Pembrokeshire has a wonderful coastline and a well deserved reputation for its award winning beaches of Whitesands Bay, Newgale and Caerfai Bay. These provide something for everyone from walking to surfing… photography to rock pooling… building sandcastles to kayaking… in fact everything for a family holiday. The population in 2001 was 114,131. The administrative headquarters and historic county town is Haverfordwest with many other settlements including Pembroke, Pembroke Dock, Milford Haven, Fishguard, Tenby, Saundersfoot, Narberth, Neyland and Newport.
Pembrokeshire is essentially a seafaring county, bordered by the sea on three sides with Ceredigion (Cardiganshire) to the northeast and Carmarthenshire to the east. St Davids , which is situated in the west of the county, is the United Kingdom’s smallest city and the highest point of the county is at Foel Cwmcerwyn, which sits at 1,760ft or 540 m. The county has over 170 miles of wonderful coastline, which includes important seabird breeding sites and numerous bays and sandy beaches. The coastline can be explored via the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and the vast majority of it is included in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Major bays include Newport Bay, Fishguard Bay and St Bride’s Bay. There are many small islands off the coast of the county, the largest of which are Ramsey Island, Skomer Island and Caldey Island. In the north of the county are the Preseli Mountains (Mynyddoedd Preseli), a wide stretch of high moorland with many prehistoric monuments and the source of the bluestones used in the construction of Stonehenge in England.
The city of St Davids is situated on the far south west coast of Wales. Granted city status by Queen Elizabeth II, as a result of the existence of the cathedral, St Davids is in reality a small attractive village. Situated within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, St Davids is surrounded by spectacular coastal scenery renowned for its beauty and abundance of amazing wildlife. Whitesands Bay, one of the many beautiful beaches in the area, carries the prestigious European Blue Flag Award. St Davids Cathedral has been the dominant presence since the 12th century and was a popular pilgrimage destination throughout the middle attracting thousands of visitors every year. Adjacent to the cathedral stand the magnificent ruins of the medieval Bishops Palace, which must be seen.
St Davids Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace
St Davids Cathedral, the magnificent 12th century Norman Monastery, is just minutes walk from the cottages and has regular services, as well as concerts and plays during the summer and a music festival in the May half-term week, which is attended by many 1,000’s of visitors. The unique atmosphere of the Cathedral is an important part of what draws people back to St Davids year after year and in many cases 30 years in a row.
Tower Gate House and Bell Tower
The 15-foot high Close Wall, which was built in the 14th century, enclosed the original cathedral city. The wall was pierced by four gatehouses. The Tower Gatehouse, is the only one that survives today and was used by the medieval town council. The Tower Gate House also encloses the lapidarium (where there is a display of religious stones) and below this is the bishop’s dungeon. Next to the Gatehouse stands the 13th century Bell Tower, which now has a Royal ring of ten bells. This can be heard from Ty Gwilym Cottages and the Boathouse.
Adjacent to the Cathedral on its north side are the Cloisters, the Cathedral Hall and Cloister Hall. These are the remains of St Mary’s College, founded in 1365 by Bishop Houghton, to house a master and seven fellows, whose duties were to raise standards and serve the Cathedral. There are limited traces of the original Cloister, which were already in ruins by the late C16th or early C17th. However, a renovation of the Hall in 1965-6 and the recent recreation of the Cloisters themselves have provided the Cathedral with spaces with which to respond to the demands of the twenty first century.
