Cleddau Estuary Guide - West Wales Holiday Cottages
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Cleddau Estuary

 

cleddau mapThe River Cleddau consists of the Eastern and Western tributaries which unite to form the Daugleddau (the two Cleddaus) estuary.  Rising in the Preseli Hills and converging around Landshipping and Hook - just south of the A40, the rivers’ numerous creeks harbour a fascinating history and offer secret landscapes ideal for bird watching, boating and fishing.

The main estuary - a great ria created by a postglacial rise in sea level and thus much larger than rivers of this volume would normally carve, has long been an important shipping channel.  Nowadays the depth of the water and sheltered harbour have allowed oil refineries to be established. 

The name Cleddau comes from the Welsh word 'cleddyf' (sword) and probably refers to the dramatic way in which both rivers cut into the landscape. The Western Cleddau is an example of a “misfit” river: a small river in a deep valley, formed when the River Teifi, swollen with melt water at the end of the last Ice Age, was blocked from flowing into the Irish Sea by a dam of ice.

The Importance of the Waterway

cleddau riverFirst came the Vikings, who used the waterway for shelter from the late 8th Century through to the Norman Invasion in 1066.  It is recorded that a Viking Chieftan, Hubba spent one winter here with his 23 ships – hence Hubberston Point.  Many names in the area such as Skomer, Skokholm, Solva etc bear witness to the influence of Norse invasions between 850 and 1100. 

The great Irish expedition of Henry II began from here in 1171.  Making use of the deep water and protection of the waterway, he gathered 400 warships with huge numbers of troops before setting sail for Waterford and Dublin.

The tidal creeks and relatively sheltered mudflats provide a natural sanctuary for many wildfowl and waders.  The narrow, winding channels can only be navigated by dinghies and canoes so it's always peaceful. Large stretches of both rivers have been designated SSSIs and are being studied by the RSPB to develop conservation strategies.

 
Ancient Woodland

The ancient woodlands overhanging the creeks are at least 400 years old and would originally have clothed the slopes all along the Haven. Much was cleared due to the industries mentioned above, but since the demise of those activities, new woodland has begun to spring up.  Oak, ash and hazel are the dominant species, growing on steep and rocky slopes. There’s a spellbinding short walk through Lawrenny woods, starting at the boatyard on the Quay. Holly and Rowan trees grow beneath the canopy and there’s wood rush, heather and bilberry carpeting the ground.  Mosses and lichens are abundant, some of them believed to be amongst the oldest in Britain.

Lawrenny WoodsLittle Milford Woods, owned by The National Trust, border the northern end of the village of Hook, cloaking the high banks of the Western Cleddau which meanders around the village. For an interesting walk, go down to the bottom of Pill Road and take the old miners' drove road over to Lower Quay Road.   You can access the waterside here if you are fit and have good boots.   

There has been woodland on this hillside for several centuries and it was managed by traditional coppicing until the 1920s, when this practice ceased to be economical.  Much native woodland was felled in the mid 20th Century and replaced with coniferous plantations to supply the timber market.  But since the National Trust acquired it in 1975, the softwood is being felled and not replaced, allowing local species to regenerate.  They have also done work at Lawrenny to remove some of the non-native species of tree: sycamore, birch and rhododendron.  Managing the woodlands is important in order to keep them healthy.

History: Coal Mining

On the Western Cleddau, Little Milford and Nash woods overlie large coal seams which were mined between the medieval period and 1947.  At first coal was dug from bell pits (short, vertical shafts around which excavation continued until collapse meant digging a new shaft). The remains of these are seen in hollows and depressions dotting the woods. 

Landshipping quayBy the 19th Century, steam power made it possible to dig deeper mines, so Freystrop colliery was one of the last to close. Before the railway, coal was loaded onto barges to ship it downriver.  When larger vessels came into service, they were too big to go further upstream than Langwm, so coal was transferred there from the barges. Similar laborious reloading was necessary on the other side of the river, where coal from Cresswell area was transferred at Lawrenny.  The time involved in shipping the coal was a major reason for the decline of the trade. 

Due to the purity of the coal, its value was high. Specialised uses such as drying of hops and manufacture of glass meant the coal was much in demand and it was exported to Spain by the early 1500s creating prosperity in the area.  However, being so close to the river, miners faced constant danger from water seeping into the pits, and in 1844 water burst into Garden Pit near Landshipping.  Not a happy Valentine’s Day for the 40 men and boys who lost their lives, a memorial to whom stands near the car park. Read more here.

shipwreck lawrennyHistory: Other Industry
In the upper estuary around Llangwm and Hook, herring fishing continued into the 20thC. but this was knocked on the head by trawling downstream. 

