Discover challenging and dramatic walking trails shaped by the footsteps of traders, smugglers, saints and pirates. Cornish walking trails will reveal ancient tin mines, clifftop castles, timeless fishing villages and wild moors as you travel through a landscape of huge cliffs and hidden coves that goes back to the depths of time itself. In between the coastal drama, iconic harbours such as St Ives and Padstow give walkers access to some of the UK‘s best restaurants and coastal hotels. A county encircled by the wild Atlantic ocean, there is over 330 miles of spectacular world class coast path here taking you around the farthest corners of England - put simply it feels like walking on the edge of the world.
Stretching from coast to coast across the southwest of England, Devon is a richly diverse county with rugged shores and cliffs in the north, and classic Victorian seaside resorts in the south. In between you'll find tranquil green pastures, wooded gorges and the two dramatic wild moors in the National Parks of Dartmoor and Exmoor. Choose Devon for its walking variety, and you'll find that the popular image of cream teas and thatched cottages is true - but that Devon is so much more once you explore it on two feet. Coast to coast routes like the Two Moors Way will offer a journey through it all from the wild northern shores that inspired the Romantic poets to the maritime ports of the south coast.
Free your soul and clear your mind! Walking on the wild moors of these National Parks is a wonderful antidote to modern living. England's last true wilderness, Dartmoor offers 365 square miles of virtually uninhabited freedom with high moors and twisted dramatic granite tors a land of myths, ghosts and legends. Exmoor, its smaller and more gentle neighour, is 250 Square miles of near perfect and unique beauty, with high uplands swathed in heather and steep, wooded gorges and rushing streams. See Dartmoor ponies and Exmoor stags in these wildlife rich areas, home to 30 species of mammals and over 240 types of bird. The moors offer a unique opportunity for more challenging walking where the only human sound you will hear is the rhythm of your own breath.
Avoid the crowds and discover “Secret Somerset” missed by so many rushing headlong for the far South West. The 'land of the summer people' was named in a time when this area could only be visited in the summer months as the sea receded. Today its a rich, fertile and 'for real' landscape crowned by the fine walking ridges of the Mendip and Quantock Hills both protected areas of outstanding natural beauty. Rising up over King Arthur‘s Vale of Avalon along with the magical Tor at Glastonbury, walkers will find hidden gorges, wooded combes and the best inland panoramas of the South West. Also boasting its own Jurassic Coast Path, providing a gateway into the wilds of Exmoor National Park, Somerset offers walking routes without the crowds for those who want to find..... what the rest miss.
Dorset has a comfortable old world “English” feel to it and its walking routes traverse a rather more green and agricultural land of thatched cottages, cream teas.... and fossils ! Walkers here will find the more gentle rolling farmland, pretty villages and chalk ridges beloved by Thomas Hardy that sweep down to end abruptly at the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. Here, alongside the sea, those after more challenging routes can take a walking holiday through time itself amongst the dramatic chalk stacks, cliffs and arches of the Dorsetshire fossil coast. An area that can be very busy in high season but often suits walkers looking for more gentle and less exposed walking than the far west of the region.
Wales offers some of the best walking and outdoor activities to be had anywhere in the world. The 870-mile Welsh Coast Path was only fully opened in 2012 and is the world's first walk along the entire coast of a nation. The terrain is on an equally grand scale with towering cliffs, vast stretches of unspoilt golden sands, imposing castles, offshore islands and to the north there is the backdrop of Snowdonia National Park with its stunning mountains. Wales in general offers walkers great value for money compared to more popular areas like Cornwall with walking options to suit everyone, from those who want the cosmopolitan restaurants and facilities of towns like Tenby and St Davids, through to isolated and remote forests and coastal hills that sit on the very cusp of the Snowdonian Peaks. Bursting with confidence and pride in its “Welshness”, its Celtic history, language and culture there has never been a better time for walkers to enter Wales.
The South West Coast Path is the UK's longest National Trail and one of the top ten walking routes in the world. It snakes, dips and rises continuously on its way through a staggering 1014km (630 miles) of pristine coastline, 450 miles of which is through nationally protected areas. It's a challenge too; walking the entire South West Coast Path is the equivalent to scaling Mount Everest four times! From towering cliffs to hidden coves, ghostly tin mines to lush subtropical wooded creeks. One minute a dramatic rock theatre hewn out of the cliffs, the next a prehistoric fossilized forest or a 20thC Art Deco Island Hotel. What sets The South West Coast Path apart from other trails is that around almost every corner is yet another surprise as you retrace the footsteps and histories of the tin miners, fisherman, smugglers, wreckers and the customs men who chased them.
