I don’t go on holiday
very often much ever. So far number of holidays I have been, off my own back, include my honeymoon and…nope that’s it. Far from sunny beaches or romantic getaways that newly weds usually go off on, new husband and I packed for a week, got in the car, drove to the Welsh border and spent a week seeking out all the castles and ruined churches we could find. It was great. One day I’ll even write something about all the places we managed to see. So when I was offered the chance to do the same again, this time from the Bluestone Resort in Pembrokeshire, which is within driving distance of 21 castles, Christmas had come early! I jumped at the opportunity to explore the historical attractions of Pembrokeshire with a poor excuse for a camera, two friends, husband and baby in tow.
Our base camp was the Bluestone Resort. Set within 500 acres of the Pembrokeshire countryside complete with almost 300 luxury lodges, a few restaurants, an adventure park, a water park, a spa and its own village complex. Between the village, the isolation of the countryside and the fact that everyone else seemed to be driving a buggy we felt very much like we were in The Prisoner and spent most of the holiday referring to each other by numbers. We stayed in one of the Grassholm lodges (sleeps 8) in the area known as Knight’s Rest, which gave us decent views of the resort and doorstep access to the nature trails, including the route to medieval fortification Castel Coch.
A bit on the lodge before I get into the historical features, we stayed in a four bedroom, three bathroom lodge which really was luxurious. Not least the fact that, as we ended up being just four adults and a baby, we had a bathroom each and an abundance of space. We had everything we needed to get by for the week in terms of utensils, washing up amenities, towels and bedding etc, and to our absolute delight the lodge came with a travel cot, a high chair and stair gates! We were travelling with a one year old whose favourite pastimes currently include running across floors at full pelt and climbing stairs, and we had been concerned before arriving as to how we would possibly restrain her. But the lodge gave her ample space to run around without smacking into the usual obstructions in our (we now feel) woefully undersized flat, while blocking off the stairs so we didn’t have to worry about it. Not having to keep a constant eye on baby in a new environment left us able to enjoy the lodge ourselves. Bliss.
As a self catering break we had to stock the larders ourselves, so we nipped to the nearest supermarket to get supplies after a rather disappointing take away from nearby Narbeth on our first night. There was however a village shop which we could potentially have fed ourselves for the whole week on and a selection of food outlets at the resort including a pub, grillhouse, rather fancy looking restaurant, bakery, kids cafe and Camp Smokey complete with smoke pit for the toasting of marshmallows. We had fresh croissants for breakfast every morning, though the one day we ordered breakfast to be delivered it never arrived. The refund was easily dealt with though the same morning and we still got the breakfast so I guess it worked out.
Things to do
So you may want to know about some of the other things to do in the area that aren’t steeped in history, you massive weirdos you. There is plenty to do at Bluestone what with the spa, water park (free to guests), adventure centre, tournament field and more. In the run up you will receive numerous emails telling you about activities that you can pre-book and If baby was older we probably would have taken advantage of the considerable options to keep the kids busy, as well as indulging ourselves, but she’s currently too small to enjoy any of the extras. That said, we took advantage of the free baby sensory area within the Adventure Centre which proved to be great fun, and we’re sure the baby enjoyed it too. Otherwise we were happy exploring the countryside and letting her run wild, realising that as we’re city dwellers this was actually the first time she’d ever been on grass. Madness.
I can’t list the activities available because there’s simply so many of them it’d fill up the rest of the post, but needless to say you won’t be bored, there is something on every moment of the day from dusk til dawn.
The most enjoyable activity we engaged in was by far the Guided Historical Walk. Hosted by local historian Terry we were taken on an easy walk where he pointed out places of interest, told us some local folklore and regaled us with the history of Bluestone’s ruined church, a standing stone (and the woman apparently trapped within it) and (literally) pointed us to some features we could see in the distance, one of many the benefits of having such great views. Friendship Unit #2 and I were also lucky enough to be shown his collection of unearthed musket balls included one that had never been fired and one that had obviously been used by some poor sod to bite down on during amputation. Best walk ever? I think so.
