Solva Community Council • Cyngor Cymuned Solfach
About our Village
Find out more about Solva, its history, geology, wildlife, its particular and special features like its limekilns and gidels, and its military history.
You can also find out about Solva’s business and leisure organisations, and establishments in the village.
More about Solva
St Davids Head, on which the village of Solva sits, contains features arising from volcanic activity that occurred 470 million years ago. The area’s distinctive extinct volcanos – Carn Llidi, Carnedd Leithr and Carn Penberi – which famously contributed to the ‘exultant strangeness’ that artist Graham Sutherland praised in Pembrokeshire’s landscape, are the results of igneous intrusions being contained within sedimentary rocks and extrusions forcing their way through them. The present coastal layout also results from these igneous areas – for example, at the end of the Gribin headland and opposite it, on the other side of the River Solva estuary. Here, the hard, volcanic rock has withstood the grinding of the sea, leaving promontories. The quarrying activity that took place further up the Solva valley at Middle Mill was also on an igneous intrusion.
During the last two ice ages – 50,000 and 18,000 years ago – most of Pembrokeshire was covered by ice, the melting of which formed the estuary of the River Cleddau, the spectacular Treffgarne Gorge and the steep valley of the River Solva. The Solva estuary was originally formed in St Brides Bay, beyond the present Green and Black Scars, before being drowned by rising sea levels resulting from glacial ice-melt.
The elusive megalithic tombs that survive around Solva are part of the oldest firm evidence of people living in communities in the whole of Pembrokeshire. The tombs – which now appear as stone uprights, sometimes with a capstone – exist all over the county: Pentre Ifan (above Newport), Longhouse (Abercastle) and Arthur’s Chamber (St Davids Head) are all examples, and date from 2500–3000 BC.
Little further evidence of occupation survives until we reach the ‘Iron Age’ forts – 500 BC, or thereabouts – such as the three specimens to be found on Solva’s Gribin headland, and those at nearby Whitchurch and Porth Y Rhaw – and generally along the coastal path, where they are a regular feature.
Its harbour has always provided a fine anchorage and base for fishing and other seagoing activities, but Solva’s existence as a distinct village first emerges in the early 18th century. At that time, it became a shipping port involved in the transportation of corn to other areas of Wales and Bristol – and of culm and limestone into the area to be burnt, the resulting lime being used on local fields to counteract the natural acidity of the soil.
The fabrication, transportation and construction of the original Smalls Lighthouse and – later, in 1856–61 – its stone-built granite successor had a great effect on Solva. The associated increase in population among service industries, trades etc. resulted in the forming and opening of five new chapels in the village between 1798 and 1864, and the construction of the new church of St Aidan in 1879 as a branch of the senior parish church at Whitchurch. The National Church of England opened a school in 1834, followed by the Welsh and non-sectarian school in 1844.
The Solva area was extensively involved in World War II, with the construction of St Davids Airfield in 1943 and Brawdy Airfield the following year. The former lies less than a mile north of Solva, and now provides a circular walk along a hard path with many access branches into wilder areas. Along with the airfield itself, accommodation blocks were provided for ground staff, air crew, prisoners of war and armed-forces personnel just passing through – hence, there are old concrete bases and, in some instances, simple buildings bordering the main A487 highway from Solva to Llandruidion and along the back road, inland, from Whitchurch to Fachelich. After the war and until 1960, the airfield became a service centre, run by Airworks, for forces’ planes – and was staffed by many local people from Solva and St Davids.
Solva harbour and the Gwadn (Solva’s stony ‘secret beach’ tucked away beyond the Gribin) yield low-tide rockpools that reward investigation. During the summer months, the village quay provides entertainment for young locals and visitors alike using crab lines. On the coastal path, kestrels, peregrine falcons, chough and stonechat are regularly seen – and during the winter, whooper swans and hen harriers have been sighted on Dowrog Common at the centre of the St Davids Peninsula. There are also said to be otters on the Solva river, up as far as Middle Mill, and there are also reposted to be fields of alpaca – but that’s another story…
Dewisland, the area of Pembrokeshire in which Solva is situated, contains acidic soils. Since the 15th century or so, its fields have been treated with quicklime, an alkali that reduces acidity and makes the land more amenable to crop-growing. Other means of increasing soil productivity were used, including the spreading of seaweed or the mixing in of sand (the ‘Sand Quay’ in Solva harbour was the landing place for the latter material), but limestone became the principal method for obtaining quicklime.
Limestone rock was obtained from the south of the county – in particular, from the quarries around West Williamston and Pembroke town itself. It was transported by sea to Solva – and to most of the other small ports and inlets around the Pembrokeshire coast – together with culm, a mixture of coal dust and clay (so-called ‘small coal’). The culm was obtained locally from Nolton, Little Haven and later Hook – and from the Cleddau area generally. The limestone was broken up into small boulders, perhaps 15cm diameter, and loaded onto a small coal fire that had been started within the lime kiln for burning. Limestone is a calcium carbonate rock and in this burning process it would give off carbon dioxide, which has an extremely offensive smell, leaving calcium oxide, or ‘quicklime’. This would be transported by horse and cart to the surrounding ploughed fields where it would react with rain and form slaked lime, giving off a great deal of heat in the process but improving soil productivity. This chemical reaction is the reason why the ‘burning’ was carried out as close as possible to the place of use.
