MARCH 2020 will long be remembered by the good people of Narberth.
In the space of just 24 hours on March 22/23, the town of Narberth, Pembrokeshire, went from the elation of bagging a prestigious national award to the harsh realisation that the UK-wide Covid-19 lockdown was effectively shutting the town down.
Nevertheless, this was a town with ‘bouncebackability’, according to its mayor, Cllr Christopher Walters, who said that being named ‘best place to live in Wales’ by The Sunday Times will be amongst the factors helping the town forge forward into the future once the coronavirus crisis abates.
He said: “Narberth is a very resilient town and despite all the gloom going on, I’m sure we will overcome this.
“Narberth, in my eyes, is such a fantastic town, and it’s not just the high street retailers that make Narberth our special town.
“For me, it’s our tiny shops, our vets, our dentists, our Queen’s Hall, our rugby, football and cricket teams, to our little pubs, clubs and organisations within the town.
“Narberth has a very exciting future ahead and to be recognised as one of the best places to live highlights what we do best.”
Cllr Walters was keen to congratulate local businesses and the wider Narberth community highlighted in the pre-lockdown Sunday Times article on March 22, which exclaimed:
“The warmest of welcomes and a high-class high street make this Pembrokeshire market town our winning Welsh location.”
Also flagged up were the “abundance of riches on the high street in this captivating little town”, with “goodies available that you just won’t find in any other small town (or most big ones, or a fair few cities).”
Tenby and Cardigan also made the list in the publication’s Wales top 10.
With little or no time to bask in the glory of The Sunday Times accolade, Narberth was plunged into lockdown along with the rest of the country the very next day.
But the community spirit highlighted in that Sunday’s article was already coming to the fore and Cllr Walters, on behalf of Narberth Town Council, thanked the many local businesses and individuals who were offering local deliveries, pick-ups and checking on the self-isolating and elderly.
“We will do all we can to support our community,” he said.
The sad irony of lockdown coming so quickly on the heels of such national recognition was that Narberth would not be able to show off the many attractions it possesses to visitors.
Described by Visit Wales as a ‘stylish’ and ‘quirky’ town, Narberth would have to wait to reopen its string of independent boutiques, shops, restaurants, vineyards and sheer uniqueness to the outside world.
So just what were we all missing in the spring and summer of 2020? In 2014, another national newspaper, The Guardian, called Narberth “not only a gastronomic hub for west Wales but also one of the liveliest, most likable little towns in the UK”.
Visit Wales offers an enticing list of attractions, which no doubt played a part in seeing Narberth as the best place to live in Wales. They include:
Bluestone National Park Resort
The steep woodland ravine has high ropes, climbing and more for all abilities, and you can enjoy some well-earned grub at the outdoor Camp Smokey afterwards. There’s also a spa and luxury accommodation for a real treat.
Cwm Deri Vineyard
Stretching down to the estuary, there are more than 3,000 vines swirling within the Cwm Deri Vineyard and Estate. See them bloom and cluster in the warmer months and hang back beautifully in the winter, then taste the wine made on site. Food and accommodation are also available.
Blue Lagoon Water Park
Perfect for families whatever the weather, The Blue Lagoon enjoys tropical temperatures all year round, as well as four flumes of varying velocities and a series of outdoor hot tubs. Try the lazy rivers if you’ve younger swimmers in tow, with late swims accompanied by entertainers during the summer.
Narberth Food Festival
Thousands of visitors flock to the Narberth Food Festival, passionately run by volunteers in the Welsh town renowned for its independent spirit. From meats, ales and liqueurs to cheese, oils and special diets, it’s a wonderful way to gain culinary inspiration from the best, taste exquisite food and take great gifts home.
Narberth Museum, full of captivating tales
First cited as the location of the court of Pwyll Prince of Dyfed, Narberth has a history as interesting as its streets remain to this day. There’s nowhere better to find out about it than in the town’s impressive Narberth Museum, where the permanent collection includes puzzles, storytelling and a woodland glade.
Ultracomedia, a blend of Wales and Spain
A fantastic delicatessen, selling the best Spanish and Welsh produce. The intimate restaurant in the back room is where the magic happens and you get to taste an array of wonderful tapas dishes. Just like the parent operation in Aberystwyth, the welcome is warm and the food is superb.
It’s hard to believe this home of happy Peruvian penguins and giraffes started out as a relatively ordinary dairy farm before deciding to embrace more amazing residents in 1988. These days, Folly Farm attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, with highlights including an adventure play area and a vintage funfair.
Oriel Q Gallery, The Queen’s Hall
The impressive Oriel Q Gallery (set within Queen’s Hall, which is well worth seeing in itself) has hosted more than 100 exhibitions since the 1990s. The ambitious programme includes workshops, talks, and a programme ranging from photography and projections on the stairs to medieval Welsh works and installations by contemporary artists.
A town renowned for its food
There are loads of great places to eat in Narberth, but if you’re looking for healthy organic food and a quirky, modestly-priced menu, try Plum Vanilla Café, repeatedly named as one of the best places to eat in Wales. Look out for the rose and pistachio cake, plus they sell a wide variety of vegetarian, vegan and gluten free food.
Narberth Civic Week is traditionally held during the last full week of July and includes a parade through the town to one of the churches, where a service is held to welcome the newly appointed Mayor. In 2008, the Civic Service was held in the grounds of Narberth Castle for the first time.
During Civic Week, there are various activities arranged for children, families and visitors to the town. The culmination is the annual Carnival Day Parade, a tradition dating back over 100 years. Narberth’s Winter Carnival, held in December, was revived in 2009, after a break of four years.
The town is also home to the Narberth A Cappella Voice Festival, which is described as Wales’s only a cappella festival. It celebrated its 10th anniversary in May 2018.
Other nearby attractions include Blackpool Mill, at the highest tidal reach of the River Cleddau, where otters and other wildlife may be seen, and Oakwood Theme Park.
Historically, the town of Narberth was founded around a Welsh court, but later became a Norman stronghold on the Landsker Line.
In the Iron Age there was a Defended Enclosure to the south of the current town centre on Camp Hill.
There is a First World War memorial in Market Square with further inscriptions added after the Second World War.
Narberth plays a high-profile role in Welsh mythology, where it is the chief palace of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, and a key setting in both the first and third branches of the Mabinogi.
A drama specially adapted for children based on the story of Culhwch and Olwen from the Mabinogion was staged at Narberth Castle when it was reopened to the public in 2005.
The former town hall still houses the cell where the leaders of the Rebecca Riots were imprisoned.
Notable people from the area include Sir Thomas Foley, who was born in Llawhaden, near Narberth. A contemporary of Lord Nelson, he was a senior naval officer at the battles of the Nile and Copenhagen.
The Welsh international footballer Joe Allen was raised and educated in the town.
Narberth is home to several sporting teams, including Narberth Rugby Football Club, Narberth Football Club and a cricket club.