In the early 19th C the Lawrenny shipyard was the second biggest on the Daugleddau.  Its rival, Milford expanded in the Victorian era and two new towns sprang up downriver: Pembroke Dock and Neyland.  Larger ships which could not reach the higher end of the estuary meant that Lawrenny’s period of industrial prosperity rapidly drew to a close. 

Around Hook, lots of old piers are now left crumbling in the river, harking back to a time of busy trading in the 1800s. Coal, timber and grain would be taken to the new ports downriver to be transferred onto seagoing vessels. 

Limestone was also quarried and shipped around to be burnt in kilns as fertiliser for fields in the area.

Western Cleddau

Places of note are Hook and Little Milford Woods – both mentioned in the Industry Section

Main River Daugleddau (North Bank)

Facilities in each village such as pub, beach, car park are listed at the foot of the page.

Langwm villageLangwm is a large, attractive village built around an inlet further upstream from Burton. Turn up the lane by the pub towards Black Tar Point.  A good spot for watching nature these days, it was once a significant site of the traditional fishing industry.  Langwm’s fisherwomen were well-known throughout the county; dressed in national costume, they would wander many miles selling cockles, oysters and prawns.  The name Black Tar derives from the substance used by fishermen to cover their compass net boats.  These were introduced to the area by two Gloucestershire miners and up to a 100 men from Hook and Langwm used them commercially in the 19th C. 

Burton was the site of several small shipyards in the 18th and 19th Cs.  There’s still one left in this small village where there’s a popular pub with a riverside beer garden.

Neyland

Before the 1850s, this was a small fishing village with a modest industry building and repairing ships on the shore of Westfield Pill. Then the village was transformed into a railway town when Brunel chose it as the terminus of the GWR; it also became a packet steamer port linking with Ireland until Fishguard took over and Neyland reverted to a fishing port. With fishing no longer viable, Westfield Pill has a marina full of leisure craft and a nature reserve with newly installed walk/cycle ways.  

Before the box girder bridge was opened in 1975 linking Neyland with Pembroke Dock, there was a choice of ferry across the river or a trip of 28 miles between the two towns - too bad for aquaphobics then.

Llanstadwell is a pretty linear village.  Important between the 17th and 19th Centuries, it was a site for small ships to land their cargoes of coal, grain, culm and limestone.  Horses and carts would then transport the goods for local delivery.  

cleddau around milfordMilford Haven

With a population of just over 13,000, Milford is the second largest settlement in Pembrokeshire and in terms of tonnage, the port is the third largest in the UK.  It already has 2 oil refineries and 2 gas terminals and it is hoped that its future may lie in the generation of marine renewable power.  It was first developed as a whaling centre and later developed in 1790 by Sir William Hamilton. 

Sandy Haven is a secluded bay with sand and seaweedy rocks at low tide.  Swimming is generally safe and sheltered areas for sunbathing are provided by the rocks. It has just received a Seaside Award in May 2014.  Dogs are allowed.

Monks Haven WatchtowerAccess from the east is via a single track lane from the village of Herbrandston.  It’s a short walk over rocks to the beach, or there are steps onto the sand approximately 150 yards eastwards along the coastal path. Or you can approach from the western side via a small road through Sandy Haven village. You can cross the stream that divides the beach via stepping stones at low tide (usable for about 2.5 hrs), but be careful or you’ll have a 4 mile walk to get back. Walks in the area give excellent views of Skokholm and Skomer.

St Ishmaels (Lindsway Bay) is a rural beach only accessible by coastal path or across playing fields from the village Surrounded by tall cliffs the beach is very secluded and is used for bathing but not watersports. At low tide a large expanse of rock pools can be seen.

daleDale   Due to its strategic positon, Dale enjoyed about 4 centuries as one of the busiest trading ports on this coast.  As well as general cargo, it exported ale from the village.  It is a delightful bay and is popular with leisure craft as a safe haven and anchorage. 

Eastern Cleddau

The eastern Cleddau has a very peaceful rural atmosphere with several little villages surrounded by oak woods and fields.

