Last Invasion of Britain route part 1. 4.25 miles / 6.84kms – OS Map OL35 North Pembrokeshire.
The area around Fishguard in North Pembrokeshire is stunning in its own right. The beautiful scenery probably would have been the last thing on the minds of the small French Army who landed here in some confusion in 1797. This rather short affair has become known as the Last Invasion of Britain and, lucky for us, it took place along what is now the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
The Last Invasion of Britain Walk
There are 2 parts to this walk, depending on how long you have and what you want to achieve. The routes connect and are in rough chronological order to how the main events unfolded from the 22nd to the 24th of February 1797. This route covers the landing point at Carreg Wastad (Carregwasted on OS maps) and some of the French activities during the initial phases. The background to the Last Invasion of Britain is somewhat complex and linked to Revolutionary France. Many books have written about the invasion and this walking guide doesn’t go into the minute detail, but covers enough for an interesting day out.
It may have been that the French Army was hoping to reach Liverpool to appeal to Catholic sentiment. How they came to land near Fishguard in a little unclear. From a set of Orders that exist from General Hoche to Colonel Tate, who was in Command of the Invasion Army, the objective seems to have been Cardigan Bay, further up the Welsh coast. It may be the French felt compromised when a warning shot was fired at them from a canon near Fishguard Harbour and the Commodore in charge of the small fleet forced the troops to disembark to reduce to risk of being intercepted by the Royal Navy. These orders also outline 3 main aims:
‘the first is, if possible, to raise an insurrection in the country; the second is to interrupt and embarrass the commerce of the enemy: and the third is to prepare and facilitate the way for a descent by distracting the attention of the English government.’ (extract from Gen Hoche’s Orders).
These same orders later talk about attacking and burning part of Bristol, if Tate feels he can get away with this, then landing near Cardiff and marching towards Liverpool.
Anyway back to our walk. At each part I’ll explain a little about the events that happened there over the fateful days of the last Invasion of Britain.
French Landing at Carreg Wasted
Most of the initial activity centres on the village of Llanwnda. Please do not park here as it has limited space. I always park in the layby on the Goodwick road at Grid SM930387. From here walk down the road to the footpath to Llanwnda. The high ground that’s on your right after 300ms is Carnwnda. At the end of the track turn right into Llanwnda and carry on through the village on the signposted track that leads to Carreg Wastad Point. We will return to Llanwnda and Carnwnda later. Follow the track through the fields before descending into a small valley. Follow the track up the other side and you are now heading north towards the point. After a short distance you will see the Last Invasion of Britain Memorial Stone. This marks the site of the French landing at 5PM on Wednesday 22 February 1797. The French landed from a small fleet of two frigates, a corvette and a lugger and came ashore in rowing boats. History tells us that one of the rowing boats was lost, with all aboard, in the Aber Felin bay to your right as you look at the memorial. The French Force continued to land until the early hours of the morning, with the small fleet leaving later on the 23rd. This meant the French Army, believed to number somewhere in the region of 1400, had no means of extraction.
The field immediately to the west of the memorial is where the French set up camp, although elements immediately started to head towards local farms, and the village of Llandwnda.
This ‘French’ Army was a bit of a mix. They were known as the ‘Legion Noire’ because they wore tunics captured from the British at Quiberon in 1795. The scarlet tunics had been dyed black (or in some cases brown). There is evidence to suggest a large element (approx 800) may have been convicts who had remained shackled throughout the journey. The remaining 600 were regular soldiers. We do know some of the Officers were Irish, and Colonel Tate, the Commander, was an Irish American who had fled America to France after a series of ill advised ventures.
Many of the farms you can see from Carreg Wastad Point were raided at some point over the next couple of days. Contemporary evidence indicates the ‘Legion Noire’, maybe the convict element, sought out food and drink as a priority. There are tale of drunkenness, abuse and the eating of raw meat looted from local farms and larders. The latter leading to some deaths.
Trehowel Farm – The French HQ
Once you have explored Carreg Wasted Point head south for 100ms and pick up the track heading west. Note – this is not the Coastal Path. You are now following in the footsteps of a French advance party moving towards Trehowel Farm (Tre Howel on OS maps) (Grid SM917398) with a view to establishing a headquarters for Colonel Tate. After 800ms the track turns south and becomes more of an established farm track. Please note that Trehowel farm, although much unchanged in appearance since 1797, is a busy working farm so please close gates and respect the area and the family that live there. At time of the invasion the farm was owned by a Mr John Mortimer who, having allegedly set the table expecting to host the Officers from what he believed were British ships, made a hasty exit with his money and whatever he could carry, followed by his maid with the silver spoons. Needless to say the French were grateful for the meal, and pretty much anything else they could lay their hands on. They even made makeshift trousers out of the mattress material. From Trehowel walk up to the road and turn left.
Follow the road for 400ms then take the track on the left. This will bring you back to Llanwnda. It is likely that some of the Legion Noire went to Llanwnda straight from Carreg Wasted, but this track was the main route between the village and the Headquarters at Trehowel Farm.
St Gwyndaf Church
Once back in Llanwnda head for the church. This is the ancient Church of St Gwyndaf, established in the 6th century. The current building dates from the 13th to 15th centuries but does have Celtic carved stones built into the walls. This church became a main location for the French in the village and was said to have been sacked. You can see on display a bible that survived the flames due to its thickness. It may be that some of the soldiers lit fires to keep warm and burned what they could rather than intentionally sack the church. An account of the invasion, written nearly 100 years later by the Reverend Daniel Rowlands tells of two children hiding in the peep hole. This may be a fictional account but look out for the peep hole.
When you are ready head east towards the high ground known as Carnwnda. This is the path you walked in on. You can scrambled up the side of Carnwnda but I recommend you continue on the path heading south, with Carwnda on your left, until you come across a prominent path that leads to the summit. The path junction is slightly to the south of Carnwnda and will bring you back onto it.
Carnwnda was the forward position of the Legion Noire, certainly during the night of 22 February. It is likely they also held a position here until their surrender on 24 February. From the summit the town of Fishguard, and the Fort that protected it can be observed.
The Pembroke Yeomanry
Obviously while all this is going on, the good and the great of the County of Pembrokeshire, and as far as messengers can travel, are learning about the invasion and thinking about what action can be taken. The idea to form County Yeomanry Cavalry Regiments had only been proposed 3 years earlier in 1794. They were formed specifically for this type of situation, or to quell any local disorder. The Pembroke Yeomanry were one of the first to form. Coincidently, although volunteers, 50 men of the Castlemartin Troop had paraded on the 22nd of February to attend the funeral of a comrade in the south of the County the following day. Led by Lord Cawdor, a Captain in the Pembroke Yeomanry, the Troop marched north to Haverfordwest rallying other yeoman, soldiers and sailors as they went. At Haverfordwest Lord Cawdor assumed command of the assembled force of 750 and two 9 pounder guns brought ashore from the British hired-arm cutter ‘Speedwell’. Lord Cawdor marched his force north from Haverfordwest on the 23rd of February, arriving near Fishguard before last light. We will explore this more in part two of this walk.
From Carnwnda retrace your steps back to the path and head back to layby where you have parked. You can drive into Fishguard, or cross the road for part 2 of this walk and pick up the action from the 23rd of February 1797.