Tenby Harbour is a picturesque sight, its sheltered sands redolent of Devon or Cornwall with its moored pleasure boats and fishing craft beached at low tide or bobbing when the water is high.
Seen from the High Street above North Beach it is like a film set, backed by Castle Hill, with the remains of its Norman castle, now housing the resort’s fascinating private Museum.
The hill was originally the site of a hill fort, but although it was difficult to attack, the Norman Earls of Pembroke built a stone castle there which proved its worth against attacks from the warring Welsh princes in 1187 and again in 1260, when Llewellyn the Great tried to seize it. The town’s defences were strengthened further when William de Valence, the 1st Earl of Pembroke, built the stout town walls later in the 13th century, many sections of which survive to give Tenby its distinctive ambiance and to justify its Welsh name Dynbych y Pysgod (Little Fortress of the Fishes).
Castle Hill is the springboard for the Tenby Lifeboat where a new boathouse was built recently and the old accommodation was converted into a residence. Just around the corner Tenby Pier jutted out from Castle Hill, but this Victorian structure was demolished in the fifties as unsafe and uneconomical to repair. Paddle Steamers sailed from the pier, taking passengers around the coast and paying visits to Ilfracombe and Lundy island. In more recent years they had to berth on the stone quay. Because of its valuable strategic position, Tenby was awarded many Royal grants to finance the maintenance and improvement of the harbour and the town walls. An arched gateway off the Castle Square leads down to Castle Beach, a sheltered sandy cove between the North and South beaches. There just a few yards offshore is St Catherine’s Island, with its Palmerston fort on the top. Tenby has 40 hotels and many guest houses and a wide range of cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops. Almost hidden under the harbour wall at the top of the sands is the little seamen’s church of St Julian, which once stood on the old stone pier but was moved to its present location in 1878. It is still used for worship, although some of the rooms in which social events took place have now been converted into flats.
All kinds of activities for tourists are provided in the vicinity of the harbour. Tuition in surfing, sailing, swimming and other sports are available, as well as rockpool exploration and other diversions for children, organised by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, who regard Tenby as one of the jewels in their potrfolio of tourist attractions. All these things are well publicised in the authority’s literature, including the all-inclusive newspaper “Coast to Coast” which is freely available in Tourist Information Centres and shops.
Tenby has had its ups and downs, but perhaps its blackest time was in 1650 when a plague epidemic came via the harbour killing half the population.