St Davids is a city which packs a punch, with many wild beaches and islands, an ancient cathedral, and shops selling products of seaweed and bugs, discovers JADE BRAHAM.
Wholesome and kinship. Those are the words to define St Davids (Tyddewi), Britain’s smallest city at Wales’s westernmost point. They incorporate the sense of community that pervades every corner of its rabbit-warren layout and the warm gestures between locals and visitors.
‘Cariad’, the Welsh expression for ‘darling’, can often be heard spoken on entering an establishment; where shopkeepers, gallerists, and restaurateurs are making a living off local ingredients, produce and materials.
Then there’s the gold-and-purple-speckled cathedral standing sentinel above the slate roofs. It’s a tangible connection to the past – much like the rest of the city – and another source of pride for locals, as it has been the religious heart of Wales since the 6th Century AD. The surrounding coastal paths pass many beaches, each one unique and nursing countless coastal pursuits. Put simply, a weekend here is time spent discovering the soul of Wales and the magic of its people.
1.30PM, GRUB KITCHEN
We start at The Bug Farm: the brainchild of entomologist Sarah Beynon and her husband, chef Andy Holcroft, who’ve established a farm and research centre featuring a bug museum, tropical bug zoo, and an indoor play barn for us to compare our jumps to those of insects. The Grub Kitchen – a full-time edible insect café – is where we taste the ‘research’. The Sri Lankan coconut curry and mixed insect pakora are particularly delicious and don’t taste like bugs at all. thebugfarm.co.uk
4PM, SAND DUNES AND ROCKS
We follow narrow stone bridges, scampering rabbits, and trees adorned with hanging buoys, to reach Whitesands Bay. Behind the beach are sand dunes concealing a 6th-century chapel dedicated to St Patrick. Whitesands is known for its surfing waves, but we prefer the rock promontory at the north end, overlooking a second stretch of sand accessible only by swimmers or kayakers.
7PM, BLAS RESTAURANT
Portraits of Welsh legends, including Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins, welcome me to Blas Restaurant. ‘Blas’ translates to ‘taste’, which is a key principle of this three-AA-rosette restaurant, as is ‘art on a plate’. The smell of braised beef, sprinkled with squirts of green pea and edible white flowers and accompanied by a roasted onion looking like a rose, is delectable, second only to the smooth chocolate with salted caramel and peanuts that we devour later. blasrestaurant.com
9AM, MORNING SWIM
From the hotel, we head to Caerfai Bay, a suntrap in summer and secluded spot for wild swimming. The path to the sand is steep and bordered by tall hedgerows, meaning we hear the thrashing of the waves before the multi-coloured cliffs, rock pools, and caves come into sight. The bay is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, appealing to bird-lovers, as well as kayakers who we see navigating the layered rocks.
11AM, SHOPS & EXHIBITIONS
St Davids’ high street is lined with independent shops focused on local creativity. The Oriel y Parc Gallery’s current exhibition (pembrokeshirecoast.wales/oriel-y-parc/), titled On Your Doorstep, has finds from across the nation, like Roman coins. Nearby, the Veg Patch (en-gb.facebook.com/thevegpatch16/) provides Welsh organic seaweed gin, smoked paprika and chilli pasta, and decadent orange-chocolate brownies. We peep into Really Wild Emporium (reallywildemporium.co.uk/), a shop based on the owner’s wild foraging experiences, displaying dried seaweed and aromatic soaps made of nuts, beeswax, and charcoal.
