Walk it for:
• Wildflowers: an Impressionist sizzle of heather and gorse, and grasslands gilded with scabious and squinancywort
• The riot of colourful rocks – red, blue-black and butterscotch, sculpted into blow-holes, arches and cliff-cathedrals. Like a squashed-together ball of plasticine, the geology of the Pembrokeshire coast is a glorious, colourful muddle.
Pembrokeshire Coast Path: The facts
• Created in 1970
• 186 miles long
• Add together all the climbs on the route and the cumulative ascent is 11,000 metres – higher than Mount Everest
• It takes about two weeks to walk its entire length
• The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park was founded in 1952 to protect the diverse geology and the wildlife it supports
Should I walk the path? Cons…
• The ups and downs on this coastline are numerous and demanding
• Some sections are tough and remote
Should I walk the path? Pros…
• There are easy bits, too
• An excellent coastal bus service makes much of the route accessible, even without the use of a car
• Cool down with a swim from one of many pristine beaches
• Generally speaking, you’re never far from a bed or a cappuccino
Rest and refuel among the cafes and shops of Tenby
You cross the county border into Pembrokeshire near Amroth Castle, and follow the weeping sandy shores of Saundersfoot Bay to Monkstone Point.
Beyond lies Tenby, one of the prettiest seaside towns in Britain.
Church Doors beach is accessible at low tide
2 Church Doors
You rapidly learn the Pembrokeshire Coast Path is bristling with interesting rock formations. No sooner have you been awed by the Church Doors, near Lydstep, then you reach the glorious ruby red sandstone cliffs at Skrinkle Haven. Blow-holes riddle the coast where the sea booms and growls and even squirts from deep beneath your feet, as at Lydstep – which I walked past twice without seeing or even falling in, so enchanted I must have been by the coast.
Take a dip in the clear waters of Barafundle Bay
3 Barafundle Bay
Broad Haven South and Barafundle Bay are perfect beaches for a cooling swim, while on hot days the Bosherston lily ponds, just inland, provide a leafy retreat.
A tiny hermit’s cell on the cliffside, St Govan’s Chapel is open to visitors
4 St Govan’s Chapel
And it’s hard to find a more charismatic church that St Govan’s Chapel, wedged in the cliffs at Castlemartin.
The Atlantic breakers rolling in to Freshwater West are great for surfing
5 Freshwater West
The classic surf beach with rolling green tubes. No wonder it’s where award-winning street-food shack Café Mor parks up, specializing in seafood and particularly in seaweed treats.
West Angle Bay and neighbouring Angle Bay are silvery, quiescent and sheltered by the waters of Milford Haven. Angle is home to The Old Point House, a great drinking-hole, and a little further inland, the hill in front of Angle refinery at Rhoscrowther is the perfect place to set up a deckchair and watch the big oil tankers refuelling at the Milford Haven refineries.
The path winds past the creeks and mudflats of Milford Haven – bordered with industry – and through the settlements of Pembroke and Milford Haven town. The path resumes its rural character at the village of Herbrandston.
The wild shores of Marloes beach are home to seals and gannets
6 Marloes Peninsula
A long sandy beach, rugged rocks, clifftop wildflowers, diving gannets and basking seals.
• Try a Short walk on Marloes Peninsula.
Puffins live in their thousands on Skomer Island
7 Skomer Island
Break your journey by riding the ferry to the wild island of Skomer, off Marloes Peninsula. The island teems with puffins and Manx shearwaters, and its waterfalls and ancient remains are worth exploring too.
• Walk Skomer.
Boats shelter in the deep valley of Solva
A pretty fishing village in a creek, with shops, cafes and an inn.
Leaving the boats and pubs of Solva for St David’s peninsula, you join a path that dips in and out of tiny creeks and coves. Between these inlets the swell slaps at the cliffs. Sea thrift dances, reedy pools catch the sky and salty-maned ponies graze.
The tiny harbour at Porthclais is a good place to catch crabs
9 Porthclais Harbour
This pretty, sheltered inlet is about six miles from Solva. In the Middle Ages, pilgrims landed here, bound for the cathedral at St David’s. To follow in their footsteps, you set off a short distance inland, down dusty white roads between tall hedges and medieval fields, to the smallest city in Britain.
