Solva Holiday Guide
It may be a small coastal village, but stunning Solva is jam-packed with history, culture and personality, making for an unforgettable stay.
When it comes to idyllic seaside harbour villages, with lime kiln relics bejewelling the old port, boats bobbing on the waves and crab pots hanging from house fronts, you can’t get any dreamier than Solva. Not that it’s stuck in the past; with a thriving art and music scene, as well as fantastic eateries, Solva is the swan of seaside spots, bobbing nicely along but all the while, things are constantly happening behind the scenes. Add to this the tiny cobbled side streets, colourful ancient mariners’ cottages, whisperings of smugglers and lighthouses and the fantastic coastal views, and you’re set for a fascinating coastal holiday here.
Things to do in Solva
With 186 miles of spectacular coastline, Pembrokeshire draws thousands of visitors each year. The coastline at Solva is no exception, with its geological folds allowing for dramatic cliff formations and fingers of land that form the sheltered anchorage that has served this small harbour town well since the medieval period. The coast path here leads across the finger of land called the Gribin, with unrivalled views out to St Bride’s Bay. There’s an excellent 4-mile walk to St Davids where you can take in the fascinating geology, an array of coastal birds and the occasional inquisitive seal and keep your eyes out for one of the many iron age forts that once dotted this stretch of coastline.
Of course, it would be rude to visit Solva and not spend time harbourside. Café on the Quay is located at the end of the harbour closest to the sea and as well as being a beautiful first-floor café with unique views across the tiny fishing port, you can also hire crabbing equipment here. Yes, spend the afternoon casting your line and catching your very own crabs! If you’d rather not catch your own supper, Mrs Will the Fish prepares crab, lobster and crevettes at Panteg road, just off the main road – delicious!
Solva’s dramatic scenery has drawn many artists, musicians and performers to its shore – did you know singer David Gray moved here when he was 8? Now, Lower Solva houses several art galleries, including the beautiful Oriel Fach gallery, home to Warren Heaton, a fantastic equine painter who also paints the most beautiful seascapes. Why not take home a souvenir painting of your favourite view of Solva?
Raul Speek’s gallery is unmissable – its colourful outdoors echoes its bright, eye-catching paintings within. This gallery also has a small tearoom and occasionally holds fantastic music evenings. The whole building reflects the artist’s cheery outlook on life and his Caribbean heritage.
Solva is also home to the Edge Festival, a celebration of arts, entertainment, music, sports and food. The event is held in early August each year and is a weekend is a cultural experience not to be missed! Held in Upper Solva with views out over St Bride’s Bay, it’s a fantastic opportunity to try out local foods, try the open water swim with hundreds of others or just relax with an array of Welsh beers and ciders whilst listening to live music from Pembrokeshire’s finest musicians.
Best cafes, restaurants and pubs
You’re spoiled for choice in Solva, which has more deliciousness per square mile than most villages of its size. The cafes are all excellent, including the traditional twist on Welsh baking that has to be tasted to be believed at Mamgu Welshcakes, and the superbly vintage Old Pharmacy tea rooms, who serve a fantastic afternoon tea, complete with fresh crab sandwiches.
Solva is home to one of the most popular restaurants on the St Davids peninsula; The Cambrian Inn. With an award-winning chef and sourcing local ingredients from farms around the village, you can enjoy sophisticated Welsh dishes such as chargrilled devilled mackerel from St Bride’s Bay, The Cambrian Lobster roll and 35-day aged Welsh beef steaks, serviced with local new potatoes and fresh vegetables.
Conveniently located harbourside in Lower Solva, The Harbour Inn serves a great local ale and is dog-friendly, as well as being a great spot to aim for at the end of a coastal path walk – the path runs right in front of this old harbourmaster’s residence – it would be rude not to!
With two sun terraces overlooking the stunning harbour and out to the bay beyond, The Royal George in Upper Solva is a place to sit with a drink in hand and imagine watching the fishing boats come in…and perhaps spot the odd smuggler or pirate, too?
5 Fascinating Facts about Solva
- The original and famous Smalls Lighthouse was erected in Solva and shipped out in segments to its dolomite rock 8 miles west of Grassholm island. It’s famous because of a tragedy that occurred in 1801. When a lighthouse keeper died, his counterpart, stranded on the lighthouse in a storm with his colleague’s body, strapped the corpse to the outside of the structure so that he wouldn’t be accused of murder. The storm raged on and the makeshift coffin disintegrated, leaving the corpse’s hand to knock at the window for weeks. The second lighthousekeeper slowly lost his mind, changing lighthouse policy to having a three-man team until automation in the 1980s.
- The greenish-grey sandstone of Solva harbour and cliffs contain fossils of the Cambrian period, some of the earliest examples of land-dwelling mammals anywhere in the UK. This cosmic-looking rock strata derives its name from Solva and is called the Solva Group.
- Solva Woollen Mill, situated at Middle Mill, just outside the main village and up a beautiful wooded valley, is the oldest woollen mill in Pembrokeshire (they also do a cracking afternoon cake and tea!).
- In 2014, Solva was the set for the second film adaptation of Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood” starring Rhys Ifans and Kevin Allen. The first film version saw Richard Burton traversing the cobbles of Lower Fishguard, some 20 miles north.
- There have long been whisperings of smugglers and pirates around these parts, with illegal trade happening with Ireland and the Isle of Man. Smugglers would bring tea, brandy, salt and sugar. The Baptist chapel in Solva was always well-lit, owing to the tallow in the candles which was smuggled into the village via passageways under houses and through cupboards, implicating well-respected members of the community in the collusion.