Penally beach is actually an extremity of Tenby's South beach rather than a beach or bay in itself, with dunes at the rear. Behind the dunes at Penally Tenby’s 18-hole Golf course was established and the village has also been the location of an army camp and firing range for many years.
Penally is an ancient village which is said to have been the favourite residence of St Teilo, who was born in nearby Gumfreston and buried in Penally. Or was he? The old legend is that when he died there was a dispute between Penally, Llandeilo and Llandaff as to where his body should be laid to rest. After a night of fervent prayers a miracle solved the probem when next morning three identical bodies were found and each parish had the privilege of burying one of the three. Tenby’s Roman Catholic Church and School are dedicated to him.
Behind the local hotel are the ruins of the medieval chapel of St Deiniol, once believed to have monastic assocations.
When the railway came to Tenby in 1865, the high embankment built across the dunes backing the resort’s South Beach proved the final nail in the coffin of the Ritec estuary which was navigable right up to St Florence in the 11th century.
Quite sizeable ships were able to sail up the Ritec River, into what at high tide was a virtual lagoon cutting through Tenby Marshes and spreading between Penally and Gumfreston. It was still wide enough in 1643 to block the advance of Parliamentary forces making for Tenby from the South.
Land reclamation had started at the turn of the 19th century and in 1811 the embankment was constructed across the valley behind the dunes when the Ritec was culverted and a stone bridge carrying the road was built. The accumulation of sand carried towards Tenby on the south west winds did the rest.
The south beach had already formed a post-glacial bay-bar from Giltar to Tenby, and the works in the valley accelerated this process, blocking the estuary mouth and raising the dunes called The Burrows to protect the reclaimed land inside. While draining the land, traces of early fish-eating men were found near the ruined cottage named ‘The Old Quay’ just above Hoyle’s Mouth Cave, where so many prehistoric remains were unearthed. Halfway between the older embankments on the slope of the hill an ancient boat was also discovered, in fact a dugout hollowed from a single tree.
As late as the 1800’s records show that local people remembered a time when vessels sailed for over a mile across what is now pasture land, as far as Holloway Quarry, discharging their cargoes at the bottom of Pill Field. In ‘Allen’s Guide to Tenby’ published in 1868 the author describes how vessels “were laid up high and dry over winter,’ during the last 100 years beneath the hill near the station.
Hoyle’s Mouth is an ancient limestone stream-cavern which archaeologists said had been a hyena den, later occupied by Neolithic men. Many finds made there are now on display in Tenby Museum.