I fell in love with Pembrokeshire several years ago – and I’m not the only one to do so. There are many incomers who find the lure of south-west Wales irresistible. I wondered if part of what drives them here is a touch of what the Welsh call “hiraeth” – that almost untranslatable word for the longing to be in your homeland.
Knowing that I, too, was thinking of emigrating from London to this beautiful place, Kitty Parsons of Pembrokeshire Online kindly arranged a get-together for me to meet half a dozen people who had made it their new homeland – and to find out why…
Sarah Wint finally moved from the Cotswolds to Pembrokeshire in 2016. “But I’d been visiting St Davids and Solva forever,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to live next to the sea, and I finally managed to drag my husband here!” They now live just inland from Solva at Llanddinog House.
Her husband is an ecologist who still works at Oxford University. Formerly a florist and PA who had got into gardening, Sarah opened her Daisybus Gardens project to the public in 2017. “There were 14 separate show gardens: all different gardens which illustrated different aspects of wellbeing,’ she explained. “But I stopped doing it because I ended up doing nothing but selling tea and cakes.”
So does she have any regrets about moving to Pembrokeshire? “No. It’s all pluses. The only thing is that, of course, it’s just such a long way to get anywhere. When we have visitors they always say: ‘It’s taken us five hours to get here!’
“But I love the earthiness of the people in Pembrokeshire. You haven’t got to have the latest bag or shoes or car… or any of that. There is a real love of the area by the people. And people are always very passionate about what they do.”
Like retired criminal barrister Ieuan Morris who moved from Cardiff to Solva two years ago to devote himself to a new career as a photographer. “But I never regarded myself as an outsider,” he said. He was born in Pembrokeshire, but his 45 years in the law led him to London and then Cardiff, where he was in practice for more than 30 years. He bought his house in Solva 35 years ago and regularly came to stay there when he was working in Cardiff.
As well as the nature of the county seen in his landscape and seascape pictures, he likes capturing the nature of its people. Taking “snatched portraits” is his speciality. “Pembrokeshire has, er, characters,” he said with a smile. Visit his website and you’ll see what he means.
Ieuan’s devotion to Pembrokeshire life is evident in his photographs; his contentment at living in Solva is apparent in his easy manner. And he obviously prefers the north. “The Landsker Line is still there,” he said, referring to the border between the traditionally Welsh-speaking and English-speaking halves of the county. “But because of the influx of outsiders, the line is now more blurred, although the north remains natural – not manicured.”
This is a theme taken up by Ian and Ruth Cory who moved from Frome, in Somerset, to make their new home in what was formerly a Baptist minister’s house near Crymych, in the Preseli hills.
“It’s very real living in north Pembrokeshire,” said Ian. “We actually came here with a desire for life to be a bit harder – less plastic-coated. Life elsewhere has become too easy.”
A welfare reform manager, Ian was surprised and delighted to find that Pembrokeshire offered reliable, fast broadband and the potential for working efficiently from home.
Ruth says she and Ian are “a strong couple” who know they can rely on each other – something which is vital for starting a new life in a new place.
She says the beauty of the night sky in Pembrokeshire is one of the big pluses of living here. “Being able to see the moon at night,” she said, “that ought to be a human right.”
But what about more practical concerns such as access to hospitals and doctors? “We think the healthcare here is really good. In the city you could be collapsed and living among thousands of people, and no one would know what had happened to you.”
Neighbours who are willing to help out in times of need are one of the great advantages that Ian and Ruth discovered from their very first days in Pembrokeshire.”People help you. And if they can’t, they recommend somebody who can. Back over the border [in England], it would have been not ‘Can I help?’ but ‘How much can I get out of you?’ ”
At weekends, Ruth works as a cleaner; and her ambition is to set up a plant nursery specialising in poisonous plants, and ones with folk history attached.
“We see life here as about DOING something rather than GETTING something,” said Ian.
Is it only incomers who appreciate the “otherness” of Pembrokeshire? “No,” he said. “A lot of local young people do see the beauty of it. They appreciate that what they have here is special.”
Rachel Mullet agrees that Pembrokeshire has something special. She spent her childhood on a farm on the Dale peninsula and loved growing up surrounded by beaches and boats.
She is a passionate photographer with some of her most remarkable pictures being of local wildlife. Her Pembrokeshire Moments website offers not just pictures but also other gifts making use of her images.
She may be a local but she said: “I think you definitely have to go away to appreciate what you’ve got.” She went to London to study when she was 17 and worked there for a couple of years. After a return to Pembrokeshire, she had brief spells in London, Southampton and near Swansea before coming back home again “well over 30 years ago”. She now lives happily in the village of Roch, near Newgale.
Novelist Helen Carey is another highly talented and creative person who has long appreciated the pull of Pembrokeshire. Her parents, originally from Oxford, were drawn to the place, and Helen had come here on many childhood holidays. She continued to visit regularly, and 14 years ago she moved from Wiltshire to Pembrokeshire (having moved from London two years before that). Helen has had huge commercial success with her “Lavender Road” series of novels. She wrote the first of the original three books 18 years ago but they got a boost in 2004 when they were republished for Kindle. She has now done a total of six books in that series, plus others, including “Slick Deals”, a thriller that highlights the dangerous possibility of oil exploration in Cardigan Bay.
“We love life here,” said Helen, adding quietly, “apart from the winter.” She and her husband, Marc Mordey, live in an old farmhouse at Penrallt, overlooking Newport Bay. “But I don’t like the wind,” she admits.
And how does Pembrokeshire measure up against London and Wiltshire?
“I love art and cafes and theatre, and we thought we might feel deprived here. But there are two good cinemas within a couple of miles – which is better than Wiltshire, where everyone just went to London. I think film and music are better here.”
Marc agrees about the diversity of music on offer. A highly experienced consultant working in the housing and voluntary sectors, he got into photography when he and Helen moved to Pembrokeshire – and also occasionally helps out with local livestock. “Now he’s painting sheep’s bottoms,” said Helen. The couple have five or six acres of land at Penrallt “which we’ve made it into a wildlife haven, with a huge range of grasses”.
The worst thing about making the big move to Pembrokeshire, said Helen, is that “we have left a lot of friends behind”.
But it seemed to me from being part of this wonderful gathering of Helen, Marc, Ian, Ruth, Ieuan, Rachel and Sarah (none of whom I had met before) that anyone moving to this great part of the world is guaranteed to find one thing in particular: new and very genuine friends.