First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Sparrows were chirping in the reed-beds along the railway as we crossed the line by Penally station. The ominous rainclouds of early morning were blowing away eastward along the Pembrokeshire coast, and in the sand dunes every purple-pink pyramidal orchid and creamy yellow burnet rose held a spray of diamond drops.
Dogs raced joyfully along the pebble-strewn sands of South Beach. We walked the long strand, looking ahead to where the handsome colour-washed houses and hotels of Tenby stood at the rim of tall cliffs. Offshore the block-like stack of St Catherine’s Island carried its ‘Palmerston’s Folly’ of a fort, built in the 1870s to ward off a French invasion that never came.
If you had to show a Martian what a seaside resort was all about, Tenby with its colourful houses, steep and winding streets and curves of sandy beach would be the place. We climbed the green knoll of Castle Hill to pay our respects to Prince Albert, surveying the prospect in lordly fashion from his statue pedestal. Then we descended to skirt the sands of North Beach where children went trotting solemnly to the edge of the sea for a bucket of water for their sandcastle moat.
A flight of steps up the cliffs, and we were heading north along the Wales Coast Path, a sun-dappled way under ash and sycamore, flanked by ramrod foxgloves in the first flush of their velvet mauve bells.
The coast path formed the boundary between pastures and woodland. From Rowston Hill there was a wonderful view back to the tight multi-coloured curve of Tenby harbour and its houses, with the low green bar of Caldey Island lying beyond, then a forward vista eastward round the curve of the bay to the dragon humps of the Worms Head promontory running out into the sea from the toe-tip of the Gower Peninsula.
We picnicked under the oaks above Lodge Valley with the sea sighing on invisible rocks below. Punishment for many sins came after that in the shape of a cruel climb up a purgatorial run of steps. From there it was (mostly) downhill, coasting through the trees to Monkstone Beach, then on down to a slip of sand at the edge of Rhode Wood. A final stretch along the shore brought us wet-booted into Saundersfoot, and up to a fantastic view of the long and beautiful beach from the picture windows of the St Brides Bay Hotel where we had our well-earned lunch.
How hard is it? 6½ miles; moderate; a rugged coastal walk with some steep climbs and sharp drops
Start: Penally railway station, Tenby, Pembs SA70 7PS (OS ref: SS 118991)
Getting there: Train to Penally. Bus – 349 (Haverfordwest-Tenby)
Road: Penally station is on A4139 (Tenby-Pembroke)
Walk (OS Explorer OL36): Cross railway; follow path to South Beach (122988). Left to Tenby. Up cliff path (131001) along Esplanade and Paragon. Follow ‘Harbour’ signs; descend to harbour (136005), following walkway round bay. Beside café (133008), climb steps; right along The Croft cliff road. In 400m pass Park Hotel (133013); keep ahead up path (‘Wales Coast Path’/WCP, National Trail acorn symbol/NT). In 200m take right fork uphill (NT). Follow WCP and NT to Saundersfoot. Beach alternative (not at high tide) – below caravan park in Rhode Wood, turn right (141038), descending steps to beach; left to Saundersfoot.
Return to Tenby – bus 351 (Pendine-Tenby).
Lunch/Accommodation: St Brides Spa Hotel, St Brides Hill, Saundersfoot SA69 9NH (01834-812304, stbridesspahotel.com) – very stylish and comfortable, with superb views. Booking for meals advisable.