1PM, A WARMING LUNCH
To replenish, we stop at The Bishops, a traditional maritime pub named after ocean rocks west of Ramsey Island. Inside, with its earthy tones, catchy playlist, and extensive beer selection, we relax with carrot and coriander soup with croutons and rustic bread. The Welsh lamb cawl with seasonal vegetables and cheddar cheese is also a warming delight for a rainy day. thebish.co.uk/
2.30PM, CATHEDRAL SPLENDOUR
The cathedral bears the name of its founder and Wales’s patron saint, St David, who spread Christianity across the nation. In the 12th Century AD, Pope Calixtus II declared two pilgrimages here were equal to one to Rome, and three pilgrimages were equivalent to one to Jerusalem. Inside, we find spellbinding Norman craftsmanship, Renaissance architecture, a vibrant St David shrine, along with an exquisite woodcarving of the saint in his episcopal vestments. stdavidscathedral.org.uk
3.15PM, PALACE OPULENCE
Neighbouring the cathedral are the Bishop’s Palace ruins, and we make a quick pit stop here to learn more about St Davids’ spiritual past. We find dazzling white chequerboard patterning, yellow and blue hues, an enormous bath-stone wheel window, and intricate archways. This building was meant to impress as the home of bishops and a guesthouse for royal pilgrims. To this day, the palace leaves sightseers speechless! cadw.gov.wales/visit/places-to-visit/st-davids-bishops-palace
4.30PM, CHOCOLATE GALORE
After an afternoon of history, we head to Chapel Chocolates. Inside, from floor to ceiling, there are Welsh chocolate brands – such as Dilly’s – and a glass cabinet containing 30+ hand-crafted chocolates, including multi-coloured shells filled with brandy. The darling shopkeeper, Ann, has an infectious enthusiasm and care for her customers. To make me feel included, she accidentally drops a dairy-free chocolate bar, winking at me as she says, “Now you can try some chocolate, too!”
8AM, FOLLOW “ST DAVID’S” FOOTSTEPS
After picking up a packed lunch of pork sausage rolls from St Davids Food and Wine store, we walk part of the Wales Coast Path, following in the famous saint’s footsteps. We start at St Non’s Chapel – his birthplace – before continuing to Porthclais Harbour, where St David was baptised. Hiking past the rarely-visited Porthlysgi Bay, we eventually reach St Justinian’s Harbour, where we marvel at a Celtic chapel and enjoy our packed lunch.
1.30PM, PUFFIN SPOTTING
As exciting as it is to discover wild horses along the Pembrokeshire coastline, there’s nothing quite like spotting 10,000 puffins on a remote island. Our boat leaves from St Justinian’s, charting its way through St Brides Bay, before reaching Skomer Island. Along the way, we spot common dolphins leaping through the waves and puffins bathing in the sunlight. The ocean-dwellers’ elegance is completely different to the comical, headfirst waddle of the birds we see strutting the island. thousandislands.co.uk/
WHERE TO STAY
- Twr y Felin Hotel is a former windmill and now Wales’s first art hotel, with over 100 pieces of artwork and 41 rooms. From £180 per night (B&B). (twryfelinhotel.com/)
- Penrhiw, a 19th-century priory, can be booked for self-catering gatherings. Prices from £1,100 (£69pppn) based on 16 guests, minimum two-night booking (November-March) and three-nights (April-October) (penrhiwhotel.com/)
- The 12th-century Roch Castle is now five-star accommodation. It can be booked on a B&B basis or hired privately. Prices from £190 per night for a standard room (B&B) (rochcastle.com/)
- By train: Travel to Haverfordwest, before driving to St Davids.
- By road: From London, take the M4, before joining the A40 to Haverfordwest. Continue along the A487 to St Davids.
TOP FIVE HARBOURS
St Davids is blessed with a myriad of nearby isolated and quaint harbours.
- Abercastle Harbour is a 17-minute drive from St Davids, and its twee harbour leads to Carreg Samson, a magnificent Neolithic burial chamber.
- Porthgain is popular for its red-brick ruins that were once a major part of Pembrokeshire’s industrial quarrying.
- Porthclais Harbour, dating to the 12th Century AD, has large lime kilns to explore, along with gentle waters for canoeists and kayakers to embark on marine expeditions.
- Solva Harbour, known to be one of the prettiest villages along the Welsh coastline, has The Cambrian Inn, serving some of the best locally-caught seafood.
- Fishguard Harbour is where movies happen, including films like Moby Dick and Under Milk Wood.
DID YOU KNOW?
St David not only founded the cathedral – he is Wales’s patron saint. The Welsh celebrate his achievements every March 1, on St David’s Day, dressing up in traditional Welsh costumes or rugby shirts adorned with daffodils or leeks.
Wales’s national flower is the daffodil, while the leek is St David’s personal symbol. St Davids City is considered the HQ for these celebrations, with a range of activities for locals or visitors to enjoy. Among the festivities, there’s a walk to St Non’s Well, an annual Dragon Parade from Oriel y Parc, prayers at the St David Shrine, and choral Eucharist for the Feast of St David. stdavidscathedral.org.uk/news/st-davids-day-program
If you’re still looking for some adventure on the Welsh coast, see how you could have fun walking with dragons on the Wales Coast Path.