Day Three -
Goodwick / Fishguard to Newport, The North Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
Distance - 14 miles from Goodwick or 12 miles from Fishguard.
Summary - Moderate Grade walking for most of the day but with a more strenuous climb to Dinas Head - What these grades mean.
The section is remote with few facilities, so be well prepared. A twisting run of high cliffs cut periodically by steep valleys and hidden shingle bar coves before reaching the circle of Dinas Head and the “classic” Pembrokeshire Coast Path Headland Walk.
The Pembrokeshire Coast Path links the neighbouring towns of Goodwick and Fishguard using the “Marine Walk,” which skirts the beach and low cliffs along the back of the bay, before diving into some switchback descents through thick woodland. There are inspiring views to the huge whale like expanse of Dinas Head before you reach the back of the pretty quay at Lower Fishguard, with its multitude of little boats bobbing in the narrow cove.
Having crossed the old stone road bridge, you return to the open ocean at Castle Point with its impressive ruined fortress still sporting a set of three cannons standing guard over the harbour entrance. These have been here since 1781 to protect the town against pirate raiders after it was held to ransom by an American born buccaneer who called himself ‘The Black Prince’. Fishguard forced to pay him off after he threatened to subject the town to an all-day bombardment from the sea.
Diving in and out of bracken slopes and hawthorn tunnels you pass above Needle Rock, a huge oval stack looking like the top of a long-submerged stone needle, its base punctured by a huge natural sea arch giving the needle its eye.
The only habitation on this section is the caravan park at Penrhyn, normally the scourge of the coastal environment, this one is actually hugely impressive as it clings to the top of a narrow promontory, caravans literally teetering above the abyss below.
An avenue of ancient woodland accompanies you to sea level to cross the idyllic cove of Aber Bach, where a wooden footbridge takes you over a small lagoon formed by the shingle ridge bank. It’s an isolated place pinned in by the narrow corridor of cliffs from the wider ocean.
Snaking climbs and descents take you to Pwll Gwylog, a beautiful little horseshoe bay which receives a tumbling mountain stream, this time into a wide amphitheatre of huge cliffs, wild and windswept as the horizontal growing trees demonstrate – you have to see them to believe the spectacle!
The oval shaped hump of Dinas Island, now no longer cut off from the mainland, stretches out like an angry fist from beyond the ruined limekiln at Pwllgwaelod beach, and is the challenge on the horizon.
At Pwllgwaelod you will find the defiant and very welcome Old Sailors Restaurant at the back of a bay that holds nothing but a handful of fishing boats. In days gone by, guiding lights were placed after dark in the windows here for ships to navigate by and avoid destruction on Dinas Head.
For the Pembrokeshire Coast Path Walker, it makes an ideal lunch stop with its end of the world views. At its inland end Dinas Head Island is severed from both sides by the Cwm Dewi, a deep glacial meltwater channel that scythes across the headland and now provides a deep lush valley and haven for butterflies, songbirds, Falcons, grass snakes, a large population of Dinas rabbits and other assorted wildlife that shelter here from the ravaged headland.
You can see right across the “island” at the Dewi, and could shortcut in 20 minutes, but for The Pembrokeshire Coast Path walker there is only one way on, which is to start a switchback climb heading for the heavens and the heights of Dinas Head itself. It's all big skies, big slopes and big views as you wind through heather, bracken and gorse and a couple of disheartening false summits before finally reaching the trig point at Pen y Fan on the tip of Dinas Island at around 460ft.
If the winds let you linger at the top, you can see right back to Strumble Head and onwards to the very end of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path at mighty Cemaes Head. Inland, the mysterious and menacing Preseli Hills loom above you, whilst far below your feet look out to sea for pods of dolphins that can sweep past this extremity - a breathtaking spot that just opens up to the rest of the world.
It’s a quick and welcome descent on the northern flank of Dinas Head, with a nimble traverse down the middle of huge bracken covered ski slopes. At times it’s a rather daunting trail clinging above huge drops below to the ocean.
A second Needle Rock emerges, this time its ledges writhing with squawking Shags, Razorbills and Fulmars that circle this isolated stack outcrop in constant battles for the best spot to nest. Finally, a sudden drop through lush woodland of hazel, hawthorn and stunted oaks and ash reveals the beautiful beach and hamlet at Cwm-yr-Eglwys ("The Valley of the Church"), on the other side of the Dewi Meltwater Valley. Sitting here above the perfect little beach is the stark and iconic single west wall and lonely bell tower of the 12th century Sailors Chapel of St Brynach. This, along with part of the graveyard is all the great storm of 1859 left standing after a week-long battering that saw 114 shipwrecks and the loss of over 500 lives across the Welsh Coastline.
The lush vegetation and solitary pines seem positively Mediterranean after Dinas Head, in direct contrast to the ferocity of the storm that destroyed the church and swept away its graveyard.
The next section is a splendid cliff top march into Newport, broken only at the twin inlets of Aberfforest and AberRhigian, where steep little wooded valleys tumble into the ocean. Tranquil little freshwater lagoons are protected here by hefty shingle bars crossed on little wooden footbridges and complete an idyllic hidden cove scene.
The ragged cliffs continue until you turn the corner into the estuary at Newport and drop through boathouses and little cottages to reach The Parrgog (Beach) at the head of the estuary, where the River Nyfer snakes its way past Newport to the sea.There are fine views across 'The Bennet', the golden sand bar that guides the rushing waters of the Nyfer into the ocean.
A final diversion inland below the Preseli Hills to reach Newport now follows the salt marshes of the estuary through thick woodland to an old iron bridge crossing. On the way, long abandoned boats lie in snaking seawater inlets and sheltered marshy pools - a haven of wildlife and waders.