Badly damaged by Cromwell’s forces, St David’s Cathedral was restored in 1793
10 St David’s
Britain’s smallest city is attractively equipped with tea-shops, pubs and an art gallery, but the cathedral, sunk in a lush valley, is its beating heart. Stuffed with tombs and chapels, it seems to emanate peace and light from its stones. Perhaps it’s the ancientness of the rocks that creates the sense of tranquillity suffusing this peninsula. Or perhaps it’s still saturated with the prayers, hopes and goodwill of all those pilgrims.
Wander back to Porthclais and along the coast a couple of miles and you arrive at the fissured cliffs of the Treginnis headland, where an emerald sea booms and seals sing haunting songs in the caves. This peninsula was formed 600 million years ago; the rocks beneath my feet are the oldest in Wales.
The route winds towards Ramsey Island
11 The path to Ramsey Sound
The views across perilous Ramsey Sound are dramatic, as Ramsey Island rises like a wall, with its outlying islets and their gulls and auks. Just as striking is the approach to the tiny settlement of St Justinian’s with its purple rock formations shot through with white stripes and orange crystal.
Some surfers rate Whitesands Bay the best beach in Pembrokeshire
12 Whitesands Bay
Green and gold fields undulate around the big scoop of beach at Whitesands Bay, from where St Patrick set sail to convert Ireland to Christianity in the 6th century.
The severity of the sea here can be startling – the heavy storms in the winter of 2014 were enough to exhume the ancient remains of those buried long ago at St Patrick’s Chapel. At very low tides, the sands sometimes recede to reveal the bones of auroch, red deer and brown bear among the blackened, fossilised stumps of a submerged, prehistoric forest.
Regardless of the sea’s mood, Whitesands is a good place to stop and refuel (it has a lovely café). But it’s also home to a surf school, which means its waters can get busy, so if you fancy a swim, Porth Lleuog – just over the headland – is quieter.
From the hill at Carn Llidi, the views of Whitesands bay and Ramsey Island are spectacular
12 The view from Carn Llidi
North of St David’s Head, the cliffs are wild and high, and the few tiny coves are inaccessible. But the rocks beg to be explored – they’re shot through with quartz that sparkles against black earth.
The coastline here is rugged, dominated by the carns – small rocky knolls that poke up through the earth as if straining to reach the sky. The tallest of them stretches almost 180m above sea level. There’s Carn Hen, Carn Llidi, Carn Penberry and others. Each is crusted with hard volcanic rhyolite and dolerite; thousands of years of erosion have washed away the softer stone around them. Labyrinthine paths take you among these deserted hills, alongside Iron Age field enclosures and burial chambers that imbue the place with a powerful sense of antiquity.
Cool down in the pool at Abereiddi
13 Blue lagoon
After roaming these empty hills, the hamlet of Abereiddi seems busy, with visitors relaxing on the beach or swimming in its blue pool. Once a slate mine stood here; the ruins of quarrymen’s cottages still remain and overlook the beach. After the quarry was abandoned, fishermen blasted a passage through the cliff to allow the sea to pour in and provide a sheltered harbour. The resulting ‘lagoon’ is now used for high-diving contests.
After Abereiddi the path edges over a grassland plateau. Below it is the beach Traeth Llyfn, like a bite taken out of the cliffs. It’s a wide strand of clean, brown sand, draped at low tide in glistening green seaweed.
Quarry town: Porthgain was once a centre for the slate industry
14 Chisel port
Further on, sweeping around the south wall of Porthgain’s narrow harbour is a ruined brick structure, full of arches and windows like battlements. But it was never a castle. There’s a clue to what it once was in the area’s name; Porthgain means ‘chisel port’, and it’s a reference to the slate that was quarried nearby and shipped from here during the 19th century. In later years, when slate production gave way to crushed granite, the channels and hoppers that make up the castellated complex were used to pour the aggregate directly into ships waiting in the harbour below.
