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Tenby - Victorian destination of distinction

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Tenby, the perfect little resort deep in West Wales, has been a destination of distinction since Victorian times. Now the coast all around it has been declared the second best in the world, while one of the local beaches stars in the latest Harry Potter film. The writer's cup brims over as he explores the area and compiles his must do list. Pembrokeshire coast around Tenby – some of the best in the world. Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

Rare resort

A line of high and narrow Georgian and Victorians town houses in delicate pastel colours wraps around Tenby’s sea front. They perfected the design of this gorgeous little resort over 150 years ago, so why do anything more? The Victorians came for healthy walks and guaranteed shelter – to dodge the wind you either go north to the sandy beach, or south to the exquisite little harbour. Novelist George Eliot was inspired enough by her visit in 1856 to take up writing. Tenby’s rich helping of history includes the Tudor Merchant's House and the 13th town walls and gatehouse. I like the tight, switchback streets, with pubs and restaurants competing hard, their menus chalked up on blackboards outside.

Top coast

Regular visitors to Pembrokeshire weren’t in the least surprised when National Geographic Magazine’s experts named the county's coastline the second best in the world in 2010. It finished (jointly with New Zealand’s Tutukaka Coast) just behind the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland, Canada. The citation praised its beautiful castle-clad cliffs and 50 beaches along the dramatic coast of the Pembrokeshire National Park, deemed to be “in excellent shape, relatively unspoiled, and likely to remain so.” You can savour every inch of the sublime coastland, with its ancient burial mound, Celtic crosses and Welsh legend on the 186-mile Pembrokeshire Coast National Trail, broken up into over 200 bite-size local walks.

Harry’s haunt

Shell Cottage plays a special role in the new movie 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' as a safe home for the main characters. So take a bow the location scout who found Freshwater West, near Tenby, as the place to film it. We walked the huge empty strand in the creamy autumn sunlight, as the waves swept in trailing plumes of spray, and a lonely peregrine hunted over the rocks. There is nothing to show now that the Harry, Ron and Hermione characters, or the cottage (built from scratch), were ever here. But the “constant ebb and flow of the sea, like the breathing of some great, slumbering creature”, that Harry could hear, remains.  Freshwater’s other Hollywood starring cameo was as a setting for the battles in the Ridley Scott film Robin Hood.

Holiday haven

From our breakfast table in Cranberry Cottage we could see the breakers crashing onto the rocks just along the rugged coast towards Tenby. Celtic Haven, a huddle of 26 white-painted houses close to the cliff tops, looking across to Caldy Island, is a neat and elegant example of how to do holiday development well in a precious landscape. They've squeezed in a spa and swimming pool into this complex of former estate cottages, farm buildings and the stable of a horse that won the Scottish Grand National. There’s even a terrace for sunset cocktails where you look out to sea, next to the restaurant, Waves. They keep a link with the fields around, sourcing meat and vegetables locally, and buying fish fresh off the Tenby boats.

Rural rides

There is a long coastline to cover, but they make it easy with some spectacularly green public transport. Not since Bertie in the Thomas the Tank Engine stories have buses had such endearing names (emblazoned all over their sides) as the Poppit Rocket, Puffin Shuttle and Celtic Coaster, linking to railway stations. Its a rare pleasure to bounce around wide-open roads, lined with harts tongue fern, between steep fields. Think of somewhere remote, from the Daugleddau Estuary (The “Secret Waterway”) to St David’s, and one of the buses, some running on recycled vegetable oil, goes there. This coffee table book landscape stretches inland to the Preseli Mountains, where they think the blue stones at Stonehenge came from. Take the Preseli Green Dragon Walkers bus..

Castle of the king

Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII in the illustrious dynasty reaching through to Elizabeth I, was born in Pembroke Castle in 1457. They restored it to its formidable Norman pomp after a crumbly, ivy-covered interlude in the 1900s. It stands proud and tremendous above this ancient town. It's one of the county's rich crop of citadels – they include Manorbier, Cilgerran, Haverfordwest, Lamphey, Llawhaden, Narberth and Picton castles. There are over 50 all told, if you include forts and the reconstructed 600BC Iron Age citadel Castell Henllys. Leading a proud list is Carew Castle. overlooking a serene millpond, with a 11th century Celtic Cross and Wales’s only restored Tidal Mill.

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