Day One - St Justinians (St Davids) to Trefin, The North Pembrokeshire Coast Path
Distance 13.5 miles
Moderate to Strenuous Grade walking in the St David's Head area with a severe climb around Carn Penberry. Then Moderate Grade onto Trefin - What these grades mean.
Summary - A strenuous walk through the prehistoric age at St David's Head with its burial chambers, warriors dyke and mountainous Celtic landscapes, before reaching the industrial heritage of The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park at Aberiddey and Porthgain.
The Wales Coast Path leaves the futuristic lifeboat station at St Justinian's on a trail of great springy turf towards the glorious remote sands of Whitesands Bay or 'Porth Mawr' (big bay.) A fabulously remote beach, the walker enjoys a section of high sand dunes and Marram Grass, known as The Burrows, the spot where St Patrick left Wales to discover Ireland on route to becoming its patron saint.
From here, the Wales Coast Path reaches magical St David's Head, a mini wilderness of scattered boulders and heather clad slopes where herds of semi wild horses roam free, adding a “land that time forgot” atmosphere to the route.
Everyone should take the opportunity to climb the western face of the nearby peak of Carn Llidi. The craggy cone shaped dolerite peak is visible from many miles in every direction and dominates the skyline of the coast and the heavens above the city of St Davids itself. At around 600ft this is the highest point of the St David's Peninsula and the first of three immense igneous Rock Peaks that you will pass today.
The walk up its rocky flank is straightforward to its lower peak, past two lonely prehistoric burial chambers, home now to wild ponies. Those pushing on to its higher summit take in more of a scramble, the last 10 metres a full on free climb, yet safe enough in good conditions.
The views however, fully justify the effort - you can see The Wicklow Hills in Ireland from up here, whilst beneath your feet the whole St David's Peninsula and a weeks’ worth of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path is mapped out below you in miniature, from as far back as Skomer Island to as far ahead as the winking lights of Strumble Head Lighthouse.
Back on the Wales Coast Path, the prehistoric heather drenched landscape continues and as you pick your way through the volcanic rock piles you can divert to find Coetan Arthur, an ancient single slab Neolithic burial chamber, its huge 4 metre capstone still in place.
The Headland itself was an impressive cliff fort dating back to 100AD, with two ramparts clearly visible in front of a huge stone bank known as the Warriors Dyke, 70 metres long, 25 metres wide and, in its heyday, over 4 metres high.
Wander inside the fort to find the hut circles from this Iron Age settlement and at the very edge of the headland this is a great place to spot passing porpoises or seals beached on the rocks.
After the natural arch and waterfall at Porth y Dwft you begin the long, toiling ascent up the towering flank of the final coastal peak at Carn Penberry, marking the end of the St David's area and the entrance to the old industrial coast of The Pembrokeshire National Park.
At Aberieddy you get a fascinating glimpse into the slate and brick industry that flourished at the turn of the century. Slate was originally exported using low keel boats that were driven right up the beach here at high tide and you pass the ruins of the quarryman's houses, abandoned after devastating floods washed part of the village away.
The ‘blue lagoon’, surrounded by the old engine house workings, is a chasm like flooded quarry breached by the sea today. Its shimmering waters a beautiful shade of blue and green. Reborn in the last few years as the staging post for high diving events the depths are over 100 feet deep.
The Wales Coast Path follows the old horse drawn tramway from Aberieddy and passes through an area of eerie, long lost mining buildings and embankments used for moving stone and slate. Next stop is Porthgain, a place drenched in its industrial past with its thick harbour walls flanked by the towering remains of an old Victorian era brickworks, where huge hoppers, stores and chutes hang over the inner harbour.
Today it’s a peaceful spot, with just a handful of fishing boats that head out from here. The old warehouses are now converted into craft workshops, art galleries and home to the walker friendly Sloop Inn. You leave the ghosts of Porthgain via a huge conical whitewashed tower that was built high on the cliffs above the harbour entrance to guide in the boats.
The final section today passes the huge island of Ynys Fach, an improbable brick shaped slab that is holed right through with a sea cave big enough for a two-storey house. Beyond an appealing cliffside waterfall, you then descend through fields to the inlet below the village of Trefin (pronounced Treveen,) overlooked by a cliff side stone circle (though this one created by local farmers!). Right on the shore you cross the old mill race and can enter the roofless ruins of Trefin Water Mill, with its huge pair of millstones lying idle inside - a poignant final reminder of a 500 year old industry long gone from this area of the Welsh Coast Path.