Solva is a very pretty little village that lies at the mouth of the River Solva, in the county of Pembrokeshire, on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and in the Pembrokeshire National Coast Park. Lower Solva is the older portion of the village, with Upper Solva on the top of the cliff above the harbour, the more recent development.
Solva has been a settlement for thousands of years as archaeological finds and the Iron Age forts found in the area can attest.
In medieval times, Solva was an important trading centre, with about 30 trading ships registered there. With the huge stones at its harbour mouth, Solva was amongst the best protected anchorages along the coast from Fishguard to Milford Haven.
In the 18th century, along with Skokholm and Skomer, Solva played a part in the considerable smuggling activity that went on all along St. Brides Bay. The salt the fishing industry needed was heavily taxed, so smugglers brought it into the harbour along with French brandy and tallow. All sorts of locals were involved in this “free trade” and it’s said that many houses had hidden shafts and cupboards where contraband could be kept safe from the customs officers.
During the Victorian era, Solva was important for its lime kilns, with 10 kilns in operation burning lime. Quicklime or burnt lime was used to make plaster for walls and flooring as well as cement. As early as the reign of the English king, Henry III, lime was used as a weapon of war. It was literally thrown into the faces of the enemy, usually the French, to blind the soldiers and prevent them defending themselves.
Several lime kilns can still be seen today along Solva’s harbour. Although Solva has lost its importance as a trading centre, it is now very popular with boaters, sailors and tourists.
Things to do while in Solva
From the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and other walks along the cliffs you can see spectacular scenery. You
could start a circular walk at the harbour, inspect the old lime kilns and work your way up to the beautiful Gribbin headland and onto Gwadn beach. Another walk will take you 3 miles west to the smallest city in Britain – St. Davids – with its magnificent cathedral and the ruins of the bishop’s palace.
If you’re walking east along the coastline from St. Elvis Farm, to Pen-y-Cwm, then Dinas Fach and Dinas Fawr and onto Newgales Sands (one of the best surfing beaches in all of Britain), you’ll see the history of this land in its geology, beaches, lime kilns, Iron Age forts and the incredible picturesque views over St. Brides Bay.
Sailing, Boating, Rock-pooling & Duck Races
Learn to sail or get your National Powerboat Certificate at Solva Sailing School (www.solvasailboats.co.uk) or go on trips around St. Brides Bay by sail or powerboat. A boat trip to the islands around Solva will get you up close and personal with the wildlife and gorgeous cliff-scapes. You can learn boat building or even get your fibreglass boat repaired here too. Come to the Regatta held every summer to see the boats and learn how to row or how to build a raft.
Kids will have great fun rock-pooling – looking for things that get stuck in the tide pools – or paddling around when the tide goes out. At high tide, they’ll also enjoy fishing from the harbour walls. Diving and kayaking are also available.
Come down over Easter and enjoy the duck race Solva holds every year. At Middle Mill plastic ducks are put into the river, they float downstream to the finish line near the Harbour. Proceeds go to charity and everyone has fun.
Walking the Village
In Upper Solva there are some traditional shops – the grocer, the post office, an off-licence and Lower Solva there are several artists’ galleries, the Solva Pottery Antiques & Collectables, an eclectic shop full of quality clothing, gifts, accessories, crafts, etc. – Window on Wales. There are a number of places to eat, some serve locally caught crab and lobster.
If coming to Solva outside the tourist season, get in touch with the shops or restaurants you wish to visit to ensure they are open http://www.solva.net
Solva Woollen Mill
And, then just a short distance outside the village, in Middle Mill, there is the Solva Woollen Mill. This is only one of the two remaining woollen mills, and the oldest, in Pembrokeshire. Once, (in 1900) there were 26 woollen mills in Pembrokeshire producing the iconic Welsh blankets and fabric used in daily life.
For 79 years ownership of the mill was in the hands of Tom Griffiths and his family. It was in 1986 that the mill was sold to Cynthia and Robert Grime. Their son Tom, and his wife Anna, took over the mill in 2006 and have overseen the restoration of the original waterwheel and the rest of the old mill, turning into an interesting place to spend some time.
