The visitor to the little fishing village of Abercastle, on Pembrokeshire’s north-western coast, might be excused for thinking they are in Cornwall or Devon, for this hidden harbour beneath the ancient grey igneous rocks is redolent of those areas.
But, compared with those overcrowded coasts, which are far nearer the large connurbations of England, this former trading port, first mentioned as a safe harbour in 1566, still escapes the summer crowds.
Known in the olden days as Cwm Badau or Bay of Boats, Abercastle had several fairly large sloops based there, trading with Bristol and Liverpool carrying cargoes of local slate, stone and corn. Right up to the 1920s oats and stone from the local quarries, were still being being shipped out and coal, mostly from the many mines in the Pembrokeshire coalfield, and limestone, were being imported.
The signs are still there to speak of the size of the sailing ships which plied their trade there. Two stout cannon-like bollards survive and the obligatory limekiln has been preserved in excellent condition. Every creek, harbour and cove around this coast has its lime kilns to slake lime for the surrounding farms.
Standing protectively by the northern entrance to the harbour in what geologists will tell you is a drowned valley, is Ynys y Castell (Castle Island), and on the summit is a tump which used to be considered an Iron Age coastal fort. But experts now cast doubt on this theory, saying that it is more likely to be an early Christian site, perhaps the cell of some holy hermit or one of the many saints associated with this corner of Wales. Another legend which the locals like to perpetuate, because it is good for the tourists to have a talking point, is that rectangular markings on the rock were made by the finger of Samson when he laid the rock there aeons ago. This, they confirm by inviting visitors to look to the south-west and see the magnificent New Stone Age burial chamber called Carreg Samson (Samson’s Stone) dating from about 3000BC, to which Samson is reputed to have carried the giant capstone and placed it into position using only his little finger, which now rests in the grave beneath it. Some believe that the name Samson does not mean the biblical strongman slain by Delilah’s guile, but the power of the spirit of Saint Samson of Caldey island.
Abercastle is a place much frequented by artists, photographers and students of wildlife. Along these cliffs fulmars glide and, in the early dawn of summer mornings, often wake lighter sleepers with their raucous cackling. The keen ornithologists will also see chough picking insects among off the clifftop tussocks, and ravens doing springtime aerobatics. Offshore, the observant sea watcher may catch a glimpse of harbour porpoises, seals, or the occasional dolphin or basking shark, for upwellings in the bay, particularly around the submarine glacial overflow channels, bring up nutrients on which these fascinating sea creatures feed.