Widespread lime-burning is recorded at the end of the 17th century, and at its peak Solva had ten kilns in use. There are still four on the east side of the harbour, together with an outline of the burner’s shelter; one large kiln at the south end of the Gamlyn in the centre of the lower village; and two more at the northern end. There were also two others at the present Main Street roadside in front of the old chapel, and one in the garden area of the Harbour Inn.
What is a gidel? You will not find the word in any Welsh dictionary, and will only discover it used in certain areas – notably, around Solva and St Davids. It is, in fact, a narrow passage between houses or garden walls – similar to what people in the industrial Northwest of England know as a ginnel. In Solva you will find that Prendergast has six such features, and the Cwm boasts two. Gidels were always open to the public, but with the passing of time many have been lost.
Each one gave access to the river for washing clothes, disposing of slops and waste, and collecting water for gardens. Solva’s Prendergast gidels were mostly used by homes situated on the left of the road as you head out of the village towards Middle Mill; houses on the right already had access to the river via their gardens. The arrival of sewage pipes, installed by Italian prisoners of war, and more general infrastructure in 1945 heralded the end of the River Solva being used for waste disposal. As a consequence, by the late 1940s the village’s gidels had become redundant.
During the 1950s and 60s, many local children used the deteriorating lanes, with their ivy-covered walls, as play areas. Enterprising boys ‘tickled’ trout in the river, and many apples were picked from overhanging trees.
Restoration of the Main Street Gidel, alongside the Ship Inn in Lower Solva, took place in 2013. The community-led project involved Solva Community Council, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, Pembrokeshire County Council and Marston’s Brewery. The work included renovation of the gidel’s surface, drainage improvement, and repointing and rebuilding to some of the stone-faced walls on either side of the passageway. You will find a plaque at the entrance explaining the history of a gidel.
Solva’s war memorial is situated towards the top of the hill between Lower and Upper Solva, just before the junction with Pen yr Aber, and was built to honour local people who lost their lives in World War I and World War II. It is the focal point of the annual Remembrance Day service held in November.
Constructed in 1920, the memorial is said to have been designed by the Irish war artist Sir John Lavery and consists of a granite Celtic cross on a large block raised on five steps. It is inscribed on the northern side with ‘Ein Meirw Gogoneddus’, and on the south side with its translation: ‘Our Glorious Dead’. It is one of those striking memorials – of which there seem to be many in Wales – to bear the dates 1914–1919 rather than ‘–1918’. The later date refers to the point at which the Treaty of Versailles was signed: 28 June 1919.
Solva’s Memorial Hall – just a short walk up the hill from the monument – contains two brass plates that commemorate the men of the Parishes of Solva and Whitchurch who fell during both world wars.
To mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, Solva Community Council purchased two ceramic poppies created by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper. They were two of the 888,246 used in the artists’ celebrated installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London between July and November 2014.
The two poppies were mounted in display cases and are housed in the Aiden Campus of Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi and Solva Memorial Hall.
Commemoration of the End of the First World War
Solva commemorated the end of the Great War throughout 2018. Solva Heritage Society, in particular, organised a series of events that were both poignant and thought provoking. Here is a link to an illustrated document, produced by Brenda Lloyd, that summarises Solva Heritage Society’s contribution.
Passage to America
One of the strangest of all Solva’s seafaring stories is that by 1848, soon after the village’s tally of trading ships had reached 30, it was possible to buy a passage from here direct to New York!
Berths were advertised for £3 a head, with a half-price ticket offered for those under 14 years of age and infants free. This was inclusive of water, fuel and sleeping places for a voyage that, in those days, could take up to 17 weeks.
Also take a look at the Community Information page, which has more information about amenities in our village.
Solva Boat Owners Association
Solva Boat Owners Association own Trinity Quay, the Sand Quay and administer the harbour, so they are the first port of call for any harbour-related questions. Click here for their website or Facebook pages, or email them on email@example.com, call their Secretary on 01437 721220 or Harbourmaster on 07974 020139, 01437 721725 or 01437 721703.
The Solva Regatta has been part of the village calendar for the last 130 years.
There are a range of events to take part in, beginning with swimming races, then some novelty events, swim / row relay, canoe races and the extremely popular traditional rowing and sculling events.
Solva Ukulele Pirates
Solva Heritage Society
Solva Heritage Society undertake projects on historical Solva, as well as organising talks in the village. Look our for their latest events in the Solva Newsletter and if you would like to contact them, emal them on firstname.lastname@example.org
SADS AND YSADS
The Solva Amateur Dramatic Society (SADS) and Young SADS perform regularly at Solva Memorial Hall. For more details, see their Facebook page @SADSociety or see the Solva Newsletter.
