Normans, wreckers and coalminers have all shaped the history of this wind- and wave-bashed stretch of coastline, running from Newgale to Druidston on the eastern shores of St Bride’s Bay in Pembrokeshire.
Heading on to Newgale Sands, it’s easy to mistake the shingle bank at the back of the beach for a man-made flood defence, but this is a great example of a natural barrier beach, formed when sea levels rose at the end of the last ice age.
Hard-packed sand, flecked with shells and stones, mirrors the sky, giving a deeply relaxing feel to walks along this beach, which stretches for more than two miles. Oil tankers seem to loom out of the seascape as they seek shelter in the bay.
Soldiers and smugglers
The views across the wild winter seas and skies, to Skomer on the southern side of the bay and Ramsey Island to the north, are inspiring. Wildlife watchers should keep an eye out for scoters (sea ducks) and gannets cruising over from their huge colony on Grassholm (where they nest in spring).
But things weren’t always as relaxing as they are today. For one thing, Newgale lies at the western edge of the Landsker – what was once a militarised zone stretching right across the county to Laugharne in Carmarthenshire.
This culturally and historically significant frontier is dotted with the sites of dozens of Anglo-Norman fortifications, such as those at nearby Roch and Pointz Castle.
St Bride’s Bay was once a haven for pirates, smugglers and wreckers, while Skomer and Skokholm Islands were major offshore smuggling depots. The local coastline remained lawless right through to Napoleonic times, with everyone from the Normans to Elizabeth I failing to stamp their authority here.
As you head south along Newgale Sands, beyond the end of the storm beach and Sibernock Point, dramatic cave-indented cliffs rise to your left and it’s hard to take your eyes off the peculiarly anvil-shaped Rickets Head.
When you reach the southern end of this beach, as the sand ends and slippery rocks begin, a prominent reminder of this area’s coal mining heritage appears: the chimney at Trefrane Cliff Colliery, which closed around 1905.
To continue your walk south to Druidston, head back to Pebbles car park, which is just across the far southern end of Newgale’s shingle bank. The Pembrokeshire Coast Path follows the narrow coast road south before heading off on to a footpath along the cliff edge.
The ghosts of industry
It’s not long before you pass alongside the chimney on the left. Some steep stretches and unguarded cliff edges make this stretch of coast path heavy-going, so pay attention and stay alert to potential hazards.
Rickets Head is a real highlight – stop to admire the stark beauty of this incredible coastal landmark sculpted by open-cast mining and quarrying. Roaring Cave, immediately to the south, is impressive too.
After passing through the sleepy village of Nolton Haven, with its lovely sheltered beach, it’s onwards and upwards towards Druidston Haven. The path levels out nicely along the cliff edge, and the views are wonderful as you pass Madoc’s Haven. The beach at Druidston is well worth exploring too, if you get the chance.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Carmarthen, take the A40 to Haverfordwest, then the A487 St Davids Road, which will take you to Newgale. The nearest railway station is at Haverfordwest. A coastal bus service runs between Druidston and Newgale.
FIND OUT MORE
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
0845 345 7275
Newgale SA62 6AS