Walking in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
About Walking in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
Mystical, moody and magical Pembrokeshire has that intense aura of being firmly rooted in its past; in knowing where it’s come from. It has no major towns and cities, although those it does have ooze charm and history in equal dollops. And it is certainly a walkers’ paradise, notwithstanding the fact that it is one of Wales’ less mountainous corners. From Cilgerran Gorge to the summit of Foel Cwm Cerwyn, it offers walks of levels from the dead simple to the rather more challenging.
Its coastline and its famous 299-km long Pembrokeshire Coast Path, now an integral part of the Wales Coast Path, offers jaw-dropping scenery, with the area it traverses snaking through the stunning Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. It’s not without sound reason that this is designated a national park, the only coastal one throughout these islands.
And the inland countryside, although lacking in any proper mountains worth tipping your hat to, more than makes up for its lack of altitude with tons of attitude that proffers an almost spiritual feel. Dotted with prehistoric sites and later buildings of intense historical significance, you could be forgiven for thinking that you could well be bidding a cheery “bore da” (good morning) to a begowned druid any minute soon. Try visiting sites such as the huge prehistoric cromlech of Pentre Ifan, the remains of an ancient burial chamber, without a shiver tingling down your spine.
Or down those steep steps carved into the cliffside to the bijou St Govan’s Chapel near Bosherston. Or even to the simple shrine dedicated to St Elvis – seriously – at Llaneilfyw near the delightful harbour village of Solfa, sometimes spelled as Solva. Some even suggest the Presley family name derives from that of the Preseli hills in this part of the world. Elvis, the saint, not him or the curled lip, is credited with having baptized St David in AD454.
Little England Beyond Wales
And although it’s nicely settled in its own corner of Wales between the sea and the Cambrian Mountains, it is very much border country. The invisible Landsker line that divides the county into north and south, named after the Norse word for border, separates the distinctly Welsh north from the heavily Norman- and Flemish-influenced south known in some quarters as “little England beyond Wales”.
But that moniker does it a huge dis-service. The south has its own very distinct identity, drawing its individuality from its interaction – and often bloody clashes – first with its Celtic cousins from across the Irish Sea, and then the Vikings, when it was part of the ancient Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth. It was forcibly settled by Norman and Flemish interlopers in the 11th century, as the English crown sought to bring the area under its influence, with the natives driven northwards. That it has maintained that cultural and linguistic divergence – the Welsh language and its attendant cultural traditions are still far stronger north of the Landsker than south of it – a millennium later is astounding.
What passes for uplands around these parts are the often-mist-shrouded Preseli Hills, although many locals persist in referring to them as mountains. The highest point is the 536m summit of Foel Cwm Cerwyn, so you can make your own mind up. Standing all of 10km from the sea, it offers an insight into a more rural area not totally besieged by tourists like yourselves. A fascinating path to the summit from the former slate-quarrying village of Rhos-y-Bwlch, sometimes Anglicised as Rosebush, leads past a myriad cairns and prehistoric way-markers. And while you’re in Rhos-y-Bwlch, try to make time to visit the famous Tafarn Sinc, a community-owned pub and restaurant built of corrugated zinc that will fire your imagination just as much as your stomach.
Mynydd Carningli is another hill/mountain in the area that might well merit your attention, a magical place in the Welsh psyche. A mere pimple at 347m, it still dominates its surrounding countryside, and features a huge and well-preserved Bronze Age hillfort atop its summit. It’s said that in the 5th century St Brynach used to climb to the summit to mediate and commune with the angels, and to this day many see the walk up the “mountain” more as a pilgrimage than a scramble.
It was from these parts that the stones that form the inner circle at the sacred Druidic temple that is Stonehenge were mysteriously transported some 300km away all of 5,000 years ago. Nobody has yet come up with a convincing explanation as to how that extraordinary piece of prehistoric logistics was carried out. It was hardly surprising that this link has been well-milked locally, none more successfully than by the Bluestone National Park Resort near Canaston Wood. Although totally self-contained and in reality with precious little in common with Pembrokeshire or Wales, it still offers an useful family-friendly accommodation option.
The Pembrokeshire Coast Path surely needs little introduction to the serious walker, the template on which the Wales Coast Path was projected. But while certainly there are plenty of options to walk just short sections of this path, there are plenty of other walks to satisfy both those looking for a major challenge or leisure ramblers out to enjoy a stroll.
The Landsker Borderlands Trail is a 96km long distance path to the south of Pembrokeshire that’s well waymarked and takes you on a circular route away from many of the more touristy hotspots. Meanwhile the Golden Road crosses the spine of the county between Bwlch Gwynt and Crymych, and while only 11km long, it offers some of Wales’ most meaningful hill-walking past stunning prehistoric relics.
The county naturally enough also has loads to commend it. A visit to Wales’ smallest city, Tyddewi or St David’s, is surely a must, with its independent shops and massive cathedral dedicated to the nation’s patron saint. Next to it stands the remains of the Bishop’s Palace, a huge 13th century vanity project. Arberth or Narberth, both names correct, is a surprising little town with upmarket dining and boutique shopping. Nearby you’ll find the massively popular Oakwood Theme Park.
Dinbych-y-Pysgod to the south, known in English by the bastardised Anglicised form of Tenby, is a fascinating psychedelic former Norman outpost with stunning beaches. Just offshore lies Ynys Bŷr, or Caldey Island, to which ferries cross regularly from the harbour. It’s a scintillating combination of small village life, in the shadow of a huge Augustinian priory, with bracing walks along a myriad paths that criss-cross the island. Other Pembrokeshire islands you can visit, or even stay on, to enjoy walking and the stunning wildlife include the Norse-named duo of Skomer and Skokholm.
Abergwaun, or Fishguard, is your typical port town, with daily ro-ro ferries connecting with Rosslare in Ireland, although its old fishing harbour area in Cwm Abergwaun or Lower Town is delightful. Another link to Rosslare, from where you could easily reach the ancient town of Wexford on a well worthwhile day visit, is the Irish Ferries service from Pembroke Dock.