The quarrymen’s cottages that line the edge of the village are now art galleries festooned in fishing floats and the old machine shop is The Shed Bistro, selling fish and chips. All this makes Porthgain the perfect place for a short break. (Accommodation is in short supply here, but there’s more in nearby Trefin.)
Abercastle is an old trading harbour and the last settlement before Goodwick and Fishguard
The path winds north from Trefin, where foxgloves and sea campion shake in an ocean of grass. Less than a couple of miles away lies Abercastle.
Ahead lies the Strumble Head coast: wild and remote, and pocked with precarious cliffs, wicked black rocks and beaches such as Pwllstrodur and Aber Mochyn, where even the sand is black.
The lighthouse at Strumble Head dates from 1908 and was one of the last to be built in the UK
16 Strumble Head
The always-vibrant Strumble Head peninsula excels in shimmering summer showers and muted light, when the warm earth’s scents are enhanced and heather glows like amethyst.
The small sandy bay at Pwllcrochan is awesome in any weather. Here the coast path slumps down to deliver you to its rocky shore and caves booming with swell.
Get a view of the coast that lies ahead of you at Garn Fawr
17 Hills above Strumble
High above, like those at St David’s, are the ancient hills: Carn Ogof, Garn Fawr, Garn Folch. They combine to form a phenomenal, deep-purple landscape edged with mighty cliffs that, when wet, appear steeped in theatrical light.
At the lighthouse, waves from the west clash with tides from the north. It’s an easy romp from here to Fishguard, along the cliff-top heath tangled in lady’s bedstraw and kidney-vetch. Below the cliffs, the pebbled coves wobble with fat grey seals.
At Carreg Wastad Point, you pass the site of the last – failed – invasion of Britain in 1797, before arriving in Goodwick and then Fishguard.
Fishguard is a haven for travellers
Craggy, quaint and accessible, Fishguard is a gloriously colourful muddle of pubs and shops, with a steep ascent to the town centre and an easy stroll to the old and utterly charming harbour.
Cwm yr Eglwys
19 Romantic ruin
Just beyond the spectacular Ynys Dinas peninsula, the broken church at Cwm yr Eglwys is charmingly poignant. It was destroyed in 1859, by a storm that wrecked boats and created all the pebble banks around Wales.
20 Newport Sands
Walk the long beach backed by sand dunes. The most northerly section of the Pembrokeshire coast path follows; and it is also the highest and wildest. Here, the narrow cliff-path is a heart-stopping height from the sea.
At last, you cross the country line and walk into Cargidan, and your epic journey along the Pembrokeshire coast is over.
Find out more
• Check out the official coast-path trail site.
• Walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path by Jan and Dennis Kelsall (Cicerone, 2016) is a useful guide.
Places to eat
Fish and Chips
The Shed, Porthgain
Specialising in local seafood, fish and Pembrokeshire potatoes, the service is great and the premises (right) creatively snug. Warning: they also do cream teas.
Tea and Ice cream
The Bench, St Davids
The delicious artisan Italian ice creams, sorbets and yoghurts served here are made from local Caerfai Farm organic milk.
The Farmers Arms, Mathry
Just half a mile inland from Abercastell, The Farmers Arms serves classics and local specialities, such as Abercastell crab cakes. Pembrokeshire SA62 5HB.
The perfect pint
The Sloop Inn, Porthgain
An 18th-century pub with a view over the former industrial port, ideal for watching sunsets.
Places to stay
Caerfai Farm, Caerfai
Right on the coast, the campsite on this farm has superb views and a shop that sells croissants and cheese made on-site with milk from the Caerfai cows.
Bed and Breakfast
Old Cartlett House, Trefin
Retreat from bad weather with Welsh cakes and an open fire, or enjoy pretty gardens when it’s fine. Serving hearty locally sourced breakfasts for hungry walkers.
A friendly inn
The Hope and Anchor, Goodwick
A great pub with good beer, excellent food and rooms that overlook the bay, a hop from ferries to Ireland and the lively town of Fishguard. Fishguard SA64 0BP.