A visit to Milford Haven and the upper reaches of Cleddau River is not to be missed

Last week I had a few days exploring Milford Haven, the Cleddau River and the island of Skomer. This western corner of Pembrokeshire is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt areas of our coastline, and many sailors miss out on it in their hurry south or northwards towards Scotland.

I know the Cleddau a bit because years ago my husband and I kept our boat here for a few weeks on a very leisurely cruise round Britain. It was an eye-opener. We anchored upriver and explored the upper reaches, taking the tender all the way to Haverfordwest. We saw fishermen compass netting for sea trout from traditional boats and slid past groups of shelduck and eider.

The visit last week was a press trip to see how the port authority at Milford Haven are trying to rejuvenate the locked in marina and attract more yachtsmen and motorboaters to visit.

The estuary, the Daugleddau, is a classic ria and very sheltered. From the not so lovely oil refinery and liquid natural gas terminals (huge LNG tankers bring in gas from Qatar) it winds upstream past oak woods and splits into the Eastern and Western Cleddau.

The wildlife is fantastic – I once saw an otter near Neyland Marina – and both branches of the river are a designated Special Site of Scientific Interest.

Last week we also had a rather rough and bouncy sail out to the protected island of Skomer, famous for its colonies of puffins and Manx shearwater. We anchored for lunch in South Haven and were surrounded by puffins, which paid us no attention. They flew really close to the boat; groups of juveniles too young to breed gathered sociably in rafts a few boatlengths away. Magical.

The steep, hilly sides of anchorage are a warren of burrows, to which the Manx shearwaters return after dark. These little birds are, as you probably know, enchanting to see on the wing, flying with great agility, as light as butterflies, wheeling within centrimetres of the wave tops and riding the wind.

They return to their burrows under cover of darkness, landing as close to their nests as possible. Their legs are a fair way aft so they are not great walkers and they need darkness and an accurate return home to avoid being picked off by predators.

Incredibly, the tiny island of Skomer, only three square kilometres, is home to some 165,000 breeding pairs of Manx shearwaters, half of the world’s population.

There are also colonies of razorbills on Skomer, and we saw fulmars and the big, skulking presence of predatory black-backed gulls. The turfy plateau of the island top is carpeted at this time of the year in the purples and pinks of bluebells and campion.

The nearby island of Grassholm has a huge gannetry, and one day I also hope to get there.

These photos are of the river. The one below is of a cottage on the banks of the river close to the little yacht station at Lawrenny, the picture at the head of this page an early morning view from Slebech Park on the Eastern Cleddau and at the bottom is Blackpool Mill, at the head of that branch of the river.

Beautiful. I highly recommend a visit or a cruise one season that takes you to Milford Haven.


Blackpool Mill