Aberbach Beach

Aberbach - it means little river mouth - is a relatively narrow cove with a steeply shelving pebble bank facing due west towards the Irish Sea.

It is reached by road from Mathry, just off the St Davids to Goodwick A487 road, by way of a winding, high-hedged, leafy road via Granston and Tregwynt. It’s a pretty road but a narrow one where the motorist needs to drive slowly and carefully, and be prepared to meet the occasional tractor or combine harvester.

There is limited parking near the little cove which is accessible via a lane leading off the road about 100 yards distant.

On the way can be seen the remains of a submarine telegraph office which acted as a terminal for the trans-Atlantic cable laid across the ocean by Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s massive steam paddleship Great Eastern linking Britain with the USA via Newfoundland. One of the early cables was broken when excessive voltage was sent through it to enhance the signal. It was thanks to Brunel’s ingenuity and engineering skills that the Great Estern ‘fished’ for the broken cable and it was reconnected. The first official telegram message to pass through it was a letter of congratulation from Queen Victoria to President Buchanan of the United States on Augst 16th 1858. She said she hoped the cable would prove “an additional link between the nations whose friendship is founded on their common interest and reciprocal esteem.” The President responded that  “it is a triumph more glorious because far more useful to mankind than was ever won by conqueror on the field of battle.” The Queen’s message took 16 hours to send, but it would have taken 10 days at least to travel as mail by ship; even longer if the vessels were delayed by storms. The Great Eastern’s huge hull was fitted with three massive iron tanks to accommodate the 2,300 nautical miles of cable and her decks were fitted with complex paying-out gear.

The Times newspaper in a leading article, praised the feat as “a great work, a glory to our age and nation, and the men who have achieved it deserve to be honoured among the benefactors of their race.”

It is difficult to imagine an isolated and picturesque spot llike Aberbach taking part in such momentous historic events.

That was not Brunel’s only association with this quiet little beach.. Twenty years earlier he had planned to make Aberbach and its larger companion to the south, Abermawr, into the terminus for his new railway linking the British mainland with Ireland. But the Irish potato famine of 1846 put paid to that idea and all that remains of Brunel’s proposed railway are some embankments and cuttings through roadside woods, eight miles away beside the A40 near Treffgarne. In the 1960s a local historian found some drainage pipes, which were unearthed during roadworks at Aberbach, and he identified them as lengths of ‘atmospheric’ rail, like those Brunel used unsuccessfully on his Devon railway system.

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