My family and I have been visiting the starkly beautiful and