Situated right on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, the little village of Dale with a population of around 200, nestles at the foot of a long valley carved out by a glacier at the entrance to St Anne's Headland. (Dale comes from the Norse word for Valley).
A cluster of cottages and dwellings fan back inland from the long beach front, a fine crescent shaped bay sheltered by lush woodland on one side, with far reaching views back over the Milford Haven Estuary on the other.
Given a Royal Charter for the areas weekly markets in the Middle Ages, Dale became an established settlement, though one that had a reputation for smuggling and piracy aided by its sheltered location and easy escape route to the open sea.
Dale grew dramatically as a port through the 18th Century producing and shipping its own beer, limestone and coal. At one time, this now tranquil spot held 14 ale houses, today only the Griffin Inn remains to fly that flag for the thirsty walker.
The village has a laid back happy air, no doubt helped by the fact that it is both the sunniest place in Wales and the location with the lowest rainfall. These days its main attraction is its watersports with a lively yacht club and the Boathouse Café that walkers can make use of whilst watching the little dinghies arrive and depart from the pontoons.
Dale Watersports offers kayaking, windsurfing and sailing, so you could do a lot worse than take a day out here if you want to take to the seas whilst visiting the Pembrokeshire National Park.
Stronger Walkers will probably pass through Dale, pausing for lunch on their way to Marloes but for those stopping overnight, there are a couple of walker friendly B&B’s (though you need to book early as demand outstrips supply here).
There is a popular restaurant as well as the waterside Griffin Inn which is a bit of institution and the place to while away the evening gazing over the water.
Those wanting a stroll can wander along the foreshore, visit the restored limekilns or take a look at the Grade 2 listed Medieval Church of St James with its rather slim, but attractive late Medieval Tower. It’s a short 20 minute walk to cut across to the other side of the headland along the meltwater valley to reach the remote West Dale Sands if you want to see a stunning sunset over the ocean.
Situated around ¾ mile inland of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, this is the only place with accommodation of any significance between Dale and Little Haven, so most walkers will end up overnighting here. Derived from its Welsh name Moel Ros (which means bare moor), it sits remote and isolated from the rest of the Pembrokeshire National Park, located high on a flat windswept plateau. Sitting first in line for the full force of the Atlantic Weather Systems, this is the most westerly village in Wales and has a population of only around 300. Many of those living here are still deeply involved with the sea, as lobster fishermen that was the villages traditional trade, or working on the boat trips to Stockholm and Skomer Islands departing from St Martins Haven a couple of miles back down the coast path.
CLICK HERE to read about getting to the Islands with Pembrokehsire Island Trips (who operate the ferries) and those that want to visit should take an extra day out at Marloes.
Check out the pleasant village green and you will find a remarkable freestanding Clock Tower built by the local Lords of the Manor (The Barons of Kensington, no less) which would look more in place outside Paddington Station in London than in West Wales. A little further up the main road and the 13th Century Celtic Church of St Peters (the Patron Saint of Fisherman) is worth visiting to see its Norman Font and vaulted Chancel.
The Barons of Kensington were based at St Brides Castle that you will walk past tomorrow and its alarming to note that the later Lords ordered all the pubs in the village to shut down for over 100 years and this windswept spot was dry until the 1960’s. Thankfully The Lobster Pot sprung from the desperate (!) period of prohibition and now provides walkers with good food, real ale and rooms for the night. As the only pub in the village it’s the place to head to meet the locals and get in on the gossip. The Clock House Café sits opposite to the villages strange timepiece and in high season serves good Mediterranean food as an alternative.
One plus for the Pembrokeshire Coast Path walker is that due to Marloes position in the centre of the headland it can be approached on its south side from the magnificent Marloes Sands or from the North at Musslewick Sands a good 3.5 miles further round the headland. This gives the Welsh Coast Path walkers great flexibility to either push on or cut short their walking day when staying here depending on weather and energy and our itineraries make use of this by covering both options for you.
Only ¾ mile apart, linked at low tide by The Settlands Coves and their beautiful run of sands, it makes sense to deal with Little Haven and Broad Haven together geographically, though the two places are very different animals! Enjoying relative shelter at the back of the mighty crescent of St Brides Bay, to the Welsh, the villages are known simply as The Havens. The total population is around 1300, that in the Pembrokeshire National Park means it’s a major habitation centre!
Little Haven is the first to greet The Pembrokeshire Coast Path walker and is particularly well protected from the elements, as it sits at the foot of two narrow and high sided valleys that meet at the sea.
