Britain’s smallest city (population: 1,600, pub count: one) hosts the long-anticipated UK debut of Red Bull Cliff Diving and what the location lacks in size it makes up for in drama.
Not for nowt did National Geographic recently vote the surrounding county of Pembrokeshire one of the best coastal destinations in the world (take that Seychelles, Bermuda and Costa Rica). In recent years, the spectacular coastal scape surrounding St David’s, the birthplace of Wales’ patron saint, has attracted growing flocks of coasteerers and filmmakers alongside the usual nesting seabirds. Look out for backdrops to Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood and the recent Kristen Stewart film, Snow White And The Huntsman.
Take the train to the nearest station of Haverfordwest, with through services from London and Cardiff operated by First Great Western, then the bus to St David’s, which runs roughly every 45 minutes. In the summer months, a Puffin Shuttle bus service runs right around the coast three times a day from St David’s to Haverfordwest (a 45-minute journey) and back again.
WHERE TO STAY
At TYF Adventure's Ocean Camp you can hire a pre-pitched tent in Porthclais Farm Campsite, near St David's, for £250 for three nights (air mattress, bedding and lanterns included). For similarly stunning views, St David’s Camping and Caravanning Club has 40 pitches and is currently offering a 30 percent discount. Alternatively, the local youth hostel is a gorgeous converted farmhouse at Whitesands Bay close to the remains of ancient burial chambers and a submarine look-out station, with rooms from £42 a night. Or live it up at the Warpool Court Hotel, which has its own covered swimming pool and terraced gardens, and has bagsied a particularly stunning chunk of the coastal view. Rooms pp start at £60 a night.
REMEMBER TO PACK
A century or so ago we’d have said a bible – St David’s tourists were nearly all pilgrims. These days it’s all about the water sports and the wildlife, so remember your surfboard, hiking boots and a bird-spotting guide.
5 PLACES TO VISIT
Spring saw the launch of Wales Coast Path, the first official long-distance trail to cover the coastline of an entire country (that’s nearly 900 miles). If you’re getting blisters just contemplating it, opt for this stretch, taking in seal and porpoise-spotting points and views of Ramsey Island.
Two miles from St David’s, in St Bride’s Bay, is one of the best tourist beaches in the world, known for its water sports. Opinions may be divided as to the quality of the surf (some experienced surfers feel it doesn’t offer enough of a challenge, though the waves can reach 10 feet – ask to be directed to the take-off known as ‘the elevator’) but there’s no arguing with its wild beauty. At low tide you can even spot the stumpy remains of an ancient submerged forest, and bear jaws have been found in the sand.
Accessible by 15-minute boat trip from nearby Martin’s Haven across the treacherous stretch known as Jack Sound, this three-kilometre-long island is home to half a million seabirds including guillemots, penguin-like razorbills and puffins (pictured, above). Seals, too.
St David’s Cathedral
Built in the 12th century, visited by William the Conqueror in 1177 and repeatedly attacked by the Vikings, the city’s cathedral (pictured, top) is an impressive pink-grey structure where the queen has her own seat since conferring city status in 1995.
St Non’s Chapel
Immerse yourself in the mysticism that’s a key accent of this city, and visit the ruins of the birthplace of St David – including the healing well that supposedly erupted from the sea when he was born, in the middle of a storm, in 500AD.
5 FAMOUS PEMBROKESHIRE ALUMNI
Batman was born in Pembrokeshire.
… As was The Lizard in Spider Man – aka Spike in Notting Hill, the freaky stalker dude in Enduring Love and the original vocalist in Super Furry Animals.
Sir Thomas Picton
The hero of the Napoleonic wars (and only Welshman to be buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, after he died in the Battle of Waterloo) was born in Pembrokeshire in 1758.
King Alfred the Great’s mentor
Asser, who also wrote the mighty Anglo Saxon king’s biography, was a monk at St David’s before joining the royal court.
The author of How Green Was My Valley, which was made into a Hollywood classic, was actually born in Middlesex but pretended to have come from St David’s to enhance his Welsh credentials. That’s how great St David’s is.
WHAT TO DO WITH...
Down a pint of Felinfoel Double Dragon, from Wales' oldest brewer, at the city’s only pub, The Farmers Arms.
Jetboat The Bitches (this is, after all, the only time you’ll ever be able to say that) in a two-hour trip through the turbulent waters around Ramsey Island, taking in sea caves, gorges, puffin-spotting and some of the strongest sea currents in Britain. If you’d rather chill out, have a meal at Cwtch, which has just featured in the 2012 Good Food Guide as the readers’ favourite restaurant in Wales. They’re all about local produce, serving crab fished the same day from St Bride’s Bay.
Get down to some serious coasteering: traversing the shoreline by any physical means from swimming, climbing and canyoning to diving and, er, scrambling. This activity may have spread all over the world, but Pembrokeshire’s coastline remains its heartland. Hundreds of companies operate here including Celtic Quest and TYF Adventures. Prices average around £60 a day (wetsuit and other gear hire included), but this adrenalin kick is addictive.