The Old Castle Terrace, Lawrenny was the inspiration of something legendary. And that is a fact.

The Old Castle Terrace, Lawrenny was the inspiration of something legendary. And that is a fact.

The home of The Big Retreat Wales is on the Old Castle Terrace in Lawrenny, high above the Cleddau Estuary.

There are so many legends, some little known, tied to this secret waterway and the communities that sit along its winding upper reaches. 

Our festival site overlooks a magnificent stretch of the river. It’s not hard to imagine the constant tide of historic figures that have bobbed past here, from Neolithic hunters on animal hide canoes, to Romans, Vikings, Normans, even future kings maybe. It’s unusual to be able to pinpoint with such absolute certainty, the exact path humanity has followed for millennia. 

Sitting on the Old Castle Terrace, a brew in hand, is a pretty special place from which to contemplate your place in the great Order of Things. Sometimes I look at the cows grazing just below the terrace walls and I’m pretty sure they’re doing the same thing - definitely ruminating.

Going a little bit Michael Caine for a moment - not a lot of people know this, but back in the 1940s, a group of Very Important People stood here on this very site and made some Mighty Big Decisions for Pembrokeshire and, well, the whole nation. They stood well above these grassy lawns to be more accurate, some 50 feet up on the battlements of the Victorian castle that once stood here. The top photo was taken around that time from the point on which they stood.

(The Old Castle during mid-demolition - beautiful craftsmanship and history falling to the ground. A story for another time)

On that August day in 1945, these wise men looked at the landscape around them, took in the beauty of Pembrokeshire, and (in the words of one of them) went “into huddles”. Once de-huddled they had settled on the details that would see the creation of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.

Were we observers of this great moment, we may have seen a stringy little fellow in shorts, with scarred, knobbly knees peering around a door and looking up at these men, absorbed by the serious countenances and profound conversations of what was known as the Hobhouse Committee. 

“I remember Clough Williams Ellis’s craggy face, his well-lived in tweeds, deerstalker and colourful bow tie,” recalls David Lort-Phillips who lived the first few years of his childhood in the castle, and is still a resident of Lawrenny. “My father greatly respected Clough and often sought his advice.” 

David’s father, who was absent as a soldier in the war, had given his friend Williams Ellis, an inspirational architect, creator of Port Meirion, campaigner for the countryside and the creation of Welsh National Parks, use of his home to host the Hobhouse Committee. This committee was tasked by the government to come up with a visionary Bill that would transform the way we look after, and access the countryside. Also present were Chairman Sir Arthur Hobhouse, philosopher and author Sir Julian Huxley and agronomist Leonard Elmhirst.

Although David has a good memory, he can also rely on the old family visitor book for a record of the guests that came and went. “Collectively they were men of broad vision,” recalled David. “they well understood how glorious landscape could provide recreation and spiritual uplift to a people worn down by years of war, while not forgetting the needs of those who lived and farmed within them.” The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act confirmed the creation of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, and others, in 1949.

So there you go, the spectacular view worked for those fine men in 1945 and look what they went on to achieve!

The Big Retreat Wales is a perfect chance for you to come and experience the power of the Old Castle Terrace. So come on, get into huddles and make it the start of something amazing!

By Adrian Lort-Phillips, local resident and son of David Lort-Phillips.

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