It’s often referred to as “little Cornwall” with good reason, its jumble of colourful fishermans cottages backed by woods, the small stone quay and simple cove beach have a look and an atmosphere more like the West Country than wild Pembrokeshire. Its history however, had a bit more about it than cream teas and pasties and this was a serious port in its heyday for the local coal mines.
Facilities for walkers are good given the size of the place (which is small!) and you will be pleasantly surprised to find three pubs here, one with accommodation as well as a couple of B&B’s close by for overspill, its small seafront café and a bistro are also good options. The little stone pier is very pleasing, look to the left from the end to find 'The Sheep Wash', a tidal pool where the local shepherds would wash their flock before shearing them.
Broad Haven, by contrast, is the newer settlement popular since the 19th Century when bathing in seawater became all the rage amongst the rich for curing ailments. Victorian Bathing machines sat on the sands, in those days replaced today by surfboards as this is a fine, wide, golden sand beach backed by a fairly ever present boom of crashing surf. Hemmed in at each end by cliffs to the northern end of the sands you will find superb rock pools along with the imposing Lion Rock and the two natural arches at Dens Door.
Broad Haven has the wider facilities for the walker with a supermarket, Inn, several Bistro and upmarket cafe options and in general a more cosmopolitan feel to it than at sleepy Little Haven.
You can hire a surfboard or a kayak here, take a swim on the Blue Flag awarded beach or for those that prefer just to watch others at play you can settle back with a drink and marvel at the kite-surfing and sand buggies that charge down the beach with the craggy St. David's Peninsula a distant backdrop to all the activity.
Arguably the most beautiful and certainly the most unusual harbour in the Pembrokeshire National Park.
Solva's natural Fjord like waters run deep and blue twisting over ½ mile inland in a long lagoon from the outer rocky coastline of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
In the days of the marauding pirates and privateers who cruised the coastline looking to ransack isolated coastal settlements, Solva survived by being both well hidden and well protected by this tricky entrance ravine. Seafairers, friendly or otherwise, had to negotiate their way past the jagged twins of Black Rock and St Elvis Rock which guard the village’s entrance from the outer ocean.
By the mid-19th Century, Solva was in its glory days with countless quayside warehouses, pilot boats to guide in the ships and twelve smoking lime kilns, there was even a direct passenger service to New York - at a cost of £3 each way!
The elongated dog leg harbour was originally formed by what geologists refer to as a Ria, or drowned river valley and today it holds a placid feel, filled with gently bobbing boats and yachts set against a backdrop of wooded ridges and steep valley sides.
Far inland of the rugged tortured coastline, Solva oozes protection and tranquillity.
At the inland head of the waterfront is Lower Solva where most walkers stay, a scattering of little coloured cottages, teashops, pubs, galleries and locally owned independent shops that spill along the long narrow street just behind the harbour wall.
Inland of this, wedged at the bottom of the steep valley is the grade 2 listed stone arched bridge that crosses the River Solva. Solva has plenty of local art and craft to see with the village Pottery and two well respected art galleries the best known of which is the Cuban artist Raul Speek whose gallery is on Main Street.
There are several options for freshly landed lobster and crab at the pubs and restaurants which include the former Solva Old Pharmacy now operating as a seafood specialist.
Beyond the valley lip to the west of the lower harbour is Upper Solva, a larger area that has the Post Office and Village Shop. This has borne the more modern expansion, though since 1997 the Pembrokeshire National Park has stepped in to protect and designate Solva as a conservation area.
If the lure of the ocean has got you, then consider a rest day and contact Solva Sailing School where there are options for sail boat trips to track down the wildlife out in the bay, dinghy hire in the harbour itself or sailing lessons, all based in this unique coastal location. If you do nothing else whilst here, head to one of the fabulous ridge viewpoints on either side of the harbour and take your evening stroll past the stout castle like clutch of limekilns before climbing up the knifedge Gribbin with its Iron Age settlement to watch the sun silently set over the Western ocean.
Whether this marks the start of your journey to the Wild North of The Pembrokeshire National Park, or the end your pilgrimage from the South, St Davids is likely to be the highlight of your overnight stops on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
Set on the edge of one of Wales’s wildest peninsulas, this little settlement of only around 2000 residents is the culmination of centuries of spirituality, ancient legends and religious pilgrimage.
The largest Cathedral in Wales set within the smallest “city” in the UK, it’s a stimulating, charismatic and powerful place, nothing less than the spiritual home of the Welsh.
St David, the Patron Saint of Wales, was born just south of the city on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path at St Non's. He chose the hollow at St Davids to house his religious followers and having left to spend his life taking the Christian message around a heathen Celtic world, he chose to return here to his beloved homeland to die as an old man in 588AD.
