Tourism business is on the up in Fishguard. We met some of the businesses putting the area on the map.
A key tourism feature of Fishguard is that it’s a gateway to Ireland. You can catch a train right to the embarkation point for the ferry at Fishguard Harbour and take a ferry to Rosslare. But if you don’t stop to enjoy time in Fishguard and Goodwick, you’re missing a treat.
The dozens of B&Bs, hotels and rental properties in the area make it easy to stop for a night or two and take in everything the local area has to offer. From spectacular beauty spots to the warm welcome of bustling pubs, there’s plenty here to fill a holiday.
Mark Rummery runs the Ivy Bridge Guesthouse in Goodwick and is also chair of North Pembrokeshire Trade and Tourism, which is working to boost business in the area. His cosy, homely guesthouse welcomes a broad mix of visitors throughout the year, including people travelling to and from Ireland, people visiting family who live in the area, walkers keen to explore the coastal path, and visitors to local festivals and country shows. Others simply come for a break in this beautiful part of Wales.
“One of the things we want more people to know about is the fantastic café culture in Fishguard,” he says. “We’ve lots of excellent cafes, restaurants and bars – you can enjoy great breakfasts, lunches and evening meals here without the queues you get in St Davids.
“People who come to Wales want to experience the Welsh language, Welsh food, and panoramic views. We have all that, plus the seafront, the coastline and the wildlife.”
One business helping to put Fishguard on the map is the Abergwaun Hotel, which chef Dan Jones took over during the Covid pandemic. Set in the centre of Fishguard, it has rooms upstairs and a charming restaurant on the ground floor. Dan is originally from the area but travelled and cooked at top restaurants all over the world, including the iconic Pollen Street Social in London, before landing back in Pembrokeshire.
“The Abergwaun Hotel is not pretentious – it’s casual,” he says. “The menu here is all about celebrating local ingredients.” He is now planning to open a second site in Fishguard.
Also coming in 2023 is Ffrwn, located in a beautiful former church hall in the middle of Fishguard. It’s owned by Alice Evans, who has been holding pop up events ahead of its opening in March.
“We’re going to open as a café, restaurant, wine bar, and live music venue,” she says. “We wanted to move back to the area because my husband’s from the Gwaun Valley – and we walked in here and loved it. We wanted a project in Fishguard to keep me busy – my background is in hospitality and cheffing, so I wanted something to sink my teeth into. I’m into community and collaboration and I’m from Melbourne, where we’ve got a big live music scene and coffee scene, so I’m going to bring a bit of that over here.”
A long-reigning destination in the middle of Fishguard is the Royal Oak, which has been managed by Daniel Morgan for the past six years. The pub is the historic location where the treaty between the British and the French was signed in 1997 after the failed French invasion.
“I love lots of things about working here,” says Daniel. “A big thing is the locals – it’s a close-knit community; everyone knows each other and it feels nice and communal. We have good locals, and good local staff who have been with us for six years – we have a lot of fun times.
“We’re a family pub and a food pub but also a place that locals come to for a drink, so we check every box, really. Throughout the summer, there’s a lot of tourism, but we have a lot of room to accommodate everyone, including an outside bar and beer garden with views down to Lower Town from where you can see the cruise ships docked up across the bay.”
In his six years running The Royal Oak Daniel has seen the town centre get busier with visitors.
“We get a lot of customers here from B&Bs, Airbnbs, campsites and so on,” he says. “Fishguard has a lot to offer – lovely walks, lovely scenery, good pubs and good food.”
A successful hospitality business in neighbouring Goodwick is Penrhiw Farm B&B, which was opened in March 2022 by Alan Latter. Set in his family farmhouse, parts of which were built in the 17th Century, it’s a true boutique experience with roaring fires, stylish furnishings, and original art on the walls. Alan cooks daily meals for residents using the best local ingredients, and helps them to enjoy the area, providing lifts to beauty spots and directions for country walks.
