Walk 17: St Davids Circular: A Pembrokeshire Pilgrimage from the UK’s smallest city

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 4 miles (6.5km)

Time to walk: The guide says this walk takes about 2.5 hours but, if you also take in St Davids itself with visits to the Cathedral etc plus lunch stops, it can easily turn into a full day out…& why not as it’s a lovely place

Difficulty: It’s a gentle walk covering the spectacular Pembrokeshire Coastal Path plus a short stretch of country road & the centre of Britain’s smallest city. Be careful on the coastal path & keep well away from the edge of the cliffs

Parking: We used the car park behind the Oriel y Parc Gallery & Visitor Centre in St Davids off the A487

Public toilets: In the Visitor Centre or the cafe at Porth Clais, or at the many watering establishments once you return to St Davids

Map of the route: cc Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority

This walk starts & finishes at the Tourist Information Centre in Britain’s smallest city. St Davids was granted city status by Queen Elizabeth II because of the presence of the cathedral of St Davids. Situated within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, St Davids is surrounded by spectacular coastal scenery renowned for its beauty and abundance of wildlife

The land around the city is basically a plateau with many rocky outcrops formed by volcanic activity. About 700 million years ago this area was under the sea. Today it’s home to an abundance of wild flowers such as squill, thrift, sea campion, kidney vetch & birdsfoot trefoil, plus numerous bird life

Hopefully the weather will be as good for you as it takes in some of the most spectacular coastline the UK has to offer, plus the birthplace of St David…therefore a bit of a pilgrimage. It’s easy walking, but beware the step cliffs on the coastal section. We did it in mid August

It also takes in the city centre at the end so we’ll have a good look at the cathedral & the city when we finish

So boots on & ready to see some of the most spectacular coastline this country has to offer? Then Let’s Walk!!

1. This walk starts at the impressive visitor centre which doubles up with the Oriel y Parc Landscape Gallery also encompassing the home of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales in Pembrokeshire…

There’s always some exhibitions going on & when we were here it was one about the famed Welsh poet Dylan Thomas & perhaps his most famous work ‘Under Milk Wood’ Instead of reading the poem we’d really recommend listening to the radio edition with Richard Burton which is an incredible piece of broadcasting

We have to say thanks to the staff of the centre for suggesting we do this walk

2. From the car park behind the centre we turn left & follow the road towards the sea…

…& Caerfai Bay…

…passing some very uninterested ‘ladies’ on the way…

3. It’s quite a trek down the lane, but the skies overhead looked fantastic & it was going to be another warm day…

Everyone's going to the beach!

Everyone’s going to the beach!

4. Be careful as the lane starts getting busier now with campsites on the left & a farm on the right…

The story of the above business is worth a read – see this link about the founder Rachel Rowlands & the small shop on the left here sells the yoghurts

Caerfai Farm is a fantastic location for a campsite & there’s also some holiday cottages too for those not wanting to spend the night under the stars…

5. At long last we arrive at Caefai Bay which sets the tone for the rest of this cliff walk…

That's not a bad start is it?

That’s not a bad start is it?

Caerfai is a great sandy beach surrounded by shale & sandstone cliffs formed around 520 million years ago. The southern edge is formed by the Marloes Peninsula, with Skomer Island just offshore

It’s a steep climb down to the sandy beach & you’ve got to be careful of the incoming tide. We didn’t have time to visit the beach here so turned right, descended the steps below & joined the Pembrokeshire Coast

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path opened in 1970 & was the first National Trail in Wales. It runs from St Dogmaels in the north to Amroth in the south

Following the coastline for 186 miles (299km) it covers of some of the most breathtaking coastal scenery in Britain & walking it in one go takes between 10 to 15 days. The ascents and descent are said to be the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest… 35,000 feet!

6. Our route today lies to the right moving away from Caerfai Bay…

…& it’s important to keep turning round as the views of Caerfai Bay keep getting better & better…

…& the skies get bluer & bluer…

7. As well as looking forwards, backwards & up it’s also important to look down on this walk as there’s plenty of butterflies & different flowers etc to see along the path…

8. Be careful when looking around though as we’re not far from the edge of that cliff!

Told you the views behind were getting better

Told you the views behind were getting better

Careful!!

Careful!!

…& round the corner we get our first view of the headland & path ahead & know this walk is rather special…

9. Keeping to the path around the next bay we can see one of the major highlights of our walk ahead… St Nons

To get to St Nons the path tracks the edge of the next bay & at every turn there’s another picture…

Lovely alpine flowers

Lovely alpine flowers

Here's the next stunning bay

Here’s the next stunning bay

10. It’s time to climb up & across the bay to St Nons (which we’ll tell you about when we get there), probably the only little uphill stretch of this walk, but the views to the bay on the left make it worthwhile…

Uphill now...

