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Walking the stunning Pembrokeshire Coast Path

In Wales, I tackle a portion of one of the UK's Great Walks from Newport to St Davids. 80km of stunning weathered cliffs, quaint fishing villages and ancient monuments.

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path is a 300km hiking trail that picks its way around the cliffs and beaches of the Welsh south-west coast.

Those who tackle even a portion of it are rewarded with spectacular views of a sometimes wild and woolly coast. In the summertime it is bright with flowering heather, seabirds fill the skies and seals loll on rocks below. Picturesque fishing villages and farms dot the coast at convenient intervals allowing walkers stops for coffee, accommodation and a glimpse at rural seaside life.

Towns are a good days walk apart but with long summer days, there's still enough time for cliffside picnic lunches and stop-and-chats with locals or other hikers. In the evenings, back in the warm B&Bs and bustling hostels, walkers cluster in the kitchen and settle down on comfy sofas to chat.

It's not difficult hiking but not exactly an easy stroll either. For a start, Wales is the butt of the UK's jokes when it comes to the weather - and that's saying something! The Welsh west coast is notorious for rain squalls and winds that you're invariably going to be walking head-on into at some stage.

It can be hard slog going up and down those hills so it's with a big sigh of relief and accomplishment hikers pull off their boots at the end of the day. But the walk is so exhilarating you can't wait to be out again tomorrow.

So if you've got a week to spare, pack your daypack, grab your wet weather gear (you absolutely need a good gortex), throw in a hat and sunscreen for the sun and head off on one of the UK's great walks.


4-5 Days 87km

The full path goes from St Dogmaels to Amroth and is part of the even greater 1400km Welsh Coast Path. Luckily, it's not necessary to do the entire length, with in-point and out-points all along that are accessible by public transport. I took the popular, but much shorter option of hiking between Newport in the north and St Davids in the south. The varied scenery of weathered cliffs, beautiful beaches, quaint fishing villages and ancient monuments was a great taste of this stunning walk.

Newport - Fishguard (20km)

The coast path between Newport and Fishguard is a pretty easy introduction to the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Newport is a bit of a tourist hot spot so parts of the path are not only paved but wheelchair accessible. The coastal views are pretty but this part of the trail presents walkers with a different side of the Welsh west coast: town life.

Newport is an ancient port town that, these days, is teeming with tourism. The port ("parrog" in Welsh) has some historic artefacts while a hike or cycle out into the Preseli Hills will bring you face to face with Neolithic burial chambers. But most people seem to come here for the seaside. Just off the main street, heading down to the water's edge, shops sell the usual beach gear: buckets and spades, bodyboards, a blow-up floatie in the shape of a dinosaur. The only issue is there's no water. When the tide is out, it's gone for miles and the kiddies are sitting on mud.

As a beachside Australian, the site of boats stranded on mudflats and Brits enjoying the 'seaside' in the rain made me laugh out loud. "Only mad dogs and Englishmen", a Londoner explained.

Fishguard, as the name suggests, is fisherman's village. Like so many of the coastal towns around here, it's split in two. 'Lower Town' is down by the harbour and the main village is up a steep hill. I'm not entirely sure why they make village life so steep, but I think it has something to do with the ancient days of marauding pirates laying siege to a village. Running up a hill on their sea legs maybe made it harder for them.

The last invasion was by the French in 1797. 1500 sailing soldiers were blown off course from their planned attack on Bristol and ended up here instead. The call went out and townsfolk rallied, including legendary Jemima Nicholas who rounded up half a dozen french soldiers with her pitchfork. For the centenary, the townsfolk embroidered a tapestry of the events of the invasion. You can see it in the local library above the market.

Fishguard - Pwll Deri Youth Hostel (16km)

Fishguard rounds the headland into Goodwick. Once a thriving town because of its shipping, rail links and the ferry to Ireland. It's the last 'big' town before St David's. From here, you enter the Welsh coastal wilderness.

The 55ft Lighthouse at Strumble Head (Ynys Meicel) was built in 1908 and is one of the last lighthouses to be built in Britain. The lighthouse is built on an island with a bridge connecting it to the mainland but, disappointingly, no public access. I have to be content with spotting seals from the wild cliffs, scrambling over rocky outcrops and skipping across small streams.

As I continue south, the sounds of the crashing sea and nesting sea birds grow more intense. An eerie mist starts to settle over the sea and the lone white farmhouse on the hill, that is the Pwll Deri Youth Hostel, is a welcome sight.