Blackpool Mill on north bank was one of many mills on the fast-flowing Daugleddau.  Since 16th C, a mill here first worked an iron forge, with charcoal from local forests to heat the furnaces.  But by early 19th C, this was becoming uneconomical so the then owner of Slebech reconstructed it as a grist mill for grinding corn.  It was in use until 1945. 

Picton Castle is considered to be the finest stately home in Pembrokeshire.  With its 40 acres of woodland gardens, it is well worth a visit.

Main River Daugleddau (East Bank)

At Landshipping  (mentioned in the Coalmining section) the Eastern tributary meets the main Daugleddau.  The area has a sprinkling of old mine workings and flooded lagoons and is worth a visit.  

Lawrenny villageLawrenny is a quaint little village with lovely church and quay with boatyard.  You can sit beside the café here and enjoy the idyll of the estuary.  The Quay has a long history of cargo shipping and also had a ferry service till the 1960s. But its idyllic setting on the Cleddau with the narrower channels of the Cresswell and Carew Rivers to the east, now allows it to prosper as a holiday site with lots of boating – there are two pontoons so you can easily launch a kayak or canoe.   NB You may find that the signpost at T junction has been turned round when you leave Lawrenny.  Turn right towards Cresswell Quay!

West Williamston ReserveWest Williamston
A beautiful nature reserve is situated to the west of the village (turn off by the red phone box and go straight to end (don’t fork right) - a promontory on the confluence of the Carew and the Cresswell rivers. The saltmarsh is deeply indented with tidal creeks which were excavated in the 18th C as loading bays for the limestone quarries. Many of these are now turning into salt marsh, and the remaining spoil heaps from the quarries have become vegetated.  There’s a fabulous variety of plants and birds and fields of bluebells in spring.

Upton Castle is just opposite, on the other side of the Carew River.  It has extensive gardens, surrounded by an arboretum. 

Directly opposite Neyland is Pembroke Dock, established 1802 as site for a new Royal Naval Dockyard.  Its history is shipbuilding and fishing due to being a rail head and terminal.

Attractions

In complete contrast to these rural backwaters is Oakwood Theme Park, Wales' only Theme Park. It's located alongside the A4075, a few miles north east of Martletwy. Numerous exciting rides are available in this attraction, built in a pretty woodland setting.

Close to Bluestone is The Blue Lagoon Water Park. It has flumes, a lazy river and a wave machine.

The climate of Martletwy has allowed a local vineyard to flourish: Cwm Deri produces a range of wines and liqueurs and has a restaurant where you can eat lunch 7 days a week or dinner on Friday and Saturday.  Bookings essential for Sunday lunch and evenings.

Follow this link to find many Pembrokeshire Walks and choose Daugleddau in the Search drop-down box.

Facilities

Dale: has a pontoon, small shop and Yacht Club as well as a pub, The Griffin and watersports centre. 

St Ishmaels: The Brook Inn

Herbrandston: small, free car park (7” height restriction) with 2 picnic tables.

Llanstadwell:The Ferry Boat Inn benefits from splendid views over the waterway.

Burton: The Jolly Sailor has a good list of traditional pub fare plus a few vegetarian options. It serves tea and proper coffee.  Right outside is a summer pontoon for mooring yachts or small watercraft.  At the top of the hill is the Stable Inn.  You can obtain longer term moorings through Rudders Boat Yard who also run RYA courses.

Langwm: small shop and pub, The Cottage Inn. 

Black Tar:  car parking, public toilets and picnic area. Landing slipway with access to river for small boat users at all states of tide.

Hook: small car park and small village shop.  It’s a good spot for nature watching.

Lawrenny Quay cafeLawrenny: The Lawrenny Arms serves real ale and has original veggie options.  Also daily special.  Serves proper coffee. The pontoon is conveniently attached to the front of the pub. There’s also a smart café, Quayside Tearoom, open from Easter to the end of September. 

The village shop in Lawrenny is the only one for 7 miles and is owned by the community. It offers great provisions for all visitors, as well as selling local produce. Open 7 days a week.

cresswell quayCresswell Quay Take a detour up the Cresswell river and find the ancient Cresselly Arms, near the water's edge overlooking a wooded reach of the estuary, which you can cross on stepping stones. Very high tides can flood across the road to reach the pub doorway. It was first built about 250 years ago and upgraded in the 1890s, since when it has not been changed much. No food or children inside pub but large terrace.  80% of guest ales are from Welsh breweries – including microbreweries: Caffle at Llawhaden; Bluestone Brewery, Newport, and Mantle Brewery, Cardigan.

 

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