In contrast to Tenby’s sheltered North Beach, the mile-long stretch of the South Beach, from St Catherine’s Island to Giltar Point, is more exposed, but enjoys a splendid view of Caldey Island to the south.
At low tide Its large expanse of flat, golden sand offers lots of space to bathers and those who like to play cricket or football, and it is also a favoured spot for surfers. Sea anglers, too, find plenty of room to cast their lines to catch sea bass, mullet or the local speciality flatfish, the Tenby Dab.
South Beach is regularly traversed in August by parties taking a four mile National Park ranger-led guided walk from Tenby to Lydstep, taking in the panoramic view of Caldey, Carmarthen Bay and, on clear days, a glimpse of Gower, Lundy island and the Devon coast.
Beachcombers enjoy South Beach for many kinds of shell are washed ashore there, and geologists find an interesting feature in the post-glacial bay-bar stretching from Giltar to Tenby, forming the nucleus of the extensive dune system behind the beach. This bay-bar led to the silting up of the Ritec Valley which in the 11th century was open as far as St Florence, allowing quite substantial sailing vessels to travel to a sheltered inland quay.
The construction of an embankment in 1811, on which the railway was built in 1865, combined with the culverting of the Ritec river, was beneficial to Tenby in that it accelerated the accumulation of sand which is carried towards Tenby on the south west-wind.
One of the celebrated Welsh saints, St Teilo, was born at nearby Gumfreston and lived as a boy at Penally. He was a friend of St David and St Samson and his life’s work is based on Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire.
St Catherine’s Island, off the northern end of the beach and accessible at low tide, is topped by a Victorian Fort, one of the chain of forts around the coast erected in 1868 against the perceived threat from Napoleon the Third. It is similar in style to the forts along Milford Haven Waterway and has six cannons in casemates, which have never fired a shot in anger. The fort was built on the site of a small chapel dedicated to St Catherine, the patron Saint of spinners, a trade for which Tenby was famed until the 16th century.
When its military days ended, the fort became a private home, then, briefly a zoo, and back in the 1960s was visited by the American pop-star P.J.Proby, (real name James Marcus Smith). A singer, songwriter and actor, who has portrayed Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison in musical theatre, he was reported to have been interested in buying the island and turning into a luxury holiday home with helicopter pad. But nothing came of this and the fort lay derelict for years. Proby, now 75, is still writing and recording on his own personal record label.