The Cathedral of St David, followed, built by his devotees and by the 12th Century Pope Callistus the Second in recognition of St Davids importance to the Christian World boosted the early visitor numbers by decreeing that a pilgrimage here was equal to that of reaching Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Further, that two trips equalled a journey to the holy city of Rome and for anyone who survived a third trip to St Davids, the spiritual merit would be that of a visit to Jerusalem itself!
William the Conqueror, Henry the 2nd and Edward 1st all felt the need to make that journey out here and thousands followed and continue to follow in their footsteps. Historically, this was the centre for Celtic Religion and Christianity well before the likes of Canterbury developed and the Pilgrims have continued to toil their way here for the last 1600 years.
No visiting walker will want to miss the towering Cathedral which is the centre of St Davids and everything else seems to spill out from its shadow. Its chosen location, the shallow valley of the river Alun was chosen not only to hide it from being spotted from the sea (though it did not stop the Vikings burning it down several times), but also to provide shelter in this hidden glen from the winds that sweep across the plains every winter.
Of course, you can join a guided tour of the Cathedral, but if arriving on the Welsh coast path it’s much more satisfying to stick with finding your own way around and an early evening visit is far more atmospheric when there is a good chance that you will catch the choir or bell ringers in practice. Inside huge pillars and arches support a breathtaking latticed Irish Oak roof covered in intricate 15th Century woodcarvings. Those following the cult of St David will want to enter the Holy Trinity Chapel where an ancient oak casket behind the alter holds the relics and bones of St David himself and his great friend St Justinian of Ramsey Island. Wander around the rebuilt cloisters and visit the 13th Century Gateway Tower which leads you back into the town.
Those who prefer less religious formality can head for the atmospheric remains of the Bishops Palace.
Left in ruins since the 17th Century its crumbling arches and parapets display fascinating carvings of birds and mythical animals, find well preserved corbels carved as human heads and the striking chequerboard stonework that is testament to the wealth and power the medieval church had here.
Used as an open air theatre in high season there is no better place to enjoy an outdoor performance.
Beyond the” House of David”, the village has a laid back and sleepy feel to it, perfect for those who just want to wander its little streets and explore. It's too small to get lost in but large enough to always be hiding something of interest around the next corner, with over 200 listed buildings and 30 protected ancient monuments.
The Central market square is a focal point still for older residents to rest in, dominated by its huge 14th Century Stone Medieval cross under which local produce was displayed and traded – it was said that the cross guaranteed honesty in all the dealings below it!
Whilst it may be small, there is vibrant community here, where the born and bred Welsh mix with an eclectic mix of 'incomers', long stay artists, travellers, pilgrims that never left and adrenalin fuelled surfers.
This has led to a healthy clutch of welcoming restaurants, intimate bistros and independent cafes. The Farmers Arms on Goat Street is the place to drink with the locals whilst you take in the views from its beer garden sitting just above the impressive main Gateway to the Cathedral.
A rare but welcome modern development is the Oriel y Parc on the Eastern side of the “city”. This is the National Park Visitor Centre housed in a unique half moon shaped eco-friendly and award-winning building. It’s a bold and impressive project, inside are displays on the varied landscapes, culture and challenges of the Pembrokeshire National Park as well as a great space for ever changing exhibitions of Welsh artists work.
Surrounded on three side by the wild ocean, St Davids has become a centre for outdoor activities including surfing, climbing, kayaking and Coasteering (leaping on and off the cliffs into the sea, much more fun that it sounds !).
Visit TYF Adventures on the High Street for all this and more, they claim to be the worlds first "Carbon Neutral Adventure Company" ! For those that want to see more of the offshore islands and wildlife you can join boat trips from nearby St Justinian's. Head out to land on the mighty Ramsey Island and spend a few hours walking through this uninhabited island nature reserve. Or head further offshore in one of the faster jet boats to explore sea caves on the way to the deep sea banks where you can go looking for whales, dolphins and puffins. CLICK HERE for more info on building Ramsey Island into your walking itinerary.
For a more sedate time, you can hire bikes and the peninsula's largely flat profile means you can pick up lunch from the Deli and pedal off down your pick of narrow, little used lanes. Head to visit the golden sands at Whitesands Bay and climb Carn Llidl, or explore the marshy lakes and tors on the way to St Justinian's.
For the walker on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, St Davids provides the chance to celebrate the end of a personal pilgrimage in style or for those arriving to start their trek North, the option to fuel up on good food and facilities before starting off for the outer reaches of the Pembrokeshire National Park.
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