Mainly built on the original footprint, the West and East ranges are of two storeys. The original West cloister was of two storeys, whereas the East cloister rose to three, the remains of which can be seen above the new range, in particular the beautiful arched window. These ranges house meeting rooms, which enable the Cathedral to offer retreat, parish and education facilities. The East and South cloister walks are enclosed and contain the new Treasury, and also lavatories and disabled facilities, and give access to the North side of the Cathedral. The North and West cloister walkways are open, bounded by wooden arcading mirroring the stone tracery visible on the walls of St Mary’s Hall – part of the limited evidence remaining of the style of the original cloisters. The walkways are paved, with seating set into the walls of the west walk – providing quiet spaces, which look onto the central grassed Cloister garth. The north porch provides a covered entrance to the Cathedral and cloisters and protects the remaining medieval render on the wall above the north door. The new west wall and north porch fit seamlessly into the historic fabric of the Cathedral and are a testament to the skilled design and workmanship that has gone into the Cloisters scheme. The stunning oak framing which bounds the walkways was provided by Peter McCurdy who was responsible for the framing of the new Globe Theatre in London. The effect of the whole scheme is breathtaking.
Beaches and Caves
There are a host of wonderful beaches nearby including Whitesands Bay, with its long stretches of golden sands and Caerfai Bay with hundreds of rockpools and caves to explore. And don’t forget Abereiddi, with the unique Blue Lagoon, as well as the picturesque harbours of Porth Clais, Porth Gain and Solva. There is a lovely restaurant at Porth gain, the Shed, serving mainly fish.
Whitesands Bay (Welsh: Porth-mawr) shown as Whitesand Bay on some maps, is an EEC award-winning, Blue Flag standard, wide sandy beach in St Brides Bay in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, United Kingdom. The beach is located about two miles west of the small city of St. Davids and about one mile south of St Davids Head and has been described as the best surfing beach in Pembrokeshire and one of the best tourist beaches in the world. It is just five minutes by car from Ty Gwilym or perhaps 15 minutes walk.
The area to the north east of the bay is dominated by a large rocky outcrop, 594 feet (181 m) at its highest point, known as Carn Llidi. The Pembrokeshire Coast Path passes alongside the bay, giving access in the north to the secluded bays of Porthlleuog and Porthmelgan (which are only accessible on foot), and the rugged coastal scenery of St Davids Head. To the south, the coastal path leads to Porthselau and St. Justinian’s, with views across the Ramsey Sound to Ramsey Island. There are a number of megalithic burial chambers, stone hut circles and British Iron Age field systems and enclosures to be seen in the vicinity of Carn Llidi and St Davids Head. A popular spot for most surfers visiting Newgale, it’s generally a little more sheltered due to Ramsey Island blocking some of the swell. The bay at high tide becomes pretty small and can attract a crowd on good days.
Try and surf it mid to high tide if at all possible. The take off is normally towards the right hand side of the beach but varies with the tide and which sandbanks are working at the time. The rips here tend to drag you towards the rocks so be aware of them, but you can also use them to get out the back quicker on big days. You can park up right next to the beach here and check the waves but you do have to pay for the privilege in summer. You can take dogs on part of Newgale unlike Whitesand where dogs are banned from May to September.
Caerfai Bay Beach is a sandy beach with excellent water quality (2008). It nestles in a small rocky cove between spectacular cliffs. The beach is located on the west coast of Pembrokeshire just a mile south from St Davids and can be seen from the nearby campsites . The beach is popular for swimming, sea-canoeing and sea-angling. The Pembrokeshire Coast Path runs above the beach and has lovely scenic views of the cliffs and seabirds. You can swim across to a small island at low tide.
The beach has been awarded a European Blue Flag, guaranteeing the cleanliness of the water. The beach is patrolled by lifeguards during the school holidays. It is easy to find, lying midway between Haverfordwest and St. Davids on the main A487 road.
Newgale provides the ideal location for water sports. There is always plenty of space on the long, two mile stretch of flat sand and whilst the Atlantic Ocean rollers ensure some exciting surf, it is a safe beach for the young and not so expert.
