Pembrokeshire Coast National Trail
Pembrokeshire is renowned for its wonderful coastline, one of the most magnificent and varied in Europe, and it is justly deserving of having a National Trail. Following Wales's spectacular southern headland the sinuous path often runs close to the cliff edge, but there are stretches that traverse sandy beaches and other stretches far enough inland to be out of sight and sound of the sea. On every section of the footpath you will encounter creeks, secluded coves, coastal valleys, unspoilt sandy beaches, tiny fishing villages and off-shore islands rich in bird and marine life.
The Pembrokeshire coastline remains largely unspoilt, with the obvious exception of the petro-chemical refineries around Milford Haven, although this section could be skipped. Milford Haven is an important and remarkable deep water harbour and by avoiding it you will miss an intriguing area full of contrasts created by the juxtaposition of farming and industry. It is also fascinating to watch the manoeuvrings of huge oil tankers and this two day section of the Trail provides a complete contrast to the dramatic unspoilt coastal beauty of the rest of the journey. Apart from Milford Haven and the holiday resort of Tenby there are few settlements of significant size along the route and those that there are, such as Fishguard and St David's, are pleasant places. Wherever you are along the Trail you are seldom far from civilisation and because you are walking around a peninsula after 200 km of walking you are just 45 km from you starting point.
The Trail, which circumnavigates the peninsula in an anti-clockwise direction, starts at St Dogmael's near Cardigan and follows the banks of the river Teifi as it becomes an estuary. You soon enter the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, leave the estuary and begin your coastal journey. The constant theme of this walk, the amazing geology, immediately becomes apparent. The contorted rock strata you will encounter are the result of geological processes that are difficult to imagine. The practical result for the walker is lots of descents and climbs into and out of steep valleys cut by ancient streams through the 200 ft plateau. It is well worth reading about the geology of Pembrokeshire before embarking on your adventure to fully appreciate the coastal landscape. Both the guides listed have introductions to the region's geology.
The other constant theme along the Trail is the abundance of sea birds and the chance to spot seals below the cliffs. Dinas Head, just beyond Newport, is the first location where you will see plenty of sea birds including razorbills and guillemots on Needle Rock. There are great views from the trig point at Dinas Head including, on a clear day, the Irish Wicklow Mountains, so do not by-pass this promontory. From Fishguard you begin the most remote and exposed stretch of the coast, Strumble Head is the first objective on this section of the walk. From here you can look back to where you started and, for the first time see the most westerly point of you journey, St David's head to the south west. From Strumble Head to St David's head the switchback Trail climbs numerous volcanic headlands and again the geology dominates your senses. The village of Trevine makes a welcome refuge form the dramatic cliffs during the westerly gales that often batter this exposed coastline.
St David's, a cathedral city, has a grand ecclesiastical history, but is today a small market town, although well worth visiting. From here the Trail's character changes as it makes its way around St Brides's Bay, a deep scallop penetrating the Pembrokeshire peninsula's outline. From St David's you can see across the bay to the Marloes promontory and Skomer Island, one of several Nature Reserve islands. The walking is now less exposed, but the geology still intriguing as at Caerbwdi Bay where a folded sandstone rock mimics a submarine's hull. Highlights around St Bride's Bay include the attractive village of Solva, the sweep of pebble beach at Newgale, Little Haven, St Bride's village and the Marloes promontory Deer Park before reaching St Ann's Head and the beginning of the Milford Haven circuit.
You should allow 15 days to complete this walk comfortably, allowing time to stand and stare. Accommodation is available not only in the main towns but in many of the smaller villages and farmhouses along the route, although it is essential book, particularly in the more remote areas. The Tourist Information Centres at Cardigan and Fishguard can help with accommodation bookings.
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