Search Results : “Pembrokeshire Coast”

Nov 162019

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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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)

Getting there:
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,

Accommodation: 15 Tower Hill (Landmark Trust), St Davids SA62 6RD (01628-825920, – cosy cottage overlooking cathedral.

Information: St Davids Visitor Centre (01437-720392);;

 Posted by at 02:56
Dec 142008

A blowy Sunday morning in westernmost Pembrokeshire after a week of grey, horizontal weather – and boy, were we keen to see the sun. When the clouds began to shred away off the moor tops and the hint of a tint of blue shone through, we were out of our holiday cottage and down in St David's before you could blink.

St David's is one of those neat little towns you don't want to leave in a hurry. We slipped into the Cathedral between Holy Communion and Parish Eucharist to admire the beautiful Norman pillars of purple slate, the chisel marks of the masons still plain beneath the patina of 800 years' smoothing by hands, backs and shoulders. I ducked into the choir to indulge my passion for medieval misericord carvings. There were some beauties, including two very fine leafy Green Men, a curly dragon, and a crafty fox in a clerical cowl preaching to some trusting inhabitants of the farmyard. The light was low and muted in the church, built deep in a hollow so that – legend says – marauding Vikings might pass by without suspecting it was there.

We caught the little Celtic Coaster bus and went rattling down the twisting, high-banked lane to St Justinian's. From the cliff we gazed across the mile-wide strip of Ramsey Sound to the twin peaks of Ramsey Island RSPB Reserve. The solitary farmhouse stood above the landing slip, a tiny gleaming cube of white. Here was a pure drop of nostalgia for me. Twenty years ago I had waited on this cliff above the cream-and-crimson corrugated tin shed of the lifeboat, looking out to the ferocious tide-rips of Ramsey Sound through which a rubber boat was bouncing and smacking its way towards me. It had been a bumpy and spray-drenched old journey to the island, and a strangely enthusiastic welcome on arrival. I soon found out why – I had arrived just in time for the annual sheep shearing, and Ramsey was short-staffed.

What a hell of a weekend that turned out to be. Ramsey back then had been privately owned, under covenant of the National Trust, and its flock of sheep had been let run completely wild. Six of us, "assisted" by a half-trained pup called Spot, set out to gather them off the hills and slippery cliffs of the two-mile-long island. The tough guys sheared them in the stuffy shed, between glugs of beer and puffs of tobacco. I was appointed tallyman/door wallah, and scored a mark in purple wax crayon on the shed wall for each bucking, tittuping beast that sprang past me from the hands of the shearers. By the end of the day there were 198 strokes on the shed wall. I have never been sworn and shouted at so much, laughed so hard or ended the day in such a drunken daze of exhaustion and triumph. Sheer anarchic magic.

Holidaymakers who had booked a boat trip round the island were waiting at the lifeboat shed today, staring across the white horses of Ramsey Sound and cracking nervous jokes about losing their breakfast. Jane and I, turning along the cliff path where the wind was shaking the clumps of thrift and toadflax, felt glad to be keeping to terra firma. Sea wind is a constant here on the coast of Pembrokeshire, streaming the hedges of sea buckthorn inland and sculpting the gorse sprigs into rounded yellow clubs. The sharply canted cliffs fell away to the waves in weather-smoothed flanks of green and mauve, and a sparrowhawk hung in the wind a few feet above our craning faces.

Looking ahead into the long curve of Whitesands Bay, we saw the sands between the rocky headlands of Point St John and St David's Head covered in short figures, most of them in suits of black, running, screaming and leaping. It looked like a painting by LS Lowry with added glee. Down on the beach we discovered it was Young Life-Savers Day. In spite of the barking instructors and their gung-ho exhortations, most of the wet-suited youngsters looked as though what they were out for was a good splash in the pounding surf.

Among the dunes lay a humpy green mound, all that remains of the little Chapel of St Patrick where newly landed seafarers of the Dark Ages would kneel and give thanks for deliverance from the dangers of the twin headlands. Others, outward bound, would pray before embarkation for the saint's protection amid the hazards of the sea. St Patrick was felt likely to lend a sympathetic ear, since stories said that it was from Whitesands Bay that he himself had set sail in AD432 to bring the Word across the sea to the heathen Irish.

