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St Catherine's Fort

Visited August 2019 

Location Tenby, Pembrokeshire 
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby Tenby-1/2 mile
Parking Town car parks
Facilities None


St Catherine's Fort is a Victorian fort, situated on St Catherine's Island, which is accessible from Tenby's Castle Beach during low tide. When we last visited Tenby in 2010 it had no form of public access. In 2016 a group of volunteers took over the fort and began opening to the public on a limited timetable, dependent on the tide times. In 2019 we made a return visit to Tenby and a trip to the fort was top of our itinerary.






Construction commenced in 1867 and the fort was finished in 1870. During the construction a bridge was created from the mainland to help the builders bring materials onto the Island. However the bridge collapsed when it was hit by the mast of a ship and had to be dismantled. One of the workers on the fort tragically fell to their death whilst materials were hoisted up to the island, and his funeral was said to have been the biggest ever seen in Tenby. However, as a defensive building it was never put to the test, as it was pretty much obsolete by the time it was finally armed in 1886.


The fort was intended to house 150 troops, but saw little military action. It was briefly used during WWI and compulsory purchased from the private owners at the start of WWII. The owners at the time were the wealthy Windsor-Richards family, who had bought it when it was decommissioned in 1907 and renovated it into a summer residence, with opulent decor and furnishings. The family seemed to be party animals and enjoyed hosting many spectacular social events. 


This was probably the fort's halycon days, when it was well maintained and lived in. After WWII the fort was used for a variety of purposes, including a period of about 10 years when it housed a zoo- a totally unsuitable building for housing animals by today's standards.






In the late 1970's the zoo animals were re-homed and the fort closed to the public. When we visited Tenby back in 2010 we could see the island with the fort on it, but there was no access. On our return visit in 2019 we found that a group of volunteers were now opening the fort to the public. We were so pleased to be able to finally visit!


Access to the fort is at low tide across the beach, and then up some concrete steps to a bridge linking two parts of the island. The views on the way up are spectacular, well worth the climb!


Once inside the fort it is still quite basic, the volunteers are still working on getting the whole of the building open, currently there is no access to the roof platform or the basement area but plans are afoot so more of the fort will be opened up in the future. In the meantime it is good to be able to support the volunteers efforts , and the entrance fee is very reasonable. It is good to be able to see the fort in its basic state before any major development happens, but it would certainly be interesting to come back in another ten years and see how things have progressed. With no water supply, drainage or electricity on the island it will certainly be a challenge to develop the building.





For grown up visitors there is a presentation about the history of the fort which lasts about half an hour. It is also interesting to see the ornate carvings around the door, which beguile the fort's construction as a military building.


There were lots of children visiting the fort on the day we were there, they seemed to manage the steps fine, and there were groups of children playing cards, or colouring to keep themselves occupied. It seemed like a relaxed place to while away some time.


Once you are back down in Tenby, there are miles of beach for the children to play on, and many facilities in the town. Don't forget to have a walk around Tenby Castle & Town Walls while you are there!





More info:  St Catherine's Fort

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