Saundersfoot is such a tranquil place in summer weather that it is difficult to understand why its harbour is protected by such stout stone walls.
Built like a fortress with a narrow entrance facing inland, away from the direction of the waves, it seems to afford an excessive degree of shelter.
But this harbour was built to accommodate far bigger and sturdier boats than the holiday craft which now packs the marina - the sailing colliers and fishing boats which served the village’s original industry of coal export and fishing on a commercial scale.
Known in medieval times as Llandussyllt and, after the Norman conquest, St Issels,
both after the parish church of St Issels which nestles in the wooded valley half a mile inland to the north, it did not become Saundersfoot until Elizabethan times.
Its name is said by some historians to have been stemmed from the old English Stan Fyrs. or stony ground covered with furze or gorse. That seems to be the only explanation put forward for there is no record of anyone called Saunders having an influence in the area, although the locals call the village Sandersfoot, which suggests there may be some connection with the words “sandy” and “ford”. There is certainly no shortage of sand and no doubt, before the building of the bridges and culverts, there would have been a ford. The harbour was not built until 1834, following an 1829 Act of Parliament which set up the Saundersfoot Railway and Harbour Company. One local wag insisted that the original idea was to call the new company the Saundersfoot Harbour Improvement Trust, until the acronym was envisaged on the rolling stock.
The newly built harbour might have looked indestructible, but it had hardly been run in when a violent hurricane struck from the south-east in 1836, seriously breaching and damaging the harbour wall and wrecking two ships, which were torn from their moorings. It is difficut for present-day visitors to imagine such violence when they look out from the seafront at the calm waters of Carmarthen Bay and gentle waves lapping the golden sand. Thank the Lord that in modern Saundersfoot hurricanes hardly ever happen. The beach is wide and child and family friendly, shelving gradually to provide lots of paddling space, although, like any beach parental suervision is necessary if children play with light plastic dinghies or Lilos which the lightest breeze can sweep seawards. Within the living memory of older folk best quality anthracite from Saundersfoot was being shipped out to far-flung places, brought down in trains of trams pulled by steam locomotives, the line running along the middle of the main street.
Saundersfoot has ample hotels, guest houses, cafes, restaurants and shops and there are frequent summer shows in the village hall. The countryside around is also rewarding to visit, green, wooded and undulating with picnic areas and camping sites and walks through both inland and along the coast. One of the favourites is along the old coal tramway and through a tunnel to adjacent Wiseman’s Bridge.