Stood in the middle of Lawrenny village, a long row of old cottages snaking down a typically narrow Pembrokeshire lane, there’s no denying it’s very pretty indeed.

Flowers burst out of window boxes and cascade down stone-built whitewashed walls, the granite tower of the 12th Century church soars through the trees and there’s a very quaint, albeit very closed, shop and post office which acts as the hub of the village.

It’s all very lovely, granted, yet does it deserve to be crowned one of the best villages to live in in not only Wales but the UK too?

The Sunday Times certainly thinks so, although the local residents are somewhat nonplussed by the recent accolade bestowed upon their tiny village of just 30-odd houses.

The quaint and pretty village is built along just one narrow country lane

But there's more to this village tucked away in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park than simply a quintessential chocolate-box Welsh hamlet. Overlooking the Cleddau estuary, aptly named the 'secret waterway', there's a sense of timelessness and serenity that only comes with living by the water.

The air is tinged with the salty tang of seaweed and mudflats and ancient oak woodland hugs the river banks and frames the rather splendid views down river. To live in Lawrenny is to be transported to a tiny slice of life far removed from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.

John Edmunds, a 40-year-old local who grew up in the village, barely has the words to describe life by the estuary.

"It’s just this," he said waving his arms towards the water, which glistens and sparkles in the late September sun as sail boats cruise by. "There’s no one thing that sets it apart; it’s everything."

John Edmunds at the Lawrenny boatyard
Lawrenny is uniquely placed on the tranquil River Cleddau

Lawrenny has existed since before the Tudor age, where it was a place of maritime trade, ship building and oyster dredging. While the last ship was built in the 1850s, the beating heart of the village never lost the connection to the estuary even as it expanded inland around St Caradoc's Church and the now-demolished Lawrenny castle.

John went to school in nearby Tenby but moved away to study and work in Oxfordshire, where he was a biochemist. Yet the lure of Lawrenny soon brought him home to work in the family business, the Lawrenny boatyard and caravan park.

"It’s the setting and location and it’s so quiet," said the dad of two young children aged five and two.

"I loved being a biochemist, but I didn’t want to live in the city and I had this as an option to come back to. I think we're quite unique down here in the sense we’ve got the boats and caravans. Lots of people come from as far afield as Cardiff and Bridgend and locals too. You’ve got the boat club in the village too and they have their own moorings as well."

Set between the boatyard and the jetty is the award-winning Quayside Café, which has a queue snaking from the door as locals and tourists alike make the most of the dwindling summer. It's famous for its crab sandwiches, mackerel pate and the signature quay lime pie - a towering slice of biscuit base and unctuous limey cream cheese. John's family business, owned by his father Brian, owns the café and the Lawrenny Arms pub, both of which are leased out.

"It was unusually quiet in lockdown and then it just went manic," added John. "There’s a lot of new people to boat in because they aren’t going abroad like they usually do. I think it will be a few years before we lose that.

"I don’t want to change things too much because it’s nice just the way it is."

The award-winning Quayside Café on the waterfront
Stephen Adams, landlord of The Lawrenny Arms

The Lawrenny Arms, run by landlord Steve Adams, is perched right on the edge of the estuary. The National Trust-owned woodlands, streaked with the first russet colours of autumn, rise up behind the pub. Being a sunny Thursday, Steve is flat out behind the bar when we visit while people make the most of the weather and enjoy a pint in the beer garden.

During lockdown, he kept the pub kitchen open serving a selection of meals out the back door for people to eat at home. And in normal times, before Covid, the pub hosts the monthly lunch club where elderly residents meet up for a home-cooked hot meal and a natter.

Speaking from the heart, Steve said he was "smitten" with Lawrenny when he took on the pub 14 years ago. He said: "When the water is in and the sun is out, there's nowhere finer."

He feels "truly blessed" to be part of a community which has supported him during the 18-month long pandemic. "I don't think there's a household that hasn't supported me at some point," he said emotionally. "I can't sing their praises enough. We're such a community based pub. We touched the community and the community touched us.

"That's why the village is held in such high esteem. If anyone needs any kind of help or support, it's there for them. When we needed them, they turned up to help keep me and my wife going in a big way."

Read more:The once-quiet Welsh village which has transformed into a bustling shopping destination through the pandemic

It might feel like time in Lawrenny has stood still but in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The village shop and post office, threatened by closure, is now run by volunteers with the mobile post office van stopping by every Monday afternoon. It was also the first community shop in the country to introduce a key entry system which means locals are given a fob to let themselves in and buy their goods at any hour of the day, any day of the week.

The shop is the hub of the village said Ginny Lort Philips, whose family have owned large swathes of Lawrenny and the surrounding estate for several generations, and who own the shop building.

"The village wouldn't have survived during lockdown if it hadn’t been for the shop," Ginny exclaimed. "It helps bring people together, to chat to people they wouldn’t necessarily see otherwise." It opens for an hour and a half nearly every morning and is manned entirely by volunteers. Nearly everyone you speak to in the village is proud the shop didn’t run out of toilet roll during the early part of the pandemic.

The key entry system came about after a village resident who’d worked in home security threw some suggestions around with Ginny’s son, Adrian and came up with a new idea.

"We’re honestly so lucky," Ginny continued. "More and more people are coming up from the quay to get a dongle so they can get into the shop."

Inside the community shop in the heart of the village
Frank and Pat Harbud moved to Lawrenny in 1987

For elderly residents Frank and Pat Hubard, who were nervous about leaving their home during the pandemic, the shop proved a vital lifeline. They live across the road with a garden that has perhaps the most stunning views over the estuary. Frank, 90, and Pat, 87, arrived in the village in 1987 from Staffordshire. Keen sailors, they’d holidayed in Lawrenny as a newly-married couple and fell in love with the river.

