Pendine firing range


Between Laugharne and Pendine, the Wales Coast Path diverts away from the shore to pass a weapons firing range.

The Inter-Service Small Arms Experimental Establishment was founded in 1938 at a long-established rifle range in Hythe, Kent. When the Nazis annexed Belgium and France in 1940, the British authorities decided the Kent coast was too vulnerable and the facility was moved to the former marshland east of Pendine. The area had been drained from the 17th century onwards to form an expanse of level land – relatively scarce in western Britain.

Initially the range’s headquarters were in the Beach Hotel, Pendine. Staff transferred from Hythe and another range in Shoeburyness, Essex. The first firing at Pendine took place just three weeks after the relocation began.

Prefabricated houses were erected for the workforce. A more permanent headquarters was established in 1941 with the compulsory purchase of Llanmiloe House, a Victorian mansion north of the A4066 which the Ministry of Defence (MoD) retained until the 1990s.

After the Second World War, the MoD rationalised its firing ranges. MoD Pendine was retained, and its role was widened to include many kinds of weapons (not just small arms).

Today the range covers 20.5 square km and is operated by QinetiQ on behalf of the MoD. It has three test tracks (resembling railway lines) of different lengths and gauges (distance between rails). The 1.5km track, completed in 1956, is Europe’s longest and can be used to test systems travelling at up to three times the speed of sound, or 3,700km per hour (2,300mph).

You can see an exhibition about the firing range, including a missile, at the Museum of Land Speed in Pendine.

Part of the range is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The land is managed for biodiversity through techniques such as controlled grazing and removal of plants which would otherwise dominate. The area is a habitat for water voles, otters, hares, deer and other animals. Notable plant species include fen orchid, petalwort and a rare type of moss, Drepanocladus sendtneri.

About the place-name:

Pendine denotes a headland by a defence. The Welsh name Pentywyn denotes a headling above the shore. Some claim that the names refer to different landscape features, although there’s no record of a fort here. There’s no documentary evidence for Pentywyn after the 13th century; Pen-din or Pen-dein occurs most often in Welsh sources.

With thanks to Prof Dai Thorne, of the Welsh Place-Name Society, for place-name information

Postcode: SA33 4UA    View Location Map

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