Solva – A Gem in Pembrokeshire
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.