There is a lovely castle in Pembroke, which is ideal for a family day out! Do pay a visit. Idyllically set on the banks of the river estuary, this mighty fortress is largely intact, and its endless passages, tunnels and stairways are great fun to explore, plus there are super exhibitions, which tell the tale of its medieval life. This was once the seat of a succession of major barons who played leading roles in shaping Britain’s history, this historic showpiece is the birthplace of Henry Tudor, father to the infamous Henry VIII and grandfather of Elizabeth I. Picnic in the beautifully kept grounds or from St. Anne’s Bastion, enjoy views along the estuary while partaking of refreshments from the snack bar. Visit the Brass Rubbing Centre and quickly and easily, make an attractive souvenir. Complete your visit with a walk around the medieval town walls and millpond, and from the opposite bank of the river, view the castle in all its splendour, surrounded by this peaceful stretch of water.
Coasteering and Surfing
Coasteering is a very enjoyable activity for all ages and this is provided by TYF, who specialise in a variety of activities from kayaking to rock jumping!. They are based in the centre of St Davids. Surfing is another exhilarating activity on Whitesands Bay or Newgale beach and everything you need for purchase or hire can be found at MaSimes Surf Shop in the High Street.
The original and the best. adrenalin packed action for all ages and abilities. Learn about the coastline at the same time as having fun and testing your skill and endurance in Wales’ only coastal national park. It couldn’t be more simple – squeeze into a wetsuit, safety helmet and old trainers then scramble, climb, swim and cliff jump your way around Pembrokeshire’s spectacular rocky coastline, turning rocks, cliffs, caves and waves into playthings! Jumping is not compulsory but most people like to try it. The BBC’s ‘Holidays Out’ programme called it ‘the best liquid refreshment you can get’ and Everest mountaineer Chris Bonington found it ‘immensely enjoyable’. But you don’t have to be a TV presenter or a Himalayan climber to enjoy this fantastic new sport. On a calm day, it is possible to explore caves, when it gets rougher hold onto your hats – it can be a rollercoaster ride!
These days everyone seems to want to surf, which is hardly surprising as it’s one of the coolest sports on the planet. Invented in ancient Polynesia and Hawaii, surfing has undergone many changes in the last few hundred years and with recent advances in wetsuit and surf board technology, there’s never been a better time to learn. Wales is a great place to surf, with beaches facing the Atlantic swell on three sides, it’s usually “going off” somewhere nearby. But beware, surfing is addictive, once surf fever strikes, you’ll be hooked for life. Once you’ve ridden your first good wave, you’ll want a better one and begin a quest that will last you a lifetime. The best place to surf is Whitesand bay and Newgale and you will love every minute.
Bike hire is available locally and you can explore the local lanes, as well as the Celtic Trail West, which passes through St Davids. Miles of quiet country lanes make this an ideal way to explore the peninsula. The Millennium cycle way “Celtic Way West” passes through the area, but you might be better working out your own circular routes from the Ordnance Survey maps. There is not much off-road cycling in the area, and the Coast path is definitely for walkers only. However, there are rides to suit all ages, from beginners to experienced cyclists, whether it be Mountain Biking, Touring or tearing up the roads on a Racing Bike. Most cycle shops in the area provide a hire service and many sell maps, books and routes to cater for all tastes. The possibilities are endless and you can make it as easy or as hard as you like. Family cycling in Pembrokeshire is particularly good and children and parents alike will appreciate the relaxed experience. Cycling around here is not just a way of commuting, it’s a pleasure and an experience you’ll want to repeat. We may have a few more hills but this is a small price to pay for such great cycling. There is nothing better than getting on your bike after a relaxing day, taking a picnic, cycling a few miles and watching the sun go down over one of Pembrokeshire’s many beautiful beaches, or burning up some energy on the open roads, taking in the sites and breathing the fresh air.
St Davids has a most spectacular golf course on the road to Whitesand Bay, with amazing views from every hole, although you will need to be good in the wind! The course views have to be seen to be believed. St Davids City Golf Club is a links course overlooking Whitesands Bay (alongside the popular Coastal Path); the course is rarely unplayable and can be played pretty much all year round. St. Davids City Golf Club is a 2 minute drive from Britain’s smallest city, St. Davids, and typifies the scenery of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, looking out over Ramsey Sound and the infamous ‘Bitches’ stretch of water just off St. Davids Head.
