St Davids City (Welsh Name Tyddewi – House of David) - Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Western Section.
Whether this marks the start of your journey to the Wild North of The Pembrokeshire National Park, or the end your pilgrimage from the South, St Davids is likely to be the highlight of your overnight stops on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
Set on the edge of one of Wales’s wildest peninsulas, this little settlement of only around 2000 residents is the culmination of centuries of spirituality, ancient legends and religious pilgrimage.
The largest Cathedral in Wales set within the smallest “city” in the UK, it’s a stimulating, charismatic and powerful place, nothing less than the spiritual home of the Welsh.
St David, the Patron Saint of Wales, was born just south of the city on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path at St Non's. He chose the hollow at St Davids to house his religious followers and having left to spend his life taking the Christian message around a heathen Celtic world, he chose to return here to his beloved homeland to die as an old man in 588AD.
The Cathedral of St David, followed, built by his devotees and by the 12th Century Pope Callistus the Second in recognition of St Davids importance to the Christian World boosted the early visitor numbers by decreeing that a pilgrimage here was equal to that of reaching Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Further, that two trips equalled a journey to the holy city of Rome and for anyone who survived a third trip to St Davids, the spiritual merit would be that of a visit to Jerusalem itself!
William the Conqueror, Henry the 2nd and Edward 1st all felt the need to make that journey out here and thousands followed and continue to follow in their footsteps. Historically, this was the centre for Celtic Religion and Christianity well before the likes of Canterbury developed and the Pilgrims have continued to toil their way here for the last 1600 years.
The Cathedral and Bishops Palace
No visiting walker will want to miss the towering Cathedral which is the centre of St Davids and everything else seems to spill out from its shadow. Its chosen location, the shallow valley of the river Alun was chosen not only to hide it from being spotted from the sea (though it did not stop the Vikings burning it down several times), but also to provide shelter in this hidden glen from the winds that sweep across the plains every winter.Of course, you can join a guided tour of the Cathedral, but if arriving on the Welsh coast path it’s much more satisfying to stick with finding your own way around and an early evening visit is far more atmospheric when there is a good chance that you will catch the choir or bell ringers in practice. Inside huge pillars and arches support a breathtaking latticed Irish Oak roof covered in intricate 15th Century woodcarvings. Those following the cult of St David will want to enter the Holy Trinity Chapel where an ancient oak casket behind the alter holds the relics and bones of St David himself and his great friend St Justinian of Ramsey Island.
Wander around the rebuilt cloisters and visit the 13th Century Gateway Tower which leads you back into the town.Those who prefer less religious formality can head for the atmospheric remains of the Bishops Palace. Left in ruins since the 17th Century its crumbling arches and parapets display fascinating carvings of birds and mythical animals, find well preserved corbels carved as human heads and the striking chequerboard stonework that is testament to the wealth and power the medieval church had here.Used as an open air theatre in high season there is no better place to enjoy an outdoor performance.
Exploring the “City” of St Davids
Beyond the” House of David”, the village has a laid back and sleepy feel to it, perfect for those who just want to wander its little streets and explore. It's too small to get lost in but large enough to always be hiding something of interest around the next corner, with over 200 listed buildings and 30 protected ancient monuments.
The Central market square is a focal point still for older residents to rest in, dominated by its huge 14th Century Stone Medieval cross under which local produce was displayed and traded – it was said that the cross guaranteed honesty in all the dealings below it!
Whilst it may be small, there is vibrant community here, where the born and bred Welsh mix with an eclectic mix of 'incomers', long stay artists, travellers, pilgrims that never left and adrenalin fuelled surfers.
This has led to a healthy clutch of welcoming restaurants, intimate bistros and independent cafes. The Farmers Arms on Goat Street is the place to drink with the locals whilst you take in the views from its beer garden sitting just above the impressive main Gateway to the Cathedral.
A rare but welcome modern development is the Oriel y Parc on the Eastern side of the “city”. This is the National Park Visitor Centre housed in a unique half moon shaped eco-friendly and award-winning building. It’s a bold and impressive project, inside are displays on the varied landscapes, culture and challenges of the Pembrokeshire National Park as well as a great space for ever changing exhibitions of Welsh artists work.
St Davids Rest Days and Other Activities
Surrounded on three side by the wild ocean, St Davids has become a centre for outdoor activities including surfing, climbing, kayaking and Coasteering (leaping on and off the cliffs into the sea, much more fun that it sounds !).Visit TYF Adventures on the High Street for all this and more, they claim to be the worlds first "Carbon Neutral Adventure Company"!
For those that want to see more of the offshore islands and wildlife you can join boat trips from nearby St Justinian's. Head out to land on the mighty Ramsey Island and spend a few hours walking through this uninhabited island nature reserve. Or head further offshore in one of the faster jet boats to explore sea caves on the way to the deep sea banks where you can go looking for whales, dolphins and puffins. CLICK HERE for more info on building Ramsey Island into your walking itinerary.
For a more sedate time, you can hire bikes and the peninsula's largely flat profile means you can pick up lunch from the Deli and pedal off down your pick of narrow, little used lanes. Head to visit the golden sands at Whitesands Bay and climb Carn Llidi, or explore the marshy lakes and tors on the way to St Justinian's.
For the walker on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, St Davids provides the chance to celebrate the end of a personal pilgrimage in style or for those arriving to start their trek North, the option to fuel up on good food and facilities before starting off for the outer reaches of the Pembrokeshire National Park.