Rediscovering Milford Haven: Pembrokeshire’s industrial town

Milford Waterfront

When I think of Pembrokeshire’s reputation for brilliant coastal stays, I’ll be totally honest, and say that Milford Haven doesn’t naturally spring to mind.

With its close proximity to heavy industrialisation, and historically, a shortage of tourist facilities such as restaurants and hotels, it’s fair to say that the town has missed out on the West Wales tourism boom of recent years.

But the times are slowly changing. And after decades of being overlooked, I recently discovered a thriving waterfront that’s reinventing itself as a destination for visitors keen on good food, outdoor pursuits, and easy access to Pembrokeshire’s incredible coastal attractions.

My visit to Milford Waterfront was complimentary for the purposes of this review.

Ty Milford Hotel & ‘Floatels’

Milford Haven’s latest turn as a tourist destination is certainly not the most obvious one.

Milford Waterfront has been organically evolving as a destination in recent years, but the Port of Milford Haven recognised that something big was needed to move it to the next level; this must have been the thinking behind the Milford Waterfront partnership with the Celtic Collection.

The result was the creation of a new 100-room hotel called Tŷ Milford Waterfront.

Ty Milford Hotel

Tŷ Milford Waterfront

It’s safe to say the plan worked.

The hotel, which opened last year, has already exceeded expectations in its first year of trading. School holidays, which were predicted to be busy, hit an average occupancy of 86% for the month of August – but the amount of business generated year-round by the Port of Milford Haven has produced a constant flow of corporate travellers and visitors outside of the peak seasons, too.

Tŷ Milford Waterfront hasn’t achieved this by shying away from its industrial location – in fact, a wall of windows running the length of the ground floor proudly make the most of a sense of place. A total of eighty-four bedrooms overlook the water and port buildings opposite, but it was in one of four custom-built “floatel” cabins in the marina that we chose to lay our heads for the weekend.

Nestled amongst the boats moored in the marina, each floatel cabin sleeps two and comes with an en suite shower room, a private balcony and floor-to-ceiling windows for best views of the water and spectacular sunsets.

We absolutely loved being able to wake up on the water, and the perfect positioning of the cabins means that their balconies get full sunshine from sunrise right through until sunset.

Meeting the locals at Milford Waterfront

I spent a good few hours meeting some of the local business owners around Milford Waterfront, to find out what’s changed in recent years.

Dan, from local watering hole Martha’s Vineyard wasn’t afraid to speak openly about the town’s past reputation. Milford Haven born and raised, Dan says his main ambition as a youngster was to “get out of here” but more recently, that people are starting to see his home town as “somewhere to stick around, maybe start a business“.

His thriving bar and restaurant, which occupies a prime position overlooking the marina, uses bread from a local bakery, shellfish landed on the other side of the water, and Salt + Smoke cured salmon from nearby Tenby. It was the perfect spot to while away a couple of hours over lunch.

Next, I met with Shayne  from waterfront bar and restaurant, Foam. Sitting inside a listed building with a large sunny terrace at the back, Shayne explained that he took over the business just as the first lockdown came into effect, forcing him to get creative.

From adding a set of unique outdoor glass domes to the terrace for Covid-secure ‘bubble’ dining, to setting up Sugar Loaf Bakery to sell ‘essential’ provisions under lockdown rules, Shayne’s ability to evolve and adapt was admirable. The bakery – which is situated next door to the bar and restaurant – has since moved production to an offsite factory to increase capacity, and will be targeting wholesale customers to grow the business over the coming weeks and months.

A similar story came through when I spoke to Carl and Lucy, owners of The Scoop ice cream parlour and coffee shop. Despite being in business since 2016, it was Covid that changed fortunes for the better here, too; 2021 saw the opening of The Scoop Ice Cream Company’s ‘Ice Creamery’, which now produces a myriad flavours using fresh milk from nearby Steynton Farm. Since moving away from imported products and taking things in-house, fresh milk can go from cow to cone at The Scoop in as little as 48hours!

A visit to handmade confectionery store Trwffl gave me ample opportunity to pick up some souvenirs. Owner Sandra’s shop is chock full of artisan food and drink from Welsh producers and a variety of her own handmade chocolates, which she also supplies to the Ty Milford hotel for their corporate gifts. Sandra was kind enough to show me around the modest production kitchen behind the shop, and is looking forward to a busy summer season at the marina as footfall continues to grow.

Finally, I caught up with Georgina, the founder of grazing box company The Cheesy Cow. Her business was founded in November 2020 after finding out she’d be unable to complete her third year visa in Australia due to Covid. It began with modest ambitions to create celebratory ‘graze boxes’ for friends and family, but fast forward a couple of years and her micro-cafe is a hub for locals to stop by for bacon butties and hot coffee. Meanwhile, her made-to-order graze boxes are a fuss-free, grab-n-go lunch option for visitors heading off to explore the Pembrokeshire coast (preordering is advised).

Fine Dining at Dulse

Whether you stay in the main building at Tŷ Milford Waterfront – or in one of its quirky  ‘floatels’ – a daily buffet breakfast is on offer at the hotel’s in-house restaurant Dulse. This was also the setting for our Saturday night dinner.

Chef Simon Crockford heads up the kitchen. As the sun set over Milford Haven, we considered his market fish battered in Tenby Harbwr beer, and the Norton Farm potato & tarragon gnocchi. After seeing it arrive on another table, eventually we were powerless to resist a whole roasted bream with caper, dill and cockle velouté, samphire, and Pembrokeshire potatoes.

Is there anything better than a fish supper overlooking the water?

Our chosen dessert made the most of having The Scoop‘s ice creamery in such close proximity; a lemon and ginger panna cotta with coconut granola, and roasted pineapple, was served with a deliciously tart blackberry sorbet made especially for the restaurant – though I did wonder at the decision to serve tropical fruit with an Autumn fruit sorbet during a warm Welsh spring.

That aside, Dulse offers a relaxing vibe and a thoughtful menu which tries to make the most of local suppliers, with plenty of the veg, cheese and fish coming from local Pembrokeshire farms and small businesses alike.

Exploring the local area

Milford Waterfront makes a great base to explore the surrounding Pembrokeshire coast.

I’d recommend a visit to St Davids, the UK’s smallest city, which can be reached in less than 40 minutes by car, and Pembroke Castle, which is within an hour’s drive.

If beautiful beaches are more your thing, try Broad Haven for a family-friendly vibe, or gorgeous Freshwater West (pictured below) for sand dunes, seclusion and rugged coastal scenes. Just eight minutes away from Freshwater West you can also find one of my favourite restaurants in the world, Paternoster Farm; if they have availability, get in – you won’t regret it.

Freshwater West

Freshwater West

For more information about Milford Waterfront, visit milfordwaterfront.co.uk.

To book a room or a ‘floatel’ at Ty Milford Waterfront, visit www.ty-hotels.com.

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