With its magnicient clifftop castle and historic Norman church, Manorbier has much to offer tourists with an interest in the past as well as visitors who love the seaside.
And it’s not only the comparatively recent past of Norman times that distinguishes this picturesque village on Pembrokeshire’s south coast five miles west of Tenby. Legacies from prehistoric times have been found there, such as fossils and flints, many of which have been housed in museums around the area. Further evidence of human habitation throughout the ages comes in the form of ancient burial chambers like the King’s Quoit cromlech south east of the beach, ancient burial mounds on the Ridgeway, an Iron age enclosure near the railway station and a promontory fort at Old Castle Head.
Facing south-west and sheltered by the protective jut of Priest’s Nose head, the beach is sandy and spacious and popular both for family use and, when the sea state is suitable, for surfing. In August, the National Park Authority rangers take children on Beach Discovery expeditions, exploring the rockpools for the rich diversity of shore life to be found there. Nearby Swanlake Bay is also a tranquil gem, all the more peaceful because access from the Coastal path is more demanding and better suited to the fit and active visitor. The wildlife around Manorbier is varied and interesting. As well as the more common seabirds, waders sych as redshank, whimbrel, curlew and bar-tailed godwit are a regularly seen there. There are geological and archaeological features to be seen in the vicinity, such as the vertical bed formations of rock beside the beach, ancient hut platforms at Old Castle Head and an area of rare Anglo Saxon strip lynchets and fields to the east alongside the road to Lydstep and to the north-west near Manorbier Newton. A favourite walk is the 2.5-mile ramble from Manorbier to Swan Lake Bay, which offers beautiful vistas both seaward and inland.
Manorbier gets its name from its medieval title Maenor Pyr (or Barri), the Manor of Odo de Barri, Norman knight who was granted lands there as a reward for his war services to William the Conqueror. The first castle was a wooden motte and bailey structure, with stone walls added later. It was the birthplace in 1146 of one of Wales’ best-known chroniclers of medieval life - Gerald de Barri, or Gerald the Welshman (Giraldus Cambrensis) son of a Norman noble and a Welsh princess. His writings, particulary his ‘Itinerary Through Wales’ were written in an informative and detailed style, and show him to have been a skilled journalist of his day, revealing fascinating facts about the lives not only of the gentry and church hierarchy (for he became a clergyman) but also of the ordinary folk. He aspired to be Bishop of St Davids, but King John repeatedly refused his requests. There are so many things to see and explore at Manorbier, and so much for children to learn from its safe and sheltered location.