The Sloop holiday cottage: in a coastal haven that once inspired Graham Sutherland’s canvas

Breezy blues and whites evoke the sea at The Sloop in Sandy Haven, Pembrokeshire © Kerry Walker

Leading 20th-century artist Graham Sutherland loved Sandy Haven well, committing its coastscapes to canvas and finding painterly solace in its open expanse of sea and sky. Maybe it’s the way the dead-end lane unspools to the shore, or the ever-changing light and reflections of the estuary. Or perhaps it’s how the retreating tide reveals a generous expanse of sand and a crabbing bridge. But one thing is for sure, this tranquil spot can still work its magic today.

Close to the water’s edge is The Sloop. Formerly an inn dating back to the late 1800s, it has been transformed with a stylish hand into an utter delight of a coastal cottage that is a psalm to the sea, with its breezy blue-and-white interiors, seascapes hanging on the walls and liberating sense of peace. If you want to tiptoe away from the world for a few days or walk the Pembrokeshire Coast Path to find your own wild, wave-lashed bay, this place fits the bill perfectly.

Why we love it…

Coastal cottages might be two a penny in Pembrokeshire, but few offer such total seclusion as The Sloop. Though but a pebble throw from Milford Haven, Pembroke Dock and Haverfordwest, Sandy Haven is a different kettle of fish entirely. Here the only sound is the cry of gulls and seabirds wheeling overhead by day, and of owls hooting in the coastal woods that rise up beyond the cottage at night.

The shifting tides remake the bay anew each day, so whenever you step out of the door and down to the waterfront, you are greeted with an entirely different view of the estuary and beach. There is the delight of the foreshore at low tide, with its rock pools (look out for seahorses), seaweed-slicked rocks and crabbing bridge, which in turn give way to a vast sweep of golden sand. Then there is the wonder of the broad estuary at high tide – the pure light and reflections of which must have fascinated Graham Sutherland.

The painter used to enjoy a pint at The Sloop back in the day. When he first visited Pembrokeshire in 1934, he was enthralled by the ‘exultant strangeness’ of its gorse-clad cliffs, deep green valley, damp hollows and striking contrasts of darkness and light. By his own admission, this is where he ‘began to learn painting’ and this corner of Wales informed much of his early work. The lane that leads to the cottage is the subject of his 1939 painting Entrance to a Lane.

Walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path near St Ann’s Head © Kerry Walker

The vibe

You can imagine a painter wanting to hole up at The Sloop today. All at once spacious and deliciously cosy, the cream-fronted cottage – one in a row of just three – is everything a coastal escape ought to be. Outside a lobster pot, buoy and blue bench nod to its proximity to the sea.

Inside, owners Lizzie and Toby have redesigned the place with a razor-sharp eye for detail, getting the balance between comfort and contemporary flair just right. The palette of blues and whites is as refreshing as the estuary breeze. Woodwork painted in light tones amplifies the feeling of space. Maps, oils and watercolour seascapes and Graham Sutherland prints hang on the walls. Geometric patterns are revealed in rugs and mirrors. Mustard cushions lend a pop of colour to a midnight blue velvet sofa. The look is clean, crisp, tasteful.

In the colder months, a wood burner takes the edge off, and kindling is provided. Should the weather turn wild (as, let’s face it, in Wales it often does), there are board games to play and a huge beanbag where you can kick back and browse a book from the lending library. Here the home-from-home concept really comes into its own.

It’s the little touches that make the difference at The Sloop © Kerry Walker

The rooms

Sleeping up to five, the cottage has two generously sized rooms, one with a double bed and the other with a bunk bed and single. The colours are muted and calming, with artworks referencing the sea and nature, and fern-printed blinds lending interest. No expense has been spared on furnishings and fabrics, with extremely comfortable beds, downy duvets and high-thread count linens making for a good night’s sleep. The silent location naturally helps with this, too. And we loved waking up to views of the creek from the master bedroom.

Calming colours and a sense of peace prevail in the rooms at The Sloop © Kerry Walker

The food

The kitchen is not just an afterthought but is modern and well designed, with a proper oven and lots of equipment for cooking up some locally caught seafood. If you have no desire to cook, there are some terrific places to eat nearby. Among our favourites were The Griffin in Dale, a lively coastal pub by the waterfront with a solid menu of local seafood, LOBSTER AND MôR in Little Haven (great takeaway crab sandwiches and lobster brioches), and the Runwayskiln, a coastal cafe in converted farm buildings above Marloes Sands.

What’s here

Accessible at low tide, the beach is just metres from the cottage. Just before high tide, take your own kayak out and you can paddle in with the incoming tide. Body boards and crabbing kits are provided and are an excellent way to keep kids amused. Sandy Haven also has an almost resident artist, Jon Foreman, creating some fascinating works of art with sand, pebbles and shells. You’ll see his work on the beach with any luck.

The estuary at Sandy Haven, Pembrokeshire © Kerry Walker

What’s nearby

Plenty. The cottage is brilliantly located for exploring the southern hook of St Brides Bay. Long walks on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path are one of the true delights of spending time here. Head west and you’ll come across such wild and enchanting bays as Lindsway, a gorgeous crescent of sand rimmed by ragged cliffs and tranquil Monk Haven at the foot of a wooded valley. The clifftop walk from nearby Dale around St Ann’s Head reveals coastal beauty in the form of gold-sand Watwick Bay and Westdale Bay. Go a little further to Marloes Sands and at very low tide you can reach the thrillingly tucked-away bays of Musselwick Sands and Albion Sands.

As for pretty coastal villages, nearby Dale has a pleasingly relaxed air, as does Little Haven, and both have cracking pubs for a pint or a meal.

In summer, boats bump across the water and over to the wildlife-rich islands of Skomer (a real puffin fest of an island), Skokholm and RSPB reserve Grassholm, with its huge colony of gannets. Tickets are sold on a first-come-first-served basis from Lockley Lodge in Martin’s Haven.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: It’s only 7 miles north to another haven we like very much, the eccentric but beautiful sands of Druidston Haven

Lovely Watwick Bay, reached on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path from Dale © Kerry Walker

At a glance

Snooze factor: 10 As peaceful as can be. Beds are very comfortable.

Eco-friendly factor: 8 There’s a strong focus on recycling.

Location factor: 9 A very pretty setting right by the estuary and beach and on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.

Overall: 9

Price: Cottage from £95 a night in the low season to £155 in the high (2020 prices, awaiting 2021 prices)

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(The Sloop is too undiscovered to be marked on Google Maps, but follow the dead-end lane past The Anchorage Holiday Cottage and you will see it, with a little car parking space above the slipway)