Sandy Haven Beach
Sandy Haven is a wide estuarial creek entering Milford Haven Waterway on the north shore, midway between Dale and Milford Haven town. At low tide when the stream is reduced to a trickle, it can be crossed by means of the Triple Stone stepping stones on the western side to the long stretch of golden sand on the eastern shore. Further upstream is a small footbridge where the stream is narrower.
There are two access routes to Sandy Haven, one by way of the Milford Haven to Dale road crossing the estuary by Sandy Haven chapel and turning left towards the coast a short distance down to the western side, the other by turning left through Herbrandston and right just past Herbrandston Hall to the eastern shore.
To write about Sandy Haven and not to mention the famous artist Graham Sutherland would be a grave omission, for he was drawn to the place like a magnet and sketched and painted there many times.
It was the western side, where the lane leading down to the shore takes you right onto the shingly beach under the trees, that Sutherland preferred, and one can see why. There is a certain mystic atmosphere about the place, with its little cottage tucked under the low cliff right on the beach where generations of seamen and ferrymen lived by the footbridge and the ferryman’s cottage.
Sutherland seemed fascinated by the gnarled scrub oaks clinging onto the cliff, their contorted roots exposed like grasping fingers, creating a dark rather sinister ambiance. He was also strongly influenced by the legacies of the sea trade, the green weed-clad ribs of a boat half buried in the estuary mud, a bleached horse’s skull and cattle horns.
He called it ‘an estuary of exultant strangeness,” and described the quality of light there as “magical and transforming,” and “as intense as it is in the South of France.”
He saw the sea-eroded rocks precisely mimicking in miniature the curved form of the inland hills in the gently undulating Preselis.
All these mystic ingredients have found their way into his sketches and paintings, as have similar forms in the other two estuaries he frequented at Porth Clais, near St Davids and Picton Ferry on the Eastern Cleddau near Picton Castle, where for several years he had a unique public gallery.
Sandy Haven, which lies between Great Castle Head and South Hook Point, has changed little since Sutherland first discovered it in the thirties and forties, although the Haven Waterway has changed dramatically in the same period since it started developing as a major oilport in the late 1950s. The first refinery was built by Esso just round the corner to the east and was opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1960. Now the jetty and inland site at South Hook are a terminal for Liquid Natural Gas.
Would Sutherland find any echoes of his trees and stones in the pipes, tanks and jetty trestles of modern industry?