Section Six - Aberporth to Cardigan (St Dogmaels for Pembrokeshire Coast Path Walkers) - Ceredigion and Wales Coast Path
Distance - Around 12 miles (19km). Grade - Generally Moderate walking grade with short strenuous sections – final 4 miles easy grade. Dramatic coastal cliffs cut by hidden valleys and a fine beach at Mwnt. Gentle estuary walking to finish. What these grades mean
Beyond the beaches of Aberporth, all eyes are on the next big headland at Pencribach, a huge mountain of cliffs and heather that springs up into the skies, blocking your view on along the coast. Leaving from Aberporth’s smaller beach below, the life-sized leaping dolphin sculpture is a reminder to keep looking into the waters for its real-life cousins, who live for up to 30 years in the bay and can grow to 4 metres in length.
Above you, you can now see Pencribach is crowned by sinister towers and aerials – yes, the Ministry of Defence got here before you - in around 1940 to be precise. It is easy to see why they chose this headland, protected by a huge glacial valley on one side and by ocean and cliffs on the other. It’s a hush-hush place, set up as a Projectile Development Establishment, and deals with testing and development of drones, missiles and other secret high-flying weaponry. The upshot is that from Aberporth, you must divert inland for a mile around the headlands security fences and return to the path via the glacial valley, at Gwrddon.
Once past the MOD site, the Valley is an immense jungle of gorse, blossom and stunted trees, hiding streams that rush to the sea far below. The lower level feels quite impenetrable, but the path pushes on through, leaving the Gwdrddon valley in its wake, as it transforms to classic, open coast path heading out to the promontory of Pen Peles.
Snake your way along the coastline, in and out of little cwm valleys that drain into the sea, before returning to cliff-tops. The chasms are dense and deep with crashing waterfalls, while far below, grey seals haul out onto the rocky outcrops. Choughs, skylarks and yellowhammers can be seen in the skies while underfoot, depending on the time of year, you will find bluebells, scurvy grass and occasional marsh orchids.
Ahead, the coastal mini-mountain at Mwnt dominates, and even from a distance you can see that it is a special place, perfectly conical, complete with narrow summit and scree, seeming to rise from the sea ahead of you. The name comes from a corruption of the English ‘mount’ referring to its pyramid peak. At the base you can drop down the end of an ice age glacial valley to a perfect little beach.
Hemmed in by sheer, strata-layered rock, the place feels remote and hidden. The beach was the site of a bloody battle in 1155, when a failed invasion of Flemish soldiers was defeated by local people. The Bloody Sunday of Mwnt was commemorated by a festival in this lonely windswept spot every year, right up until the 18th century. Mwnt beach is a beautifully isolated cove, windswept, golden and beautifully untouched. Watch out in the waters here for occasional visits by bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoise. Close to an old limekiln, on the plateau below the peak, sits the isolated but much photographed Mwnt Church, a tiny building with thick and buttressed walls designed to stand strong against the winds and built as a chapel of ease for sailors and pilgrims. The church dates to the 14th century although this has been a religious site since at least the 6th century. Inside you can see the 12th century Preseli Stone and on the other side of the car park is the Holy Cross Well.
Looking down from the heavens is the peak and you must now climb the “Foel” – there are plenty of paths up its perfect cone shaped flanks. At the top you walk along a narrow ridge, which adds to the excitement. Enjoy a sense of achievement and superb views over Cardigan Island, the little chapel now in miniature below you.
The final leg towards the Teifi estuary continues with exhilarating climbs in and out of little valleys, but it’s getting easier and easier as you approach Cardigan Island on the horizon. Tight v-shaped little hanging valleys at Pen Yr Hwbyn take you into a hidden chasm of golden yellow gorse and scrub. The cwms are welcome breaks, taking you into hidden secret valleys with little footbridges at their head, before climbing back to the edge of the cliffs. Watch for gannets diving for fish as you return to the coastline.
The coastal section ends at Cardigan Island where the path turns abruptly inland. Cardigan Island itself is now managed by the Wales Wildlife Trust and home to a colony of grey seals and a wide variety of birdlife. The puffins sadly are no more after rats that escaped from a shipwreck made it to the island and wiped out the birds. Originally named Hastiholm or Horse Island by the Vikings, it’s now a dedicated Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI), kept a rich green by the grazing of rare Soay sheep, and if you pass in spring it’s ablaze with carpets of bluebells.
The path swings across fields into the Teifi estuary, arriving at the hamlet of Gwbert, where you can get refreshments from a couple of hotels that look across the estuary into Pembrokeshire and the mighty hump of Cermaes Head, the highest point on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and a day’s walk away.
It’s easy walking now, with the snaking estuary on your right and the sea behind you, as you walk around the tidal sand bar and dunes at Pen yr Ergyd. There are good spots to see birdlife, attracted by the rich salt marsh - look for redshanks, oystercatchers, kingfishers, herons and cormorants – as you head up the sheltered estuary for Cardigan.
The route takes gentle paths through meadows and woodland as it tracks the Teifi, with extensive views across its waters, firstly to golden Poppit Sands and then the little abbey village of St Dogmaels. Enter Cardigan along its historic waterfront, with intriguing floating restaurants converted from old boats – it’s a satisfying entrance to the town, at the southern boundary of Ceredigion.
When you reach the waterside Quay and Heritage Centre you will find the official marker for the end of the Ceredigion Coast Path - the bronze Teifi Otter statue a reminder of its cousins, who reside happily here in the upper Teifi Estuary. The huge walls of Cardigan Castle loom over as a backdrop; it is open to visitors if you want to look around.
Click Here for information on your overnight in Aberteifi / Cardigan at the very end of The Ceredigion Coast Path
Those keen to continue their walk into Pembrokeshire can continue for 2 miles on the Wales Coast Path through gentle fields on the southern bank of the Teifi and overnight in St Dogmaels, where you can see the ruins of the impressive St Dogmaels Abbey, founded in 1115 for the Monks of the Tironian order. There you will find the official start of the next walking section – the 186-mile Pembrokeshire Coast Path – but then that’s another story entirely!
Click Here for information on staying in St Dogmaels at the start of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.