When you’ve got a cat, mini-breaks are easy. Our tabby, Alvin, is delighted to be abandoned with an automated food timer and the underfloor heating switched up to the max.
Dogs, of course, are a different proposition: they tag along for the ride. So, where could we spend a weekend away with my wife, two kids, and the latest addition to our family, terrier-poodle puppy, Buzz? Enter Coastal Cottages and its 260 dog-friendly properties in Pembrokeshire.
Traditional stone cottage Nant was our three-bedroom home in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. The bedrooms are small, but the property felt bright and spacious thanks to the addition of skylights and glass conservatory. It’s remote, so a car is essential, and a secure parking space is included.
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Dog owners are well catered for – literally, as a welcome box of “Dog-Nuts” (£22.50) was awaiting us, so Buzz had delicious (I assume) hand-baked treats to munch on during our stay. A stairgate is provided, so we could restrict him to the living areas, and there was a well-maintained garden fence, so we could confidently let him out in the property’s wraparound garden without worrying he would break for freedom.
There was a fan heater for chilly evenings, as well as a starter pack of wood and kindling to get the log burner gleaming. A lovely touch was that the owner (an artist) had left a box of photo postcards for purchase via an honesty box – especially helpful since I’d forgotten to buy a Mother’s Day card…
With young children and a puppy in tow, we were hardly up for lengthy country walks, but, since the cottage is located just a ten-minute stroll from the lighthouse at Strumble Head – all on paved surfaces – it was possible to catch the spectacular seaside sunsets on foot without any of our party moaning. And we didn’t have to look far for nature: there were cows grazing in the field opposite the cottage, within view of the kids’ bedroom window.
Eating and drinking
Coastal Cottages offers a range of hampers orderable in advance, featuring local produce; and there’s a sizeable Co-op supermarket in the nearby town of Fishguard to stock up for self-catering.
As a history buff, I was keen to visit The Royal Oak, the pub in Fishguard where the peace treaty with the French was signed after the last invasion of Britain in 1797. At the back of the restaurant, you can still see the very table where the two sides sealed the document – a remarkable artefact, that, in the indifferent British style, is simply sitting there, still functioning as a table, rather than sealed off behind velvet rope.
Luckily, the Royal Oak is also dog-friendly, so we were able to eat there, too – fish and chips, fish pie, Pembrokeshire sausages, all good pub grub. On tap I tried Jemima’s Pitchfork, a golden ale from local Glamorgan Brewing Co – named after Jemima Nicholas, the farmwoman who, legend has it, chased the invading French out of the town with (you guessed it) a pitchfork.
Just across the street, Cresswell’s Café – also dog-friendly – made for a satisfying lunch stop, with classic brunch items for the kids and, for the grown-ups, pleasingly posh sweet potato tacos selected from the specials board. While the boys were finishing up, I nipped over to the local library to check out the Bayeux-inspired tapestry telling the story of the invasion – a kitsch but unique local attraction.
Things to do
For a day of adventure, we headed one hour south to Heatherton World of Activities, a free-entry amusement park where dogs are allowed on-site. My car-mad sons (aged four and seven) adored the giant Scalextric track and drive-your-own Land Rover experience, but chickened out of the go-kart track, leaving Mum and Dad to race each other while the rest of the family watched on from the pits. Dad won of course, but let’s not gloat…
In a more reflective mood, we also checked out nearby St Davids city, a picturesque place with plenty of independent shops and cafes, and of course the famous cathedral, which, astonishingly, my kids were happy to respectfully walk around (I suspect the giant slide at Heatherton had worn them out).
Obviously, the best thing to do when staying at the seaside is to go to the beach – and, even off-season, the blue flag Whitesands Bay was the best we found (£5 parking, dogs permitted 1 October-30 April). Its green ocean, rocky crags, and, yes, white sands, offer a stunningly rugged background for our family selfies.
Olly Mann was a guest of Coastal Cottages, a holiday cottage agency that features around 500 properties in west Wales, sleeping from two to 30 guests, 40% of which are dog friendly. Nant cottage in Strumble Head sleeps six across three bedrooms. A seven-night stay starts from £630 and a three-night weekend break from £473. One dog welcome; coastalcottages.co.uk/nant
Olly Mann discusses the last invasion of Britain at Fishguard in 1797 on The Retrospectors podcast.
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