Horse riding is another great activity and can be arranged locally through Nolton Stables.
Sailing and Boat Trips
There are regular boat trips to Ramsey Island, Grass Holm and Skomer. These can be arranged in St Davids or from St Martin’s Haven. There is also sailing available in Solva. In June 2011 it was reported that one of the largest ever known gatherings of fin whales in British waters has been spotted in the West Wales waters.
The fin whale, an endangered species, is the sixth largest living animal on the planet, growing up to 88ft long and weighing up to 120 tonnes. They were spotted by scientists Becky Scott, Cheryl Yarnham and Steve Hughes from the marine conservation charity MARINElife.
Team leader Becky said: “We saw five groups of fin whales in little over half an hour, in group sizes of up to seven.The whales were blowing frequently and some were lunge-feeding near the surface, it was absolutely fantastic.Luckily, many of the other scientists onboard were able to share this amazing spectacle with us.”
Research director Dr Tom Brereton said: “We have been monitoring fin whale numbers in their Bay of Biscay stronghold for more than 15 years, so we are used to seeing large numbers, but to see so many within British waters in close proximity is unprecedented and an exciting new discovery.”
Rich resources of krill and sandeel were detected by acoustic echo-sounders, indicating the food source may have lured the mammals towards the Welsh shore.
Ramsey is a magical place with its own special aura. The unusual geology of Ramsey has produced an island of rocky hills, with heather and grassy fields coloured by an ever-changing display of coastal flowers as the sea The characteristic island birds all nest here- auks, kittiwakes, shearwaters, peregrines, choughs, ravens, lapwings, wheatears and many more. Large numbers of birds, including many unusual species, rest briefly on the island during the spring and autumn migrations.
Ramsey features 400 feet/120 metre high cliffs, which teem with thousands of breeding seabirds in spring and early summer. You can walk among the coastal heathland, enjoying its wildlife (including breeding choughs and peregrines) and spectacular views. The island is awash with colour from May to September, starting with the blue of bluebells, then pink thrift on the cliffs and purple heather at the height of summer. In autumn, breeding grey seals can be seen on the shingle beaches below the cliffs. The largest concentration of Atlantic grey seals in southern Britain give birth to over 400 white coated pups on the shores of Ramsey during the Autumn. The island can only be visited by boat, which leaves from St Justinian’s harbour between 1 April or Easter (whichever is earlier) and the end of October.
On calm days the seas around Skomer are so glisteningly translucent that it is possible to see deep into the turquoise water. For most people this will be their only glimpse into the undersea world of a marine nature reserve that is an almost untouched wilderness. Above the waves, the richness and diversity of wildlife are much more obvious. A visitor to the island in early summer will find sea the strewn with rafts of guillemots, razorbills and puffins, which scatter, leaving watery trails of sunlit footprints across the surface, or dive deep to make a pathway for the approaching boat. Guillemots, razorbills and puffins soar purposefully up to the cliff, while fulmars slide serenely along the currents of air. Flurries of kittiwakes circle like eddying snowflakes, and the repetition of their urgent cries harmonises into something almost musical. In the cloistered stillness the air shimmers with the sound of wings, and strident seabird calls echo against rock and water. Further exploration of the island reveals a coastline of sheltered bays, exposed headlands, towering offshore rocks and shaded inlets, all painted with the graduated colours of lichen. Perhaps the most stunning of all these sights is The Wick, a sheer cliff carved with ledges that are ideally suited to nesting seabirds. It is partly enclosed by an amphitheatre of sloping stone, which provides a perfect view of the polished jade water and the birds wheeling and diving above and below its surface.
