Living in the Midlands of England is exactly how it sounds – right in the middle of the iceberg, farther from the ocean than anywhere I’ve lived in the USA. Joke’s on me.
However, from June 2016 to April 2017, I have seen more of the UK coastline than in all of my previous time here. I guess that it officially takes seven years to train your brain from associating ‘beach’ with ‘warmth’ if you are from a warm climate because now the option of hanging out at the British seaside doesn’t seem as pointless as I once thought. It helps that my first and my latest seaside experiences were in the picturesque town of Tenby, Wales, with a friend who knows the area well, Jo. Some of these amazing photos are hers, so I can't take credit for all of them. She married a Welshman from the town and his family and friends are still enjoying the beach life there.
Historians believe that people have been living in Tenby since the 9th century and only a few parts of its 13th century walls around the city are still standing. It evolved from being vitally important for national defense to a significant fishing center before settling on its current identity of seaside tourist town and artist colony. The entire town is pedestrianized during the summer, to accommodate the throngs of visitors. Unwitting tourists who get trapped on nearby islands or low-lying areas by the incoming tide keep the local chapter of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) very busy. The former RNLI station was purchased and painstakingly renovated into a private residence (photo below) by a couple who live in Cardiff. The transformation was featured on the Channel 4 series Grand Designs, and it's worth watching to see the amazing vision come to life and to see more of Tenby.
My other half spent his school holidays in Tenby, some 45 years ago. Those pre-motorway drives would have taken more than today’s four hours from the Midlands, which may be the root of his aversion to long car journeys… At any rate, he loved those holidays and reminisces about climbing the cliffs that surround the beaches and looking for sea life in the tide pools. Upon taking his own child there and gazing at the huge cliffs, quite a few years ago as well, he wondered if his folks had really been over-enthusiastic Darwinists instead of just cool parents. He and his brother survived those cliff-side expeditions but he kept his own child closer to the beach.
My most recent trip to Tenby, by Jo’s invitation, was to ‘help’ her with getting her newly purchased town center flat ready for holiday renters. There are so many things to do in the area - beaches, boating, fishing, visiting Caldey Island and numerous other historical sites - that many people will rent a flat for a week in the high season, just to make sure they don’t miss anything. It was a smart investment for Jo to make, especially since it gives her somewhere to stay with her young family while visiting her lovely in-laws. (Seriously, Jo’s mother-in-law, Jan, and sister-in-law, Lucy, are a lot of fun.) While packing my cooler for the trip, my husband pointedly asked exactly how much ‘work’ I thought we could accomplish with the amount of Champagne and white wine I was taking. Since I had originally met Jo while she was working on yachts in Savannah, GA, I knew that we’d be able to power through. Plus, I knew that Jan would help.
It turns out that the wine was a well-deserved reward because Jo DID put me to work. I should have lost weight on this trip, helping to carry things up and down three flights of stairs to the flat – funny how only a couple of days of heavy lifting doesn’t equate to a flatter tummy or smaller bottom. I don’t blame the Champagne, but the lovely food we had at the local restaurants each evening. The first night, we gorged on mackerel, mussels, and hake at The Lighthouse Kitchen. I love places like this - small with a focus on sustainable ingredients and local produce. Everything we ordered was absolutely amazing - the mackeral starter was the standout of the evening for me. The second night, after pre-dinner G&Ts and admiring the fantastic view at The Imperial Hotel, we dined at a local favorite, The Bay Tree. Full disclosure, Jan has worked here for a while and I'm not sure how they would get on without her. The warm, friendly service paired with a great core menu featuring nightly specials has kept the locals coming back for years. I went for the Katie's king prawns in sweet chilli and garlic butter to start, followed by the hake with a walnut, lemon, and parmesan crust and buttered leeks. All of it was delicious, I don't remember leaving a whole lot on my plate. Jo forced me to share a slice of cheesecake for dessert, and I'm so glad she did. It was also fantastic.
My 'work' in Tenby done, I stopped off at the Four Seasons Farm Shop and Florist on my way back to the parking garage. I had passed this place several times during my visit, and had been silently cheering for them - it takes a lot of guts to keep a farm shop open right next door to a Sainsbury's chain grocery store. I decided to put my money where my sentiment is, and picked up some local asparagus (spring asparagus is not to be missed anywhere on the iceberg!), new potatoes, and purple sprouting broccoli to take the place in my cooler that had been occupied by bottles of wine. I knew my other half would be thrilled to have so many veggies with dinner! I'm looking forward to the day Jo asks me to 'help' her in Tenby again, though I may not get away without my husband after he sees these photos and remembers what he's missed about this seaside gem.