Uphill now…

…what a bay…

11. Nearly at the top now…

…& finally ahead is The Retreat & The Chapel of St Nons…

12. St Non was the mother of David the patron saint of Wales. According to tradition, he was born in the ruined medieval chapel close by which we’ll have a look at shortly. The more modern chapel above & the retreat were built in 1930s

There’s a lot of history on this site so let’s have a look around…

13. Firstly a few steps on is a shrine to Our Blessed Lady. We met a local here who told us a story that at the end of each summer the hands have to be stuck on again as kids break them off – apparently there’s a large supply somewhere!

14. On the left is The Holy Well of St Non’s…

As the sign says, tradition has it that the Holy Well sprung up during a thunderstorm on the night St David was born. It’s now regarded as one of the most sacred wells in Wales & has been visited through the centuries by pilgrims. In the 19th century the present barrel shape was installed & the steps were restored in 1951

We were told that once a year all the nuns gather to bathe…it was a bit smelly, but the dog the local had liked to dive in!!

15. Through the stile are the ruins of the old chapel where St David was said to have been born…

What we really liked was that you could actually walk amongst the ruins & feel the history of this place…

The stone in the corner looks interesting...

The stone in the corner looks interesting…

16. Right it’s time to crack on & the exit from the chapel field lies diagonally left, through the gate & then up & over the bank to rejoin the coastal Path. Near the chapel are the remains of some standing stones which are said to have sprung up to protect Non while she gave birth

Be careful

Be careful

There’s no beach in the bay at St Nons, but it does have some spectacular cliffs formed from multi-coloured layers of Cambrian sandstone up-ended by the Earth’s movements

Don’t forget to keep looking back…

17. Looking forward though we can see the next headland ahead of us…

Spectacular coastline...

Spectacular coastline…

This a great area for watersports & there were several sea kayakers & people on Coasteering courses throwing themselves off rocks (great fun!)

18. The path bends right now around the next bay which is probably the most stunning so far…

Beautiful & we wonder what's over that cliff?

Beautiful & we wonder what’s over that cliff?

Wow!

Wow!

Beautiful plants again

Beautiful plants again

Like we say the flora’s pretty amazing…

19. We’re now entering the tiny harbour bay of Porth Clais

…& this is our first view of the breakwater…

Not a bad view!

Not a bad view!

The tide was out when we visited but it’s still a pretty spectacular harbour…

It’s also a major centre for kayaking…

20. There’s a choice of paths here – either down to the breakwater wall, or just follow the path we’ve been on which is a steadier gradient…

There's evidence of fire along here...

There’s evidence of fire along here…

This is the view from the upper path…

Porth Clais is where the river Alun, which flows through St Davids, meets the sea. In Welsh folklore a giant boar, Twrch Trwyth came ashore here chased by King Arthur & his Knights. Around the 14th century it became the major port for St Davids & timber, limestone, corn etc passed through it

The tide may be out but it's still a lovely spot

The tide may be out but it’s still a lovely spot

21. As we slowly descend there’s more flora…

Early season sloes

Early season sloes

…& eventually we reach a crossroads on the path & turn left down the hill to the harbour floor…

The lime kilns have been restored by the National Trust

The lime kilns have been restored by the National Trust

22. Fancy a cup of tea, coffee or a loo break? Well lets head up the road away from the harbour through the car park…

…& head for the National Trust refreshment hut yummy!

This really is a little oasis with lots of goodies, ice-creams etc plus a very eccentric server…”rather”!!

23. Suitably refreshed it’s time to start our journey back across the fields to St Davids. You can take the bus if you want, but why? There’s still lots to see on such a gorgeous day

Our map was slightly confusing here especially when we met an Irish lady who sent us on a wild goose chase! All you need to do is head back up the track from the hut to the crossroads & then straight on into the camp site…

Straight on at the crossroads

Straight on at the crossroads

Across the field & into the camp site

Across the field & into the camp site

The whole of this return route overlooks the Alun Valley on the left which was cut by the last Ice Age. There’s lots of deposited big rocks en route & in the distance is Clegyr Boia a very ancient rock formed over 600 million years ago. According to folklore Boia was a pagan chief who tried to stop St David establishing Christianity here

24. Follow the footpath through Porthclais Farm turning left onto the hard track & then immediately right along the narrow grass path…

…& now it’s simply a case of following the track through several gates until reaching the St Davids road…

This place is solar powered

This place is solar powered

This field was full of crows...

This field was full of crows…

25. The track continues to climb steadily upwards & is quite enclosed, so in today’s heat was pretty warm!

Large boulders deposited by the ice age up here

Large boulders deposited by the ice age up here

Eventually we can see we’re getting closer to St David’s again…

Mind this little chap!

