For a wonderfully green and pleasant land, Pembrokeshire has a lot of roads. But apart from the big, fast main ones, most of them are minor – and many of those could be described as mini-minor.
The latter tend not to have road numbers, and some are not over-encumbered with signposts. But armed with an OS map – rather than a cheap road atlas or a satnav (the last thing you want when you’re exploring) – you can follow some wonderful little lanes, often taking you on “as the crow flies” routes from one place to another.
You just have to remember that they’re narrow. That word again is: narrow. But don’t be put off. The back roads are fun and can take you into the real heart of the county. Just make sure you pay attention. One part of your brain needs to be used to remember where the last passing place or marginally wider bit of road was, while another concentrates on negotiating the twists and bends, and another watches for the approach of a vehicle from the opposite direction.
One of the most testing roads I ventured down recently was one leaving the south-east corner of St Florence, out past the ruined mill toward West Tarr Farm and Tenby. You know you’re on a lesser-used lane when you notice grass and flowers sprouting through the tarmac down the centre of it. Another sign is that birds in the road tend not to move – either because they’re just not used to the idea of vehicles using these lanes, or because they’re arrogant enough to have a “this is my territory and you can wait till I’m ready to move” kind of attitude.
I only met one other car on this back road to Tenby and fortunately the encounter coincided with a slight and momentary widening.
Sometimes you can do the whole length of a narrow road and meet nothing coming the other way. It’s a kind of relief. – but you can also feel cheated, since you haven’t had to hastily back up or push your car into an almost non-existent indentation in the hedgerow to enable two cars to pass each other in a space that looks barely wide enough for one. The successful completion of such manoeuvres always engenders a certain satisfaction, as well as being a minor social event, accompanied by mutual nods, waves and smiles.
The skinny lane known as Flygate, from Lawrenny towards Lawrenny Newton and Creswell Quay, was as nailbitingly narrow as the one out of St Florence, but a totally enjoyable immersion in greenest Pembrokeshire, with, again, only one other squeeze-by encounter.
One of the best minor roads is the one from Newgale heading south along the coast to Nolton Haven and Broad Haven – with lots of ups, downs and bends, a reasonable number of passing places, and the bonus of the beautiful sea off to your right.
I don’t think it’s my imagination: it seems that the more you drive on these roads, the better you get at knowing there is something coming the other way, even before you see it. I’d be interested to know if the locals have developed a heightened version this sixth sense.
Of course some locals have a different perspective on the narrow roads, since a lot of them seem to drive tractors. That not only gives them a much better vantage point but also pretty much a clear right of way. When someone’s driving something at least twice as big and twice as high as your car, it’s usually in your interests to demur and let them through; although to be fair, tractors often stop or back up and allow you to pass.
How the tractors don’t get stuck in some of the narrow lanes is beyond me. But they no doubt know their loads and these roads intimately – and what they can get away with.
While most car drivers wave in acknowledgement if you pull in, wait or back up, tractor drivers tend to just point their index finger in a kind of salute, not so much to say thanks as to say: yes, you did the sensible thing to stop and let me through.
The best thing of all, as we found one evening when we were driving from St Florence for a night out in Saundersfoot, along the lane known as Devonshire Drive, is to be behind a tractor. Previously I’d been a bit tentative on this road, always being prepared for whatever might come the other way. But following in the wake of a (surprisingly speedy) tractor complete with huge agricultural attachments was like having your very own police escort – you could just put your foot down and whizz through in its slipstream.
Anything coming in the opposite direction was going to have get out of the way. Sharpish.