The Wanderer Returns


Image from Tim Hill at Pixabay

I lived in beautiful Pembrokeshire for many years, and they were the best years of my life.

I was in Pembroke, a five-minute drive from the nearest beach, and in easy striking distance of dozens of others. I didn’t have the money for a sea view, but in front of my house there were fields and trees, and in the other three directions there were friendly neighbours, some of whom became friends I still treasure.

This all changed last February – not the treasuring of friends, but the fact of living in Pembroke – when family matters forced a move just across the border, to Somerset. If the map’s to be believed, it’s not that far as the crow flies, but there are tractors and caravans and campervans to get stuck behind at both ends of the journey, and I’m now at least four hours away from my old home.

I’m back now, for a few days, and it’s time to reflect on what’s changed in my life. I love this part of the world. I may have had to leave it, but it’ll never leave me. So how are things different, now that (most of the time) I’m not here any more?

The first things that come to mind are the smaller road signs, and the fact that you can’t find Welsh cakes in the shops. Both true – the signs for London don’t have to have room to also say ‘Llundain’ – but that’s not the only thing of course.

Welsh cakes            La Fontaine at Pixabay

Anyway, there are other cakes.

The first thing I noticed when I moved to England was the lack of stars. When I first came to Pembs many years ago, I woke up very early one winter’s morning and I was staggered by the deep, deep blackness of the sky, and the overwhelming brightness of the billions of stars that I could see. I’ve never been able to discern where the Milky Way is – that vague sweep of brightness that extends across the whole night sky – except here in Pembrokeshire. The skies are big here, and the light pollution is generally low.


I also miss the sea.

Last summer I was chatting to a chap in Lamphey, and I mentioned Freshwater East – his local beach, less than five minutes’ drive away from his home – and he admitted that he and his young family hadn’t been to the beach all year.

We’re peninsula people – the sea surrounds us in three directions – so it’s so easy to take our beautiful coast for granted. Not me, any more. My nearest beach is probably now Weymouth, more than an hour away on a crowded train. I haven’t been yet, but I look forward to sharing it with thousands of other people.

Take out Tenby, and in the summer holidays there are probably more people on Weymouth beach than there are on all the beaches of Pembrokeshire put together. I’m going to miss the chance to walk along a beach practically alone. Except on my trips back to Pembs.

And what of all those West Country people on Weymouth beach. Are they really any different from Pembroke folk?

No matter how much I miss my Pembrokeshire friends – they’re the reason I’ve come back for a few days – I can’t say that I’ve found my new neighbours any less friendly than the ones I had in Pembroke.

Even the accent is not so different, maybe thanks to ethnic cleansing.

I guess you knew about that? Long before the phrase was invented, and nearly a thousand years before any of the appalling modern examples that we can all unfortunately think of, the Normans shipped thousands of people from the West Country to Pembrokeshire, forcing the natives north and east at the point of a sword. That wasn’t the reason they called him William the Bastard – there were lots of reasons for that – but this was bad enough.

So maybe my new neighbours and my old neighbours are distantly related, thanks to the psychopath who ruled both countries after 1066.

Sorry, my little ramble took a dark turn there, didn’t it? From Welsh cakes and starry skies to rampaging Normans in the space of a couple of hundred words.

I’ll end on a lighter note.

There was one thing that always irked me when I lived in Pembroke. It wasn’t anything to do with the town itself. It was the ignorance of pretty much anyone who doesn’t live here.

When I was away from the county and people asked me where I was from, I’d say Pembroke. And the answer I almost always got was “Oh yes, where in Pembroke?”

Of course, they meant “where in Pembrokeshire” not even realising there’s a town that gave the county its name. Sometimes I’d try answering truthfully “just off the Lower Lamphey Road”, but this would generally lead to mystification, so I’d say “in the actual town of Pembroke”, which would satisfy their limited curiosity.

If I lived in York, would they say “Where in York?” meaning “Where in Yorkshire?”?

I think not. But their ignorance is our bliss. The less people know about Pembrokeshire, the better. May our beaches stay nearly deserted for a long time to come.

Rob Barnes is a writer who has been a mainstay of Pembrokeshire.Online for many years. He has now gone to live in England. No, we don’t understand why either, but suffice it to say he has taken up morris dancing… so perhaps there isn’t much one can add. Except that he is a regular returnee to these blessed shores… almost as though he cant quite stay away.

You may also like...