Old railway tunnels, Saundersfoot

Old railway tunnels, Saundersfoot

North of Saundersfoot you can walk through the only tunnels on the entire 1,400km (870-mile) the Wales Coast Path. The three short tunnels were excavated for a railway which connected collieries at Stepaside, Kilgetty and Reynalton to Saundersfoot harbour, where the coal was loaded into ships.

An Act of Parliament in 1829 authorised the Saundersfoot Railway & Harbour Company to build a harbour and railways connecting to collieries, brickworks and ironworks. One railway served collieries west of Saundersfoot. The northern route, built in 1832-1834, passed through the tunnels near Coppet Hall and meandered along the coastline to Wiseman’s Bridge. The Wales Coast Path follows this part of the railway route, which explains why it is unusually level here!

From Wiseman’s Bridge, the railway went inland to Stepaside ironworks and local collieries. An iron foundry and brickworks stood near the tramway at Woodside, near Wiseman’s Bridge.

The railway company thrived for a few decades. In 1843 and 1844 it gave local paupers a Christmas gift, in the form of “half of a fat beast”. Its tracks were upgraded in the 1870s for steam locomotives to haul the wagons, instead of horses.

The company had chosen an unusual gauge (the distance between the rails), slightly narrower than Britain’s standard gauge. This meant its railways were never connected to the rail network. The railways’ usefulness declined after local coal and iron production began to reduce in the 1870s. The tracks were closed in 1939.

In November 1860 Coppet Hall beach was a scene of intense activity to save a ship named Pearl, deliberately beached there during a gale. It had sailed in ballast (no cargo) from Stackpole to Saundersfoot, where the harbour entrance was blocked because the regular packet ship from Gloucester had run aground. Workmen, supervised by a local shipbuilder, managed to drag the Pearl almost 100 metres down the beach to a point where they expected the next high tide to float the ship. However, the ship needed another 15cm of lift to get afloat. Instead the tide pushed the vessel c.50 metres back up the beach!

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