March 15th, 2018
Although Cardiff may well be the official capital city of our little country, today we’re exploring the history of a little city in West Wales with a big claim; that it was once the capital of our beautiful nation. Indeed, it was the birthplace of our patron Saint, Dewi (or St David) and is named after him…… If you’re thinking of visiting beautiful St Davids in Pembrokeshire then here’s all you need to know in our handy travel guide.
The crunchy cone was packed so full of the delicious looking, home-made, organic ice cream that my mouth began to water. It was time to eat it quick, as the sun was out and the ice cream was starting to melt into rivers running steadily southwards!
Delicious home-made ice cream is just one of the delights on offer in St Davids. Beautifully situated in the Pembrokeshire National Park (Britain’s only entirely coastal National Park), St Davids is the most westerly point in Wales. It is minutes away from stunning beaches, scenic coastal walks and is filled with enough history and legend to satisfy even the most inquisitive of minds.
On a sunny day, the little city was bustling with tourists and locals alike, all eager to enjoy the first warm days of the year. Despite attracting thousands of visitors a year, St Davids keeps its cosy and inviting character. Awarded city status in 1995, because of its magnificent cathedral, St Davids is really a small town.
The city is dominated by the cathedral, and this stunning building is usually the first port of call for sightseers. The cathedral dates back to the 12th century, although there is believed to have been a monastery at this site since the 6th century.
The site is a shrine to the patron saint of Wales, Dewi Sant or St David, who it is believed, was born further along the wild coastline around 500 AD. He established a strict monastic order in the town that is now named after him, and built the original monastery at the site of the cathedral.
St David was deemed one of the most influential clergymen in all of Wales during his lifetime, and the cathedral at St Davids became one of the most important religious sites in medieval times. So significant became the area in fact, that to equal one pilgrimage to Rome, worshippers needed only make two journeys to St Davids.
When the Normans arrived in Pembrokeshire in the 12th century, they seized the monastery, appointed a Norman Bishop and began building the Cathedral that stands today. The now roofless Bishops Palace is located just opposite the main cathedral, and is also open to visitors.
The interior of the cathedral is as spectacular as the exterior, and there are many treasures to appreciate within. The nave is the oldest surviving part of the cathedral, and is built in the Norman style, with a beautifully carved wooden ceiling. If you look up into the rounded stone wall arches, you will notice that each is carved differently.
The cathedral plays host to a classical music festival in May and several concerts throughout the year. The combination of an enchanting setting and beautiful musical performances is one that audiences are unlikely to forget.
The cathedral is open to visitors year round, and during the summer months there are guided tours available daily. The beautifully restored refectory is also worth a visit for tea, cakes and lunches, and suppers during the longer summer evenings.
With the cathedral explored, and to expend some calories from the previously consumed ice cream, the next place to discover was the beautiful coastal paths. The Pembrokeshire Coastal Path winds its way for 186 miles in total, along some of the most stunning coastal scenery in Britain, and snakes its way past right St David’s.
Setting off from the tourist information centre in the city, the coast path can be reached in less than a mile or so, and, beginning at Caerfai, a circular walk can be completed that takes the walker past a variety of different sites. The first being the ruin of St Non’s chapel, which is believed to date back to the 6th century, and was another important destination for pilgrimages. This site is particularly special as it is believed that it was on this spot that St David was born. Local legend has it that at the moment of the future saint’s birth, a great thunderbolt struck and a magical well sprung up. The site is marked now by St Non’s Well, a simple arch and stone shrine.
Not much remains of the chapel or well, but it is worth visiting for its simplistic beauty and dramatic views of the coast. Continuing along the coastline, the path twists and turns its way along the coast, taking in views of Ramsey Island. The rugged cliffs of the island are some of the highest in Wales, and the whole island is an RSPB reserve and an important point for bird spotting. Guillemots, shags, coughs, buzzards and peregrine falcons can be seen here, and peer for long enough into the jade blue sea and you may even be lucky enough to spot a grey seal frolicking in the water.
There are numerous boat trips and excursions that can be taken from St Justinians, the nearby RNLI station, including dolphin and whale watching. These specially designed boats do not have propellers so are not harmful or damaging to the hoards of wildlife and sea life.
Another small ascent following the path and the magnificent sweeping view of Whitesands bay can be seen up ahead. This beach has been awarded the Blue Flag and seaside awards, and is one of the best surfing beaches in the country. Buses run regularly between Whitesands bay car park and St Davids, so it can be easily reached without the cliff top walk.
During an energising tea break at the beach café, attempts to spot surfers out in the excitable sea proved fruitless. Perhaps the boldly breaking waves hadn’t warmed up quite enough yet, and a quick dip of a big toe into the icy water was more than enough to be sure this was the case!
The road from Whitesands Bay quickly takes the walker back to the bustle of St Davids; where there is just time to explore some of the small gift shops, interesting art galleries and tempting delicatessens.
There are endless gastronomic options available in St Davids, from small tea rooms and ice cream shops to hearty pub fare and bistro restaurants. Unable to resist the smell radiating from the direction of the fish and chip shop, the efforts of the long coast walk were rewarded with an enormous tray of traditional British delights. The queue was long and excitable, and with good reason. The locally caught fish almost melted in the mouth and any attempts not to eat all the golden salty chips were completely wasted as one by one they disappeared and the once bulging plastic tray was now only home to a forlorn plastic fork and a small puddle of vinegar. The seagulls hopped hopefully from foot to foot, but there wasn’t even the tiniest mouthful to spare for them!
St Davids is best explored at leisure, and there is so much more to discover in the surrounding villages, beaches, mountains and coasts. The leisurely pace is reflected in the mood of the town, and it is this, combined with a fierce pride of its inherited history and patriotism, that makes St Davids so special. Listen closely to the ocean breezes and you may just hear the whispered legends of the ghosts of a very unique little city.