Did the great patron saints of Ireland and Wales, Patrick and David, ever meet each other on Ramsey Island, as other tales tell? Certainly the rugged island had its own macho 5th-century saint in the person of Justinian, a nobly-born Breton both misogynistic and imperious, who expelled two holy women from Ramsey so that he could live there, and so infuriated his own monks that they cut his head off. Nothing daunted, Justinian marched across the Sound to his burial place on the mainland with his head under his arm. They seem to have made them tough back then.

Out on the windy extremity of St David's Head we passed through the double wall of Clawdd-y-Milwyr, the Warrior's Dyke, built 15 feet high by the Iron Age farmers who lived out here behind this formidable barrier. Who was it that they feared so greatly? Now their great wall lies less than man height, scattered and tumbled among blue feathery buttons of scabious and white bells of sea campion. Nearby along the cliff path loomed Arthur's Quoit, a giant stone slab propped up by a slender upright. Our ancestors raised it as the capstone of a kingly tomb nearly 6,000 years ago. Or was it mighty Arthur, hero-giant of Welsh folklore, who hurled it here from Moelfre Hill? The head urges one story, the heart another, when one walks these rocky moors and cliffs so drenched in the mythological past.

The clink of rock-climbing harness recalled us to the practical present as a breath of warm sunlight stole along the coast. Climbers were inching their way down to the rocks of Ogof Coetan, the Cave of the Quoit, where the waves leapt fitfully and tongues of foam came licking up at the adventurers. Jane and I moved on along the path, threading our way through beautiful coastal heath of gorse and heather whose topmost sprigs held black-capped and russet-breasted stonechats. Time for a little climbing on our own account.

By tip of boot and finger we scrambled up the 600ft volcanic tor of Carn Llidi. Little children in shorts and trainers were prancing around the summit like mountain goats. Down below lay Whitesands Bay, a crescent of sand where lines of surf were creaming. Out at sea, gathering clouds hid the horizon. Here on Carn Llidi, Patrick the Welsh-born shepherd once stood, gazing west to where the pale blue peaks of Wicklow pierced the skyline a hundred miles off. There was no chance of seeing them this day. But the thought of them made me smile as we picked our way back down to the seashore once more.

Stepping out

OS 1:25,000 Explorer OL35, 1:50,000 Landranger 157

By train ( or coach ( to Haverfordwest; bus 411 ( to St David's. Celtic Coaster bus (service 403, operates March-September) between St David's, St Justinian's and Whitesands Bay.

By car
M4, A48, A40 to Haverfordwest; A487 to St David's; minor road signposted to St Justinian's.

Walk directions
From St Justinian's car park (OS ref SM724252), walk down lane towards sea and turn right along Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail (signed with fingerposts and acorn symbols) for four miles via Whitesands Bay (734272), St David's Head (722279) and Arthur's Quoit (725281) to reach a short fingerpost (736287 – acorn symbols and ''YHA'') just before a stonewalled enclosure. Follow YHA up to right; in 100 yards bear left to follow broad grass track uphill with twin hump of Carn Llidi on your right. At saddle (739283 approx.), right along track to scramble up to summit of Carn Llidi (738280). Continue across two crests, descending by rock scramble to lower of two concrete wartime emplacements below Carn Llidi Bychan (735279). Turn left down path past Upper Porthmawr farm (737276) to reach Whitesands Bay car park (734272).

5½ miles (7½ to return to St Justinian's via coast path)

Some cliff-top stretches are narrow, other parts rocky underfoot. Climb to top of Carn Llidi involves a little scrambling. Wear walking trainers/boots.

Café and public loos at Whitesands Bay; Old Cross Hotel, St David's (01437 720394,

Old Cross Hotel, St David's (see above); for holiday lets.

Tourist Information Centre, The Grove, St David's (01437 720392,


 Posted by at 00:00