Pembrokeshire Pub Focus

THE SHIP INN, Lower Town, Fishguard

If you’re ever visiting Fishguard, in Pembrokeshire, one pub not to be missed is the Ship Inn in Lower Town (Y Cwm, in Welsh), the old fishing harbour, complete with quaint limewashed cottages lining the quay. The Ship is one of the oldest buildings in Fishguard, dating back to around the 1780s, and when you walk through the rather unusual sliding door, you get the impression that not much has changed during the last 200 or so years. As befits its location, there is seafaring paraphernalia adorning the walls and ceiling, while the log fire in the hearth makes the pub even more welcoming, especially if there happens to be an Atlantic gale blowing in from the Irish Sea.

The beers on offer at The Ship never change (Bass and Felinfoel Double Dragon from Llanelli), but are always well kept. And somehow they taste even better when your beer glass is standing on one of the wooden beer barrels that serve as tables. For all film buffs, there’s another reason to call in at The Ship. Back in the 1950s, Moby Dick was filmed here in Fishguard Bay, and in 1971 the locals were amazed to see such famous faces as Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, plus a youthful David Jason (of Only Fools and Horses fame) and a plethora of well-known Welsh actors, wandering their narrow streets. In that year, a film of Under Milk Wood, the radio play by Wales’s best known poet Dylan Thomas, was filmed here in Lower Town. The Ship has the signed photos and other memorabilia testifying that it had the honour of quenching the thirst of such illustrious stars.

The Ship Inn is family friendly, dog friendly, and also muddy boot friendly, which is handy if you decide to walk Pembrokeshire’s spectacular coast path, which is only a couple of hundred yards from the doorstep. When you visit, please bear in mind the slightly restricted opening hours (closed on Mon+Tues. Only evening opening from 5pm Wed-Fri), and that the only non-liquid sustenance to be had is crisps and peanuts, unless you happen to be dropping in during the Six Nations or rugby internationals, when a delicious cawl (traditional Welsh soup served with bread and cheese) is served up free of charge at half-time for the rugby fans who have come to watch the game and cheer on the boys in red. But don’t worry, the TV is never switched on at any other time and sits discreetly in a corner. All in all, a pub that definitely deserves to be called a “little gem”, both for its diminutive size and its many attractions.

TAFARN SINC

Tafarn Sinc, in the village of Rosebush has long been one of the best known pubs in Pembrokeshire, which even visitors from far afield usually manage to track down in spite of its rather remote location at the foot of the Preseli Hills. It certainly has plenty of character to recommend it, and now there is an additional reason to feature this pub on the website. Tafarn Sinc has just become probably the first community-owned pub in Wales. When, after 25 years at the beer pumps, landlord and landlady Brian and Hafwen Davies decided it was time to put up their feet and enjoy being on the other side of the bar, no buyer could be found. So the only way to save this iconic and much-loved watering hole was for local people to raise the asking price. In fact it is a measure of Tafarn Sinc’s popularity that in the space of just a few months, enough shares in the pub were sold for it to open its doors again, thanks also to some celebrity support from the likes of film star Rhys Ifans, of Notting Hill fame. Perhaps it’s a trend that is catching on nationwide, as apparently there were only 4 community-owned pubs in the UK in 2009, but by 2017 that figure had risen to 42, with a 100% survival rate so far!

In the case of Tafarn Sinc it’s just another interesting episode in its long and eventful history. The pub began life around 150 years ago, when a wealthy merchant called Edward Cropper bought Rosebush slate quarry back in 1869. He proceeded to build a railway line to transport the slate, and alongside the platform he built the Precelly Hotel, a timber and corrugated iron structure. He also had ambitions to make Rosebush a health spa and tourist attraction, where visitors would enjoy the health-giving mountain air. So he created ornamental lakes complete with a waterfall, fountain and wooden pagodas plus pleasant walks with rockeries and shrubberies, not to mention a skittle alley and other such entertainments. Alas neither the health resort nor the slate quarry prospered for long. Eventually the hotel closed in the early 1990s and was earmarked to be turned into a housing development until rescued by locals Brian and Brenda Llewellyn. They reopened it as a traditional Welsh pub called Tafarn Sinc (Welsh for “Zinc Pub”), as it is still built entirely of galvanised iron to this day

The cosy interior boasts sawdust on the floor and air-dried hams plus all sorts of agricultural implements hanging from the ceiling. But the most distinctive feature is the railway platform and signal box just outside the door, complete with a life-size family on the platform and the sound of steam trains arriving and departing. This, after all, is exactly where the station on teh Maenclochog Railway line was located until it finally closed and the track was removed in 1952. But not before another interesting episode – in 1943 the Maenclochog railway tunnel was bombed by the RAF in order to test out the bouncing bomb used in the famous Dam Busters raid, under the watchful eyes of Barnes Wallis, who had invented it. All in all, Tafarn Sinc is definitely a pub not to be missed, including for some traditional pub grub.