You can see (and purchase) the carpet and other fabrics woven on some of the old machinery and there is a lovely modern shop with a cosy tea room attached. Or, on a sunny day the family could enjoy a picnic in the outdoor seating area. http://solvawoolllenmill.co.uk
Among the items the shop stocks are the books written and illustrated by Jackie Morris, a local weaver of stories and dreams for children of all ages.
If you love dragons and fairy tales, bears and seals, cats and falcons, you have to see what’s in store for you at the Solva Woollen Mill and on Jackie’s website http://www.jackiemorris.co.uk/blog
Solva and its surrounding countryside has so much to offer. It is well worth slowing down, getting off the rat run and taking the A487 from Fishguard, to St. Davids and then onto to Solva.
Spend the day, a weekend or your next holiday in Pembrokeshire and experience Solva – you’re sure to enjoy it.
Pembrokeshire is blessed with lots of gorgeous landscape and the best way to enjoy it is to walk the Preseli Trail. The 108 km or 67 mile walk takes you through the county’s distinct culture and unique landscape.
Paths are not way marked or signposted on the open hills so that the quality of the experience of the Preselis can be maintained. On clear days one can see not only the wonderful local landscape but also the Brecon Beacons, Snowdonia, the Black Mountains and even the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland. And, as you walk, undoubtedly you’ll feel the presence of the Iron Age warriors and the megalithic people who built the Iron Age forts, the Neolithic burial chambers, the Bronze Age cairns, the stone circles and standing stones.
The Preseli Trail begins in Fishguard, then heads inland through the Gwaun Valley. Prehistoric sites abound, giving you a real sense of the people who lived here. The area is enveloped in folklore and mysticism with its links to the Mabinogion (a collection Welsh medieval stories) and the Arthurian legends. The area is also right up to date as the home of two microbreweries.
The melting water of the ice age carved the steep-sided valley and helped to preserve its distinctive human communities. Carn Ingli or the Mount of Angels was visited by St. Brynach in the 6th century and is the site of an Iron Age fort with stone embankments and a hut circle. As you visit places such as the awe-inspiring Bluestone quarry you may wonder at the feat of moving these stones all the way to Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain.
As you leave the Preselis, you’ll see Frenni Fawr (a 1297 ft. hill/mountain). Perhaps you’ll find the gold treasure that legend has it is buried there. The trail continues to Cilgerran along the path where the once very busy Whitland & Cardigan Railway ran. The railway line from Whitland to Llanfyrnach was opened in 1873 and carried goods to and from the slate quarries. Crymych was added in 1876 and the railway was extended to Cardigan by 1886. Sadly, the line was closed to passenger traffic in 1962 and freight traffic in 1963.
The next major point along the trail is the Teifi Gorge and the Teifi River with the ruins of Cilgerran castle high above. Fishermen in the area still use coracles that are very good in fast flowing rivers. A coracle is an oval vessel that looks like half a walnut shell and has been used in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and parts of southwestern England since at least the 1st century BCE.
The River (or Afon) Teifi flows onto Cardigan and St. Dogmaels. In 1120, following the Norman invasion of Britain and replacing a Celtic monastery, Benedictine monks built a superb abbey at St. Dogmaels, the ruins of which can still be visited today.
As the turn of the Trail heads west, the next 14 miles include the charming village of Newport with its cosy cafes, restaurants for fine dining, the Newport Collective – a cooperative of local artists, swimming or walking at Parrog and Newport beaches and Carn Ingli, the mountain that dominates the village.
Although more of a sleepy village now, Newport used to be an important trading and ship building centre from the 16th century onward. Newport castle, now in ruins, was built in 1200 by the Norman, Lord William Fitzmartin.
The final stretch of the Trail includes Dinas and Fishguard. Fishguard is an important port today for the ferries to Ireland but it was an important trading centre two centuries ago as well. At that time lots of ships sailed into and out of Fishguard harbour, exporting/importing goods. This was true until the railways came and changed how goods were transported.
Four Napoleonic warships arrived in Fishguard harbour on the 22nd of February 1779. As part of the last invasion of the British Isles, the 1400 French soldiers landed and ran riot, looting local farms. As the legend goes, Jemima Nicholas, single-handedly captured some of the soldiers, forcing the rest to surrender to the locals on Goodwick Sands.
With its folklore, rich history, magnificent scenery and welcoming locals, the Preseli Trail is not to be missed.