tion with the now-dead leader of the settlement. It describes a fine fortress on the sea, home to brave warriors, where great revelry and feasting take place. “By the early 10th century, Tenby was part of the Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth, which eventually occupied almost a third of the whole of Wales,” says tourist guide Marion Davies (above). “When the Normans invaded West Wales in the 11th century, Deheubarth’s leader, Rhys ap Tewdwr, initially bargained with them to keep some power, but that ended when he was killed in battle. The victorious Normans pushed on, and Arnulf de Montgomery built a castle at Pembroke. Not only Normans, but also a wave of Flemish settlers then pushed many of the indigenous population out northward. “The Normans moved to Tenby, where they built a castle on Castle Hill, almost certainly on the site of an old hill fort. This was followed in the 13th century by walls around the town because of attacks by the Welsh trying to regain their territory.” English and Irish settlers followed the Flemish, so that the area became known as ‘Little England beyond Wales’, regarded somewhat apart from the rest of Wales, with its own culture and traditions. “Even a thousand years later, the linguistic divide, known as the Landsker Line, running east to west through the county, with English largely being the first language below and Welsh largely the first language above, was still evident,” she says. “The early Flemish settlers helped found a woollen industry and were believed to have had some influence on the architectu­re of the area, with the very large chimneys that can be found around here known as Flemish chimneys. However, modern-day Flemings don’t really recognise them as such.”

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