Formed from an outcrop of limestone, on average 25m high, the island is riddled with tidal caves. The island is approximately 200 metres (660 ft) long and 60 metres (200 ft) wide. The area below the high waterline at St Catherine’s Island is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The stretch directly in front of the island is known as the Catterns.
During the reign of Elizabeth I, the Earl of Pembroke (“Jasper”, the uncle of Henry VII) was the owner of St Catherine’s Island. Later, the ownership passed to the Corporation of Tenby, which took possession of a number of crown lands. It is recorded in 1856 that a few sheep inhabited the island. An observer described them as “half wild sure footed creatures that run, turn and look, run again and leap from crag to crag almost with the agility of the Alpine Chamois”.
For many centuries a tiny chapel was the only building on the Island.
St. Catherine’s Island, so named as there was once a Chapel built there dedicated to St. Catherine, the patron Saint of spinners and weavers. Two stone built hermit cells were also thought to have been sited there.
Whilst excavating the foundations in preparation for the construction of the fort deep into the rock, the ruins of a chapel (St Catherine’s Chapel) were removed, together with an Egyptian effigy, bones of a human skeleton, and some Roman coins.