As a base for exploring the local historical fare Bluestone is an excellent choice. As well as it being within driving distance of numerous historical places of interest, there are a number of interesting spots within the Bluestone resort itself worthy of attention.
Near the Bluestone village, Newton North church is an interesting, albeit now ruined church. Originally built on the site of a pagan holy well, the church boasted a new addition every century, possibly as the church occupied a prime location along a pilgrimage route and them pilgrims had deep pockets (thanks to Terry for that info). The church is currently in a state of disrepair and unfortunately you can’t go in. Normally we don’t let a little thing like a “keep out” sign stop us, but the church genuinely did look unsafe so we didn’t risk it. That said, the gate keeping you out is just a normal farmer’s gate so you can easily see into the church and the fact that part of the walls have fallen down mean you can get a good look around albeit at a distance.
Within the boundaries of the resort is a medieval manor house known as Castell Coch, not to be confused with the Victorian fairy tale castle of the same name in Cardiff. We couldn’t see the remains, which are apparently in great condition, as all access had been closed off while building work was being conducted. That didn’t stop us trying though, but alas after an hour of walking through a forest without any luck we were forced to turn back. Later in the week Terry told us that normally the manor forms a part of his historical walk and it would have been great to have seen it, instead he showed us some sketches and explained what remains.
From Bluestone you can see across to the Preseli Hills, apparently within which lives a dragon, and see the ruins of the Bishops of Saint David’s court house. All of this can be seen from the standing stone, which houses the cursed form of a medieval witch who got on the wrong side of the bishop when she encouraged people to dance on Sundays, and there was something about voodoo and immoral behaviour in there, but pretty sure she was cursed for wanting to dance on Sundays. Harlot. Along one of the many nature trails there is an iron age settlement which we would have loved to have seen but unfortunately it was one of the attractions we had to sacrifice for baby’s nap time.
If you want to get out and about and explore the historical places of interest Pembrokeshire has to offer here is just a very, very small selection of places to check out in the area. These are of particular interest to anyone wanting a Tudor holiday, as Pembrokeshire is steeped in Tudor landmarks.
Pembroke Castle: The eleventh century castle is the birthplace of Henry VII and remains in excellent condition. The castle holds regular events and has a number of staple activities hosted throughout the year.
Manorbier Castle: Another eleventh century castle that has remained in remarkable condition, able to be explored extensively.
Carew Castle: Built in the thirteenth century by the Carew family, not much of the interior remains but the exterior walls can be explored and the windows remain in good condition (though obviously without the glass).
Picton Castle: Less a castle, more a stately home, still worth a visit if not for the castle then for the surrounding grounds and gardens.
St David’s: Within driving distance is the comparatively tiny city of St David’s. As well as the famous cathedral which has a great deal of history in itself (and the tomb of Owen Tudor), the remains of the Bishop’s Palace can be easily accessed and explored for free while the nearby ruins of St Non’s Chapel complete with standing stones and a holy well.
Tenby: A must for any Tudor fans looking for a Tudor themed holiday. Jasper Tudor and Henry VII went into exile from Tenby, with various parts of their journey marked out throughout the town, including the tunnels that Henry allegedly escaped Yorkist soldiers through. The National Trust keeps a Tudor Merchant House open to the public and the castle walls are visible all around the town. You can also hop on a ferry over to Caldey Island to the still active Cistercian monastery and see the monks wandering around, that and you can buy their home made chocolate.
Would I recommend Bluestone?
Yes, and in the interests of full disclosure I didn’t pay for my lodge, but that aside I would still recommend it and have every intention of going back when baby is old enough to partake of the activities. While the additional activities did seem a bit pricey, at least £7 a child per activity, that didn’t seem any more expensive than the equivalent at say, a Centre Parcs. We didn’t pay for any additional activities and we still had a wonderful time, as there is simply so much to see and do. As a car free resort you can rent a golf cart to travel around, though we opted to just use our legs and enjoy the scenery. As a base to explore the rest of Pembrokeshire we couldn’t have chosen a better location from which to venture forth. In fact our only niggle with the whole holiday was that the games arcade left a lot to be desired for after swallowing our money and not giving us a puc to play air hockey with. So all in all, not a bad week.