“I enjoy seeing people and having the time to be able to talk to them,” says Alan. “We have a footpath that goes through our dairy farm, and if people want to, they can walk through the land and see the stone age cromlech that’s in the field behind the farmhouse.”
Breakfast at Penrhiw Farm is a highlight of the stay – Alan seats his guests around one big table so that they get to know each other. Even people who are initially shy about the idea end up enjoying the interaction.
“I’m in the kitchen just next door and it’s great to hear people laughing, joking and telling stories,” he says. “This is my home, so when people come here, I try to entertain them and to create that homely environment – and nine times out of 10, everybody says they loved their breakfast conversations.”
A warm Pembrokeshire welcome has been delivered by many families in Fishguard over the past year as part of an initiative coordinated by Jeremy Martineau, secretary of North Pembrokeshire Trade and Tourism. He has worked with a visiting cruise company to give cruise ship passengers a true experience of Welsh life: when they dock in Fishguard, they are taken to have lunch with Welsh families in their homes.
“I used my networks to recruit local families – being a member of the church has helped,” he says. “I’ve now got about 30 people who are willing to welcome cruise ship visitors. They get paid for hosting, and we encourage them to buy local ingredients for the meals.”
The initiative has brought a wealth of interesting and influential visitors, usually American, into local homes, helping to spread knowledge of Fishguard and of Welsh culture.
In 2023 the cruise company will make eight visits to Fishguard, dramatically increasing the number of visitors who come to explore the area.
“People say that the cruise ships just put people onto coaches and they go off to visit other places – and yes, they do; those trips are part of the attraction for cruise ship passengers, and that’s fine as long as when they come back, they also come into Fishguard,” says Jeremy.
Thanks to initiatives such as the hosting scheme, this is happening. To demonstrate the impact on the local economy, Jeremy initiated a piece of detailed research into where cruise ship passengers went and what they did on their visits. He found that around £80,000 has been brought into the town by the cruise passengers in the past year.
It’s not just cruise ship passengers who are drawn to Fishguard and Goodwick – it also attracts pilgrims, especially after the recent creation of the Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way, which follows the 162 mile journey St Aidan took in the 6th Century from Ferns in Ireland to meet his teacher and mentor, St David, at St Davids in Pembrokeshire, passing in Fishguard on the way.
The re-establishment of the route was funded by Ancient Connections, a heritage and arts programme led by Pembrokeshire County Council linking communities across the Irish Sea.
“It’s building on a very strong tradition of pilgrimage to St Davids – and 2023 is as a special anniversary for pilgrimage into St Davids, marking 900 years since Pope Callixtus II declared that two pilgrimages to St Davids Cathedral were equal to one to Rome – so there’s a lot happening in the area,” says Jeremy.
With so much to offer in the area, it’s no surprise that the tourism industry provides a large portion of local jobs, either directly or indirectly.
“As well as those providing accommodation we have the high street traders and the people who service the accommodation, such as cleaners and launderettes,” says Jeremy. “We do have that tension of trying to keep the place affordable for low income people who can really hardly afford to pay the rent, let alone buy a house. There is a fine balance to strike between the needs of the resident community, and the needs of the industry that brings the money in to sustain the services and retailers.”
The coronavirus pandemic drove up house prices in the area as more people sought second homes in the country – but there’s no doubt that if the right balance can be struck, the local community will continue to benefit. Plans for 2023 and beyond include the reopening of Goodwick Moor as a nature reserve and the renovation and relaunch of the magnificent and imposing Bay Hotel, which is located near the harbour.
North Pembrokeshire Trade and Tourism envisions further improvements; ideas that have been mooted include the creation of a marina and a street food area on the Parrog.
“Fishguard and Goodwick have so much to offer,” says Jeremy. “Instead of spending the night here and then just disappearing the next morning, we want the people who pass through here to stop and discover everything that’s on offer.”