Mind this little chap!

26. Finally the grass track meets a road where we need to turn left & head down St Nons road into the city. On the right here is a well known hotel, Warpool Court

27. We’re soon amongst the outskirts of the city & can see the Cathedral ahead – it’s time we went & had a look…

At the junction turn right into Goat Street & the hustle & bustle of this vibrant place…

This little chap was making himself heard

This little chap was making himself heard

Over the road is a little shop called the Goat Street Gallery which was extremely busy due to a visit from ‘The One Show’

28. Heading up Goat Street we’re almost at the city centre (told you it was small!) & thoughts turn towards tackling the sights, some refreshments & finishing this walk. The Farmers Arms (originally 2 cottages) on the left looks good, but we’ve a tried & tested place further on…

Cross Square is the centre of the city & there’s a small market today. It was restored by Bishop Thirwall in 1873 & the stone cross is 14th century. The stone at the base of the cross is worn caused by the rope used to pull the lifeboat from the Cross Hotel where it was kept. Funeral processions used to pause at the Cross

Market Days were Mondays & Thursdays. Until 1939 tradition had it that cabbages were sold on the steps every St David’s Day when there was also pudding eating competitions!

These days St David’s Day is marked by a short ceremony where the Bishop blesses the City

It’s a great place to grab a seat on a bench or wall & watch the world go by. The small gardens above were opened as a war memorial & the white flagpole is a memorial to the crew of the lost lifeboat the ‘Gem’. It’s a sad story & worth a read at this link. We’ll go & have a look at the current lifeboat station at the end of the walk

The white pub on the left is The Bishops…we may be back!

29. Right…lets go & have a look at St Davids Cathedral so head across Cross Square & down the hill. The square has some interesting small shops & franchise chains…

As we move down the hill it’s plain to see that the Cathedral’s sunk into a deep valley…

Through the arch & we get our first view of the magnificent building…

30. The current Cathedral is at least the 4th built on the site reputed to be where St David founded a monastic settlement in the 6th century. The majority of the current structure dates from the 12th century, being started in 1182 by Bishop Peter de Leia. The local grey & purple dressed sandstone from which it was built came from the cliffs at Caerbwdi

Here’s how it would all have looked…

It’s been an important place of pilgrimage for almost  14 centuries. The medieval Shrine of St David, which we’ll see in a bit, was restored & dedicated on St David’s Day 2012

Let’s have a look inside…

31. Here’s a map of the interior…

There’s no charge for entry, however they do suggest a donation of £3. If you wish to take photographs you’re required to buy a permit costing £2. Having donated £6 entrance fee we decided that was enough so here’s our photos of the interior…

The shrine of St David

The shrine of St David

32. Next door to the Cathedral is The Bishops Palace

The Palace has lain in ruins since the 17th century. The entrance fee was £3.50 per person, but having felt we’d already donated enough to the cause, here’s a few sneaky photos…

 

33. Right…man’s stomach can wait no longer, so trek back up the steps towards Cross Square

…& here on the right it’s The Bishops which has a great seating area outside, some fabulous ales (including the amazing The Rev. James) & a great menu – the crab sandwich is historic

Ready for pudding? Well there’s only one place to go! Opposite The Bishops sit on a bench or the Square’s wall & eat an ice cream from Gianni’s. Just to prove this is a ‘local’ walk, the organic milk used to make the ice cream comes from the Caerfai Bay Farm we passed at the start of our walk. ps…ignore all the fancy stuff & just go for the Raspberry Ripple…simply awesome!

34. So all we need to do now is head back to were we left the car so head up the hill. If you haven’t eaten & fancy fish ‘n’ chips there’s one on the right (no website).  Also on the right is the City Hall which was built in 1924 & houses the council offices & the library…

On the left’s a place we can really recommend popping into St David’s Deli. What a treasure this place is & the sights & smells say it all…

Slightly further up on the left’s another watering hole & nice restaurant The Grove Hotel

If you’re staying in the local area this place has a great menu too

35. So to finish our walk just head over the road & pass through Oriel y Parc Gallery & Visitor Centre back to the car park…

Well what a great walk that was &, as an introduction to the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, only makes us want to come back & do more. Today the weather was great & we can imagine that some would think in wild rain & wind it wouldn’t be as good, but that’s what makes walking great – no two days are the same & this coast with wild seas would be amazing!

Finally we mentioned the current St David’s Lifeboat Station which is now out at St Justinans. Here’s a few snaps. This is a place where several currents of the sea meet & churn it into a wild yet fascinating part of the coast…

Well there we are….we think that’s enough said about this walk because what we hope is the blog & pictures say everything about it

It’s just great, so as always….Go Walk!

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