SHIP INN, TREFIN

For fans of the good old-fashioned pub, unspoilt by modernisation or noisy music boxes, pin ball machines and such like, the picturesque North Pembrokeshire village of Trefin, on the coast road between Fishguard and St Davids, is well worth a visit. It’s close proximity to the Pembrokeshire coast path with its rugged coast line make it an even more attractive destination. After sampling the ales and good food on offer, you can stroll down the main street past the pretty colour-washed cottages, and after a few hundred yards you are at a rocky cove called Aberfelin. Here, the idyllic view is enhanced by a ruined 18th century corn mill, Melin Trefin in Welsh, complete with millstones, which is perched perilously close to the water’s edge. The village also has a weaving centre, cafe (Mill Cafe) and youth hostel. If you’re wearing your walking boots, you can venture further along the coast path to other lovely bays, such as Abercastle and Porthgain, not to mention a Neolithic cromlech (dolmen) called Carreg Samson and an Iron Age fort (Castell Coch).

But back to the Ship Inn, where you have the choice of what used to be known as the Public Bar with a tiled floor, wooden chairs and settle benches, low ceiling with exposed wood beams plus ships lanterns adorning the walls. If you are stopping for food, which is served seven days a week, you may prefer the more spacious Lounge with its carpeted floor. Whichever you choose, you are assured of a real log fire in the colder months and a friendly welcome from landlady Meriel Murphy, who will soon be celebrating her twentieth year at the helm of this pub with its seafaring atmosphere.

The records show that the Ship Inn has been here since at least 1805, and I doubt very much has changed in the last 200 and a bit years. As was so traditional all along the coastline of Pembrokeshire, the pub was first run by the wife of a ship’s captain. Tragically she lost both her husband and two sons to the wild waves of the Irish sea. Not surprisingly then, her third son chose not to go to sea, instead becoming a shipwright and innkeeper in Lower Fishguard. Meriel keeps two changing real ales on the pumps and in addition to the regular daily menu, there is a curry night each Saturday. If you’re really lucky, you might even bump into Welsh singer/songwriter and local celebrity Cerys Matthews, of Catatonia fame, as her father lives just along the road. Enjoy your visit!

THE FARMERS ARMS, MATHRY

The Farmers Arms is a traditional pub at Mathry, the ‘village on the hill’, situated between Fishguard and St Davids with wonderful views of North Pembrokeshire in every direction.

This family run business retains much of it’s original character with beamed ceilings and a log fire. To the side is a spacious conservatory/garden room which is available for functions or can be just a pleasant place to sit and enjoy a drink among the Mediterranean style plants.

The bar has three handpumps, one which always serves Double Dragon, another which varies between Bombardier, Rev James or Directors. The third is reserved for beers from our local breweries.

The varied, realistically priced food is home prepared using much locally sourced produce.

Locals and visitors alike are often entertained with live music, beer festivals, quiz nights and themed evenings.

THE BUCCANEER, TENBY

The Buccaneer is situated in quaint St Julian Street which links the town square to the harbour and beaches.

Although the bar area is large it has a cosy feel with beams, stove and Tenby memorabilia adorning the walls. A sunny walled beer garden with ample additional seating is to the rear with heating for those chilly evenings.

The Buccaneer is the brewery tap for the adjacent Tenby Harbour Brewery and sells their full range of beers. A good selection of European draught lagers are also available.

Food is served all day with locally sourced fresh fish and ingredients on the menu. Winter opening hours are 12-11. Summer 11-12.30

THE WHITE HART, ST DOGMAELS

Set in the centre of Pembrokeshire’s northernmost village, this small cheery free house enjoys a good local following. Beamed ceilings and a log burner give a lovely warm feeling to the bar area. To one side is the pool table and Sky TV and to the other is a separate restaurant.

The beach at nearby Poppit Sands marks the northern terminus of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. The pub is a short walk to St Dogmaels Benedictine Tironensian Abbey and visitor centre, one of Pembrokeshire's most beautiful historical attractions.

The restaurant specialises in locally sourced fresh fish and produce. Double Dragon and Butty Bach are the regular beers. Guest beers change regularly and are often from breweries rarely seen locally.

When visited last Saturday, the White Hart had the first ever barrel created by ‘Seal Bay Brewery’, our newest Pembrokeshire brewery. Located just outside St Dogmaels village, this small 4 cask plant is still finding it’s feet but the first tasting was very promising. The two brewers were on hand to answer any questions and hear customers comments. Watch this space for more information.

THE SLOOP INN, PORTHGAIN

Situated in the beautiful fishing harbour of Porthgain, this sympathetically renovated and extended old inn has served both the locally based fishing industry and the now defunct quarry and brickworks on the opposite side of the valley. The pub displays interesting quarrying, brick making and shipping artefacts.

The Sloop is a popular refreshment stop for walkers on the scenic Pembrokeshire Coastal National Park footpath. Stunning beaches and dramatic cliff views are nearby.

The Sloop Inn welcomes families and is open for food everyday of the year except Christmas Day. Seasonal fresh fish and local lobster are often available on the menu.

Richard Brothers operates a coastal bus service which stops at Porthgain and other places of interest between Fishguard and St Davids.

The beers on offer are Hancocks HB, Brains Rev James and an additional one during the summer.

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Tel: 01348 831449