Even with so much to see, there is yet another layer of the island’s wildlife that remains hidden. Though the burrows honeycombing the island’s surface are clearly visible, it is hard to visualise the thousands of birds The night time is still more dramatic as tens of thousands of nocturnal Manx shearwaters return to their burrows, skimming the air like half-seen shadows and tumbling clumsily to the ground. With so many birds all calling at once, the intensity of their discordant cries smothers the island in a blanket of noise. Atlantic grey seals can be seen at any time of year, meandering languidly with their noses above the water, or basking on their favourite offshore rocks at the Garland Stone, where their high-pitched wails drift up to the cliff top. In late summer, when most of the seabirds have left, they gather in growing numbers around the island. When the storms arrive they come onshore, crowding so closely together that their dappled-grey bodies, sleek as sea-smoothed boulders, make patterns like mosaics of stone. Most come just to rest from the turbulent sea, but some find enough shelter, in caves or on beaches, to give birth to their fragile-looking, white pups.
Grassholm is a remote offshore island supporting some 32,000 pairs of breeding gannets. Estimates at other sites vary but it is probably the third largest Atlantic gannet colony in the world, (behind St Kilda and Bass Rock), supporting in the region of 12% of the entire world population. As one of only 23 gannet colonies in the UK and Ireland, Grassholm is of both national and international importance. It is an outstanding seabird spectacle, unrivalled anywhere in Wales for this species.
St Davids has a wide variety of unique shops selling art, crafts, designer clothes, surf gear, local produce, gourmet food and everyday items.
Tourist Information Centre
St Davids Centre was opened in 2008 and has a gallery, Information Centre and café and displays a variety of treasures from the Museum of Wales
Walking and Wildlife
The Pembrokeshire coastal path provides nearly 200 miles of breathtaking scenery, flora and wildlife that will inspire you. Trips to nearby islands, for example, Ramsey, provide the opportunity to see a wide variety of sea birds and seals and, on occasions, whales and dolphins
Porth Clais is a small tidal inlet flanked on its entrance by low sandstone cliffs. The entire site is contained within the St. Davids Peninsula Site of Special Scientific Interest. The St. Davids peninsula coast is nationally important for its maritime vegetation, especially the sea cliff heath, sea cliff grassland and crevice/ledge communities. The cliff edges and associated plants are also important habitats for invertebrates. The area is also used by breeding birds such as rock pipits and oyster catchers. The site is used for group climbing, because of its range of low to mid grade routes. Access is by abseil or roped descent. The harbour offers a safe, sheltered environment for canoeing. Boats can be launched from the harbour, access is controlled by the harbour master and is subject to his regulations and a fee is charged.
Abereiddy to Abermawr
North west of St Davids and south east of Fishguard within Pembrokeshire National Park this is a wild stretch of coastline from blue lagoon to beach, via the fishing village of Porthgain and some impressive former quarry workings.
Abereiddi Blue Lagoon
This spectacular coastal feature, popular with coasteerers and divers, is actually a flooded former slate quarry working with a tidal channel to sea. The atmospheric ruined quarry buildings can still be seen on the cliff tops and there is a popular sport of jumping off one of the ledges into the deep, deep water,
This shingle beach with marsh and woodlands behind was once selected by Brunel as a cable and railway terminus but is now just a quiet secluded beach where you can escape the hustle and bustle of modern life
Porthgain is a small coastal hamlet on the north coast of St Davids Peninsula. Once a small commercial harbour used for exporting stone from the nearby quarry, Porthgain is now a very popular tourist centre thanks to a great pub, a super cafe restaurant (The Shed) and two excellent art galleries. Porthgain has a winning combination. Porthgain was designated as a conservation area by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in 1997
This weathered peninsula southwest of St Davids and opposite Ramsey Island (RSPB) is home to the oldest rocks in Pembrokeshire. Walk the coast path from Porthclais Harbour to discover the RNLI’s unusual St Justinian lifeboat station and ancient coastal mine workings.
St Davids Head
A dramatic headland northwest of St Davids and Whitesands beach dominated by the peak of Carn Llidi. Super for sea views and circular coastal walks. Look out for the little cove of Porthmelgan, the great stone chambered grave of Coetan Arthur and ancient field systems. The heathland glows purple and gold with blooming heather in late summer.