Pwll Deri - Porthgain (18km)

The coast around Pwll Deri is, I think, the most spectacular. The cliffs are some of the highest along the coast path and the area is the least populated. There are no seaside holiday hotspots here and you're more likely to see a cow than a hiker. The heather is bright purple and blue, dotted with yellow summer flowers. The sea is wild and turbulent as it beats against the cliff face under a gale force westerly wind.

After a few miles, I find myself on rocky Aberbach beach, shoes off and splashing around in the Irish sea. The fog has blown off to reveal a blue sky day.

From the beach, there's a 1km detour to Tregwynt Woollen Mill. The picturesque whitewashed mill has been family owned for generations. You can take a walk through and see the workers and machines in action then buy up big on tweed and have a coffee and cake in their little restaurant. With all the walking ahead, there's not much guilt factor in the whopper size portions.

Porthgain - Whitesands (15km)

Smaller than a village, Porthgain and Abereiddy are quaint harbourside 'hamlets'. Once servicing the local slate quarry, the towns are now a mecca for 'coasteering' tourists. Not satisfied with just walking the coast path, the Welsh explore it by scrambling its cliffs and jumping into its cold seas.

Abereiddy harbour is actually a flooded quarry, rather than a natural harbour. At 25m deep, with overhanging cliffs just as high, the 'Blue Lagoon' of Abereiddy regularly hosts the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. But not this day. Today the wind is gale force. Nobody is jumping into the angry foam and the only boat put to sea in the last few days has been the Irish ferry.

On the beaches, there's more action. The wind has actually whipped up some waves for the board riders.

Whitesands - St Davids via St Non's (18km)

St Davids town centre sits inland on St Davids head. The direct path from Whitesands to St David's centre is under 4km. But if you've still got it in you, you can make a day of it and walk the long way around the headland via St Non's.

The cliffs here are dramatic and vertigo-inducing, with the path running close to the eroding edge. It's also the busiest part of the path. With a beach at either end and St David's right behind, the little headland path gets a lot of spur of the moment day-tripper traffic.

Legend has it that St David was born at St Non's, a tiny ruined chapel that sits high on the headland near Caerfai. From St Non's I leave the coast and follow the path inland, under an avenue of trees and through some paddocks, until I suddenly find myself in the centre of a village. This is St Davids and the end of my journey.

St Davids

St David, Wales patron saint, reportedly grew up in the area and built a renowned monastery here in the 6th Century. St Davids soon became a place of pilgrimage and, today, continues to be a start, end or midpoint for coastal walkers on a Pembrokeshire pilgrimage.

This tiny, curly-street village is billed as the UK's smallest city. With a population under 2000, it achieves 'city' status only because it has a cathedral. Built in 1181, the cathedral is an awe-inspiring structure full of nooks and crannies, alcove chapels and multiple altars. Behind it, now in ruins, sprawls the Bishop's Palace. Around them both is a great expanse of lawn. It's an unusual setting because, unlike most cathedrals that sit on a town's highest point, this one sits in its lowest.

The rest of the 'city' is full of art studios and cafes and there's another one of those 'tides out' Welsh beaches about a mile walk away where British types toddle around on the mud with their floaties around their waist.



GET THERE: You can start or stop the Pembrokeshire Coast Path at any town along the way. Use Traveline to help you plan your public transport route.

WALK IT: Find out more about walking the coast path from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and Visit Pembrokeshire

BUS IT: bus servicesLocal busesIf you want to skip parts of the walk or do day walks without retracing your steps there are semi regular service towns more regularly but are further from the hikers route. They have cool names like the Poppit Rocket, Strumble Shuttle, Puffin Shuttle, Coastal Cruiser and Celtic Coaster each tackling a different part of the walk. running close by the walkers route.

BAG TRANSFER: If you need to take more luggage than you can carry there are transfer services available, picking up your bags from one accommodation and dropping it off at the next. Here's two: Luggage Transfer Ltd and Walkalongway

STAY: Though the walk follows the coast, not the road, it conveniently comes back into town or village for overnight accommodation. The Youth Hostels are the best budget option. It's bunk beds and bring your own food but they are in magnificent locations at convenient points on the track and the communal kitchen is a great place to chat to other walkers. NOTE: unless you're wild camping, booking accommodation in advance is essential over summer.


FLICKR 00 | Wales



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