Day Ten - Solva to St Justinians (for St Davids), West Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
Distance - 13 miles
Moderate Walking Grade with an Easy Grade finish inland to St Davids - What these grades mean.
Summary - Walk wilder and more remote areas as you reach the St David's Headland with some short strenuous scrambles around Ramsey Head. Superb scenery all day with fabulous views from the trail of Ramsey Island.
Climbing out of Solva is rewarded by the impressive natural sea arch at the huge Gewni Island, before a surprisingly easy start on wide tracks through blankets of flowers. As ever with the Pembrokeshire National Park coastline, it can’t last, and the steep descents and climbs arrive beyond Porth Y Rhaw, where you can spot the defence ditches and ramparts of an ancient promontory fort high above a wonderful crashing stream.
Then the strange pink cliffs at Caerfai lead you into magical St Non’s Bay. St Non was the mother of St David and it was here in this wonderfully rugged spot that he was born circa AD462. The Wales Coast Path passes the ruins of St Non's Chapel; atmospheric and mysterious, it has forever been a place of pilgrimage, and some of the stones you will spot surrounding the ruins were left here by pre-Christian tribes, part of an ancient stone circle.
Nearby in a small hollow, below the modern-day Pilgrims Retreat, is St David’s shrine and Holy Well said to have sprung forth from Non herself at St David's Birth during a mighty thunderstorm. The waters still flow today, said to heal those with a variety of ailments including rheumatism and eye infections.
At Porthclais, you are thrust far inland around a lovely snake like harbour set in a deep ravine and perfectly hidden from the ravages of the sea by its simple quay, this long twisting glacial backwater popular today with climbers and kayakers.
During the Middle Ages, this was the port for St Davids with a stream of disciples and pilgrims landing here from Bristol, Cornwall, Brittany and Ireland. It’s another place of legends, where St David received his Baptism, and in The Mabinogion, the book of ancient Welsh legends, the Giant Boar TwrchTrwyth, an evil beast with shears between its ears, came ashore here pursued by King Arthur from Ireland, who hunted the beast north to the Preseli Hills. The restored lime kilns here along the old quays need special attention as the coast path passes right above them and several are open topped, so don’t get too close!
The final section onto St Justinian's is unlike anything walked so far but provides a taste of the effort and wonder to come on the northern sections of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Immediately the path feels wilder as heather springs up broken by patches of bright wild flowers, Squill, Sea Campion and Kidney Vetch, along with regular rocky outcrops and little peaks. As the path winds between them around Porthlysgi Bay, the offshore backdrop is a delightful scattering of tiny islands, tantalizingly close and you feel more like you are in the Scottish Hebrides than mid Wales. At Lower Treginnis, you are forced on a rocky scramble over one of the volcanic crags…nothing too demanding but when you look back at what you have just climbed over from the other side you can’t fail to be impressed.
Then, Ramsey Island emerges in all its impressive glory across the narrow Ramsey Sound below you. Like a huge sleeping crocodile dominated by its bleak looking Carnillundain Mountain, the sight is marvellous, and this truly is the end of Wales laid before you at the most westerly mainland location.
The Pembrokeshire Coast Path now treads a precarious path around the headland, the best views of Ramsey Island from an old, abandoned 19th century copper mine. Here, if the tide is rushing in or out, you can see and hear the powerful charge of water known as ‘The Bitches’, where the collision of coastal currents and ragged offshore rocks creates a devilish set of churning sea rapids often hitting 7 knots, and beloved by adrenalin seeking kayakers.
At the largest rock, ‘The Great Bitch’, watch for basking seals, porpoises and dolphins that rush playfully through on the currents whilst feeding gannets and cormorants find rich pickings with the fish being brought to the surface by the rapids. Don’t forget to look to the skies either, as this is chough and falcon territory.
A mile or so on and you leave the The Pembrokeshire Coast Path to head inland to St Davids, passing the ruined chapel of St Justinian, another 6th century Saint who lived a very strict existence on Ramsey Island where he felt he would not be disturbed. His existence was so puritanical and fanatical that his followers apparently got fed up with the 'austerity measures' and beheaded him, but were shocked to see him pick up his head and cross over the Bitches to die on the mainland, where his chapel now stands.
There are several ways to make the 45 minute walk into the holy city of St Davids. Frequent minibuses run down the narrow lanes during the season, though we also offer a more satisfying option, walking in via the old hill fort on the rocky peak at Clegyr Boia to enter the town on a wonderful ancient sunken trackway beneath an avenue of trees, the perfect contrast to the harsh headland you have just conquered to get here.
Whether you are Welsh or Christian or neither, St Davids is a truly special place.
Read about why. and view the facilities and overnight stays at St Davids - the capital of The Pembrokeshire National Park.