“I thought that would keep him quiet,” said Pat with a wicked smile about her husband, a former manufacturing manager.

When they moved, their bungalow was a vacant plot, one of three up for sale. Frank picks up the story: "Pat and I walked there, looked at that view and then each other and the next morning we went in to Tenby and bought the plot." The first day they moved in, he was invited up to the farm owned by David Lort-Philps for a welcome glass of sherry, Frank recalled fondly.

"I bought a sail boat and sailed locally," he continued. "There was nothing better than getting out early on a beautiful summer’s day before everyone got up."

In the past two years, Pat has suffered some health problems and the couple have been supported by the local community and especially Steve at the pub. "Steve sends supplies to us," said Frank. "He’s the type of character who, if I don’t turn up, he would ring me and bring meals up. Even on Christmas Day last year, he brought food up the day before."

Both Pat and Frank are regular faces at the lunch club: "The social interaction is very important," said Frank enthusiastically.

There's no doubt the village is largely made up of the older generation and retirees, although that is slowly changing as younger families set up home in Lawrenny. The village now boasts an artisan bakery specialising in all things sourdough, there's a foraging business and an annual music festival called the Big Retreat, which grows in popularity every year. But years ago, in Frank's time, the whole raison d’etre was the farm in the centre which is now "a pile of rubble" he said. It's since moved further out on the outskirts of the village.

Frank and Pat looking towards the Cleddau Estuary in their back garden
Ginny Lort-Phillips opening up the community-run village shop

The village has changed but incrementally so it's barely noticeable, said Ginny. It used to be a collection of derelict houses and farm buildings lining the street but over the years they’ve been restored and made into homes.

"Little by little, we’ve smartened ourselves up," she laughed, pointing to a twee stone barn conversion behind the shop. She can remember when they were pigsties and bullpens. “They’ve been done beautifully and they’ve done the most lovely job with it,” Ginny said. All three are holiday homes, albeit owned by Welsh people who visit regularly and support the shop, she added.

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Lawrenny had been in steady decline since the 1980s and was in danger of becoming little more than a cluster of holiday homes. The plan to modernise and expand the village was originally conceived by Ginny's husband, farmer David Lort-Phillips, in the 1970s. Over 40 years he's been integral in rebuilding and modernising the mostly 18th century cottages: when he began, there were around a dozen habitable cottages, few with running water. Now there are 35 homes and more than 20 businesses based in the community.

That first phase restoration work was recognised in the Prince of Wales Award scheme in 1975 and in 2007, the village won the Calor Best Village in Wales award. Talking about the latest accolade, Ginny said: "We’re pretty pleased; there’s a wonderful mix of people who live here and visit here, we’re very lucky. It’s such a great place."

Frank, 91, and Pat Harbud, 87, in their back garden
Locals chat in the street; from left, Margaret and Tony Ward with Dee Williams

Yet it’s not always quite so tranquil. Margaret Ward, a long-term resident was bemused to hear about the recognition in the Sunday Times and said: “It’s not the place to live in summer, with cars constantly coming past.”

She loves living in the village and is grateful for the tourists, but said it came with a "continuous stream of traffic and its roaring".

"It’s just somewhere to go because they’ve heard about it," she added about the day visitors. "But it’s a no through road so they have to come back up as well so we get it twice over." Even though she’s lived in the village with husband Tony, she’s not considered truly local, she chuckled. Originally from Shropshire, they moved to Pembrokeshire to run a hotel in Pembroke and then a shop in Narberth before retiring in the village.

Dee Williams, who lives in one of the cream-coloured cottages along the street, walked up from her house to post a letter. She stopped to chat: “I stop walking in the summer because it’s just too busy,” she agreed with Margaret. "And cyclists are a nightmare too. We used to have coach parties down on the waterfront but you don’t get that these days."

Dee has been a permanent resident since 2006, having holidayed in the area for as long as she can remember. Even she's noticed a change over the years as the traffic got busier. She said: "Cars are bigger and the lanes aren’t really designed for big heavy traffic. It’s the same with deliveries to the businesses - they’re all done by big lorries now."

Lawrenny village, in Pembrokeshire

With all three stood chatting next to an old-fashioned red telephone box, it's a bucolic scene of rural west Wales. The church clock strikes midday, prompting Margaret to explain how the weathered clock high on the four-storey tower is hand wound. Her husband, Tony, used to volunteer to do the job.

"You have to climb up behind the clock," he said. "It took 30 winds per week; I used to do 15 and then have a rest and do the last 15." The clock dates from 1901, a gift from Maude Lort-Philips in memory of Queen Victoria, to whom she'd been lady-in-waiting.

The view from the top of the tower might soon change dramatically after plans for a so-called 'eco-village' were given the go-ahead in 2019. The Lort-Philips family are proposing to build 39 homes, seven workplaces and a village green on a plot of land in the centre of Lawrenny, on the site of the old farmyard.

The £6m development will effectively double the size of Lawrenny in one go. Speaking at the time permission was granted, Adrian Lort-Philips said: "Yes, it's a big development, but why shouldn't small villages grow in the same way that larger towns do?"

In an age where working from home is now a very real and distinct part of our lives, it's hoped the "rural regeneration" will help sustain Lawrenny for future generations. Especially for a village which has the potential to provide "an almost unparalleled work-life balance".

There's no doubt that modern life will march on relentlessly but nothing will ever be able to make the ebb and flow of the tide move faster. For that reason, it's likely living in Lawrenny will always feel like somewhere where life is lived at a slower pace, in tune with nature and bound together by a great sense of community.