Penally beach is actually an extremity of Tenby's South beach rather than a beach or bay in itself, with dunes at the rear. Behind the dunes at Penally Tenby’s 18-hole Golf course was established and the village has also been the location of an army camp and firing range for many years.
Penally is an ancient village which is said to have been the favourite residence of St Teilo, who was born in nearby Gumfreston and buried in Penally. Or was he? The old legend is that when he died there was a dispute between Penally, Llandeilo and Llandaff as to where his body should be laid to rest. After a night of fervent prayers a miracle solved the probem when next morning three identical bodies were found and each parish had the privilege of burying one of the three. Tenby’s Roman Catholic Church and School are dedicated to him.
Behind the local hotel are the ruins of the medieval chapel of St Deiniol, once believed to have monastic assocations.
When the railway came to Tenby in 1865, the high embankment built across the dunes backing the resort’s South Beach proved the final nail in the coffin of the Ritec estuary which was navigable right up to St Florence in the 11th century.
Quite sizeable ships were able to sail up the Ritec River, into what at high tide was a virtual lagoon cutting through Tenby Marshes and spreading between Penally and Gumfreston. It was still wide enough in 1643 to block the advance of Parliamentary forces making for Tenby from the South.
Land reclamation had started at the turn of the 19th century and in 1811 the embankment was constructed across the valley behind the dunes when the Ritec was culverted and a stone bridge carrying the road was built. The accumulation of sand carried towards Tenby on the south west winds did the rest.
The south beach had already formed a post-glacial bay-bar from Giltar to Tenby, and the works in the valley accelerated this process, blocking the estuary mouth and raising the dunes called The Burrows to protect the reclaimed land inside. While draining the land, traces of early fish-eating men were found near the ruined cottage named ‘The Old Quay’ just above Hoyle’s Mouth Cave, where so many prehistoric remains were unearthed. Halfway between the older embankments on the slope of the hill an ancient boat was also discovered, in fact a dugout hollowed from a single tree.
As late as the 1800’s records show that local people remembered a time when vessels sailed for over a mile across what is now pasture land, as far as Holloway Quarry, discharging their cargoes at the bottom of Pill Field. In ‘Allen’s Guide to Tenby’ published in 1868 the author describes how vessels “were laid up high and dry over winter,’ during the last 100 years beneath the hill near the station.
Hoyle’s Mouth is an ancient limestone stream-cavern which archaeologists said had been a hyena den, later occupied by Neolithic men. Many finds made there are now on display in Tenby Museum.
The Legend of Hoyle’s Mouth Cave
Hoyle’s Mouth is a dark cavern situated on a wooded slope in the parish of Penally. It is on private land and cannot be visited, but that may be just as well, for it is the subject of an ominous legend. The cave itself is a black hollow in a cliff of sheer rock, but at the back of it a long sinuous tunnel worms its way into the hillside.
The tunnel is low, with no room for anyone to stand up and in places the sides squeeze together so that there is scarcely any room to thread a way through. Adding to the dangers are the fissures in the floor; hidden in the darkness they wait to swallow up the unwary. It is said that this subterranean passageway twists and turns for miles beneath the Ridgeway, the high ground stretching between Tenby and Pembroke, before finally surfacing in the Wogan Cavern beneath Pembroke Castle. If this was once true, there is now no sign in the Wogan Cavern as to where the tunnel emerged. Nevertheless, the story was believed by many people in the past. It was an escape route, they said, to be used by the castle garrison in times of danger; or if either Tenby or Pembroke was besieged, help could be summoned from the other stronghold. And there were rumours that somewhere in the depths a treasure had been hidden.
Exactly what that treasure was, and who had hidden it, no-one could remember, but it was still there, awaiting discovery. Various people attempted to explore the tunnel and find the treasure, but all turned back, defeated by the darkness and the twisting, turning passageway. Especially frightening were the spots where the tunnel split into two or more branches, each one plunging into the dark with no indication of where they might lead. And some of those who fled back into the daylight spoke of footsteps that followed them in the gloom and of strange voices murmuring behind them. Thomas Williams was a young man of huge stature and high courage who came to live in the area at some point in the mid-eighteenth century. One night in the local tavern after many pints of the local brew, someone told him the story of the cave. Thomas laughed out loud. He was not afraid of some old legend. He would enter Hoyle’s Mouth and he would find the way to Pembroke…and if there was any treasure, he would find that too. What was more, he would do so the very next day and everyone in the tavern was welcome to come along and see him start his journey.
At the appointed hour, a large crowd turned up to see Thomas carry out his promise. There were those who tried to dissuade him from his purpose, but he laughed their warnings away. Others noticed that, despite his bravado, he looked somewhat pale when he approached the mouth of the cavern…but he would be fine, he assured them. He had his dog Wilkins with him, a creature as brave as he was…and just to make sure he did not get lost in all the twists and turns of the passageway, he was carrying a long length of rope, which he would unwind behind him as he went. Wiser folk amongst the crowd shook their heads at this. It was seven or eight miles to Pembroke and if the tunnel ran all that way, the rope was not long enough. And the flaming torch that Thomas carried to illuminate his way would surely go out before he reached his destination.
They reminded him also that there was no known entrance to a tunnel anywhere in Pembroke Castle, so that part of the legend must be wrong. Thomas would not listen. Before anyone else had the chance to say more, he plunged into the mouth of the cavern, the faithful Wilkins following behind him. The crowd watched as he ducked down to enter the tunnel at the back of the cave and then there was only the fading glimmer of his torchlight on the walls before that too was extinguished in the darkness. The crowd waited many hours, even days, for Thomas and Wilkins to return. They never did. To this day, no-one knows what happened to them, but it is said that sometimes, if you stand at the entrance of the cavern, you can hear the barking of a dog echoing out of the gloom.