Caldicot to Chepstow
Huge bridges and small villages with big histories.
In the footsteps of saints, princes and bishops
Start and finish in St David's.
8 miles / 13 kilometres for the whole route but there are a number of options to shorten the route during the tourist season by using the Celtic Coaster bus service as described.
It’s 7 miles/ 11 kilometres if looping back to St Davids by taking the inland route option from Porthclais,
6 miles / 10 kilometres if catching the bus from St Davids to St Justinian’s to start the walk or only 4 miles / 6 kilometres if using the bus service at both ends of the journey and only walking from St Justinian’s to Porthclais.
This walk follows some fabulous clifftop sections and quiet country lanes in the footsteps of Dark Age saints who came here as pilgrims, and passes the turbulent and dangerous waters of Ramsey Sound. A wealth of wildlife can be seen, from dolphins and porpoise to peregrines and chough. And once on the coast, navigation is a dream – we just need to keep the sea on our right.
But we start in the UK’s smallest city, pretty St Davids, and its quaint streets, cafes, boutiques and galleries. For such a small place, it really does pack a punch.
St David’s Cathedral will obviously be top of many visitors’ lists of things to see. A place of worship since the sixth century, the cathedral continues to conduct daily services.
The building as it stands today was begun in 1181 and repaired and extended in the fourteenth century by Welsh Bishop Henry Gower, and an ornately carved Gothic screen in the nave houses his tomb effigy. Some of the bishops’ staffs from this period, and earlier, are also on display in the cathedral treasury.
The cathedral contains the tombs of many important figures from Welsh history including the reputed tomb of Welsh prince, Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd. During the Norman Conquest he restored the medieval kingdom of Deheubarth and united poets and musicians from across Wales for the first ever eisteddfod in 1176. His ornately-carved tomb dates from the fourteenth century, around two hundred years after his death.
And next door to the cathedral is the magnificent ruin of St Davids Bishop’s Palace.
A twelfth century pope decreed that two trips to St Davids were equal to one to Rome and that three were as significant as one to Jerusalem. This turned it into a centre of pilgrimage for the entire western world and thousands flocked to the area.
But the bishop’s home at the time was no match for the magnificent cathedral. So between 1328 and 1347 Bishop Henry Gower turned a building that was previously deemed only fit for “servants and animals” into an immense, luxurious palace where he held feasts, dispensed justice and welcomed distinguished pilgrims.
However, the Reformation period saw significant deterioration to the building and the first protestant Bishop of St Davids may well have been guilty of stripping the lead from the roof himself.
Now it’s time to head away from the city and it’s less than two miles, via Rhosson, to reach St Justinian’s. We can shorten this walk a little by taking a regular minibus service from St Davids to St Justinian’s during the tourist season.
Many centuries ago, this was also an important religious site. The chapel here is on private land, but can be clearly seen from the road. It is reputed to be the burial place of St Justinian, St David’s confessor. He lived on Ramsey Island, but legend says that after being beheaded by angry followers, he picked up his head and walked back across Ramsey Sound to the mainland.
If taking a boat out to Ramsey Island we can expect to see colonies of nesting seabirds on some of the highest sea cliffs in Wales which make a spectacular sight at this RSPB Nature Reserve. The island is also home to one of the UK’s largest colonies of grey seals and from September to December there are pups on every beach.
But back on the Wales Coast Path, we turn left at St Justinian’s and for the next couple of miles the rapids and eddies of Ramsey Sound are between us and the island. Kayakers love pitting their wits against the tidal race here, while larger vessels avoid the area altogether. Listen out for the waves booming against the cliffs we walk around the bay.
We now have five miles of glorious clifftop walking ahead of us, with much of the land owned by the National Trust.
And once we turn our backs on Ramsey Island and round the headland at Pen Dal-aderyn, the massive open waters of St Bride’s Bay open up in front of us. Under our feet at this point on the Treginnis Peninsula are the oldest rocks in Pembrokeshire, dating back 600 million years.
Eventually we reach the picturesque inlet and little harbour at Porthclais, reputedly the place where St David was baptised and a working port since at least 1385.
The kiosk here is good place for some refreshments during spring and summer. We can walk back along the lane to St Davids from here if we don’t want to complete the whole route.
Moving around the headland, shortly after passing the wonderfully named Trwyn Cynddeiriog (Furious Promontory), we approach a big grey building on the horizon, St Non’s Retreat. On getting nearer, we leave the Wales Coast Path and follow the signpost left to the reputed birthplace of St David, St Non’s Chapel.
Nearby is a holy well, said to have sprung up when St David was born and whose waters are believed by some to have healing properties.
An ancient-looking chapel near the retreat was actually built in 1934 in the historical local style. From here it’s just more than half a mile along a pleasant country lane back to St Davids.
Theresa Nolan, Wales Coast Path officer, said: “There is so much history in St Davids that it’s easy to spend the whole day and more there. But the surrounding area is also full of history, as we discover on this walk. Not only that, the scenery and wildlife on this part of the coast are just fantastic.”
All facilities available in St Davids.
There is a kiosk and toilets at Porthclais. The kiosk provides the only option for refreshments on the route.
Limited car parking is available at Porthclais and St Justinian’s. However, due to the narrow lanes and limited number of parking spaces we recommend parking at Oriel y Parc visitor centre and catching a bus from St Davids.
The Celtic Coaster provides a regular bus service around St Davids Peninsula during the season with stops at St Justinian’s, Porthclais and St Non’s providing numerous options to shorten the walk.
Download the St David’s and St Non’s loop map (JPEG,2.43MB)