First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Only the upperworks of St Davids Cathedral tower are visible as you enter the smallest city in Britain. First sight of the cathedral is so unexpected it takes your breath away. You step through the arch of Porth-y-Twr gatehouse, and there, filling a hollow far below, lies this magnificent and enormous church, with the ruin of a most spectacular 14th-century Bishop’s Palace just behind.
There’s hardly a sign of the modern world, just woods and fields beyond rising to knobbly, mountainous outcrops on the unseen coast. It’s a truly wondrous way to start this walk round one of the most spectacular sections of coastline in all of Wales.
Green lanes and country roads took us down to the southern corner of Whitesands Bay. On the far side of the tan-coloured strand the rocky promontory of St Davids Head ran a long finger westward into the sea. Wavelets creamed on the sands, and from a rock stack offshore came the querulous cries of a herring gull asserting its territorial rights.
The Pembrokeshire Coast Path leads along the coast at the very edge of green and purple cliffs whose dense sandstone has fractured into slanted faces as smooth as slate. The sea gasped hungrily at their feet, and from up ahead came the swish and thump of the tide race in Ramsey Sound.
Ramsey Island, long and low-slung with two humps of hill, lay square-on across a mile or so of very turbulent water. Sinews of tides pulled hard in opposite directions, whirlpools circled end to end, and a jabble of large waves rose north and south.
Ramsey is a RSPB reserve these days, but the old farmhouse where the Griffiths family once stuck out the tough island life still stands out against the green turf. From a tiny fingernail of beach at the southern end came a thin hooting. With binoculars we made out a little gathering of seal pups in white fur, nerving themselves for the short journey to the waves and their new lives as creatures of the sea.
Soon Ramsey Island was behind us. The path led in and out of tiny coves and beaches. We skirted the slit-like inlet of Porth Clais, and headed inland past the ancient chapel of St Non, mother of St David, with the last of the daylight transferring a silver sheen from the sea to the darkening sky above.
Start: St Davids Cathedral, Pembrokeshire SA62 6RD (OS ref SM 752254)
Bus 411 (Haverfordwest)
Road – A487 from Fishguard or Haverfordwest
Walk (10 miles, easy, lanes and cliff paths, OS Explorer OL35): From town centre follow Goat Street (‘St Justinian’s’). Bear left at ‘Merrivale’; on down Catherine Street. Opposite Ramsey Gardens, right (749252, blue arrow) down lane. In ½ mile at road, left (743252). In 200m, right (‘Ty Newydd Farm’). In 400m right at road (737250). In 500m, left at T-junction (736254, ‘St Justinian’). In 500m, right (731254, ‘Pencarnan’). At Pencarnan entrance, fork right (728258, ‘Public Path to Coast Path’). At coast, left on Pembrokeshire Coast Path/PCP for 6½ miles via St Justinian’s (724252). Porthlysgi Bay (731238) and Porth Clais (741242) to St Non’s Bay (750243). Inland off PCP at kissing gate (fingerpost) past St Non’s Chapel to road (752244); left for ¾ miles to St Davids.
Conditions: Coast path along unguarded cliffs
Lunch: Picnic; The Bishop’s Inn, Cross Square, St Davids SA62 6SL (01437-720422, thebish.co.uk)
Accommodation: 15 Tower Hill (Landmark Trust), St Davids SA62 6RD (01628-825920, landmarktrust.org.uk) – cosy cottage overlooking cathedral.
Information: St Davids Visitor Centre (01437-720392)