Singing 4 Fun
Singing For Fun is on every Monday from 7pm to 8.30pm at Solva Memorial Hall
A light-hearted community choir for everyone. Beginners and experienced singers equally welcome. Only £3 per session, pay as you go. For more details, please contact Anne on 07742 576031 or email@example.com
Find out more from the website.
Solva Rowing and Watersports Club
Solva Rowing and Watersports Club offers sea Rowing around St .Brides Bay from Solva Harbour during the rowing season, normally from late March until October. If you fancy a go at sea rowing in one of their Celtic Longboats, come along and give it a try. Club nights are every Thursday from 6pm and your first 2 rows are free.
Thursday Coffee Morning
A team of volunteers from Solva holds a weekly coffee morning in the Memorial Hall on Thursdays, 10.30am – noon. There is no charge, but donations are accepted, and there is also a mini library. If you are in Solva and would like a lift to get there, just call Solva Care’s Co-ordinator Lena on 07805 717556. You never know who you might bump into…
Join Pip for a pilates class at Solva Memoriial Hall, every Thursday from 10.30-11.30 am. For more details call Pip on 01437 720314.
Run on most Fridays during school termtime, between 2-4pm in Solva Memorial Hall, Friday Club is run by Solva Care as a weekly ‘get together’ where villagers can engage with each other in a variety of activities.
It provides fun and entertainment sessions that include several bands – Country and Western, Solva Ukulele Pirates, St. Davids Cathedral Hand Bells and more. There are various craft sessions delivered by local people, gentle movement sessions provided by yoga and activity specialists. There are also music quizzes, beetle drives, and scrapbook memories and reminiscing sessions.
All ages can attend, when and if they can, and Solva Care can assist with transport. Call Lena on 07805 717556 or Sandra on 01437 721450 (just to check that it is running) or just come along. The programme is on Solva Care’s website.
Anything we've missed?
Please contact us if we’ve missed anything happening regularly in Solva, or if you would like your organisation’s details updating.
Solva Business Group
Solva Business Group provide a comprehensive directory of Solva businesses. Covering where to stay, where and what to eat, and what to go and see on their website. Take a look at their Facebook page @visitsolva or Instagram page visitsolva. If you are interested in joining, contact their Secretary by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
The Edge Festival
The Solva Edge Festival is a remarkable story of community engagement and enthusiasm and celebrates literature, arts, architecture, food, sport, swimming, music and life – as well as donating a share of their proceeds to local causes. Find out more on their website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, or email email@example.com
Solva WI meet on the second Thursday of each month at 2pm. Contact details are on the WI’s website or just come along.
Look out for their meetings and events in the Solva Newsletter.
Clwb Solfach/Solva Luncheon Club
Clwb Solfach/Solva Luncheon Club
In 1982 when Clwb Solfach was formed as an off-shoot of Solva Old People’s Welfare Committee, it was hailed as being a ‘self-help’ scheme unique in the three counties of Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire, and was an example for others setting up in Pembrokeshire.
There are 6 teams who take it in turn to cook and serve, and the Luncheon Club is inspected under the Food & Hygiene Regulations.
A 2-course meal, plus a cup of tea or coffee, is provided most Wednesdays in Solva Memorial Hall, for the very reasonable sum of £4.
Anyone who lives within the parish of Whitchurch and Solva, who is disabled or is aged 60 and over is very welcome.
For more information, please contact Jane Pascoe on 01437 721544.
St Davids and Solva Art Group
St Davids and Solva Art Group are a small group of enthusiastic artists who live in and around St Davids and Solva and meet weekly. They hold regular exhibitions, often in Solva Memorial Hall. For more details, visit their website.
The football club building and land is owned to Solva Community Council and can be hired for events.
Solva Men's Sheds
Solva Men’s Sheds welcome everyone who has time on their hands, to come along, enjoy a sociable time and do the things like woodworking, photography and putting the world to rights.
For more information, call 07779 240268 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Solva Sailing Club
Find out more about Solva Sailing Club on their Facebook page @solvasailingclub
Solva Memorial Hall
Solva Memorial Hall is approaching its centenary in 2022. It is owned by the community and run by a Management Committee, in partnership with Solva Community Council. Recently painted and adorned with mosaics made by our community, it is available to hire for events and celebrations. More details can be found on its website.
Gentle Fitness with Laura
Join Laura for a new approach to exercise at Solva Memorial Hall on Tuesdays 2-3pm.
Gentle exercise classes are low intensity sessions specifically designed for adults in a friendly atmosphere. You will be participating in a range of different exercises which could include gentle aerobics, yoga, tai chi, chair based exercises, relaxation and stretches.
This is a great way to improve fitness, lose weight and tone the whole body. It’s a suitable activity for people with joint conditions or those who may be carrying some extra body weight.
EcoDewi is part of the LEAF project in Pembrokeshire: A funded project aimed at accelerating the capacity of local communities to produce their own, locally-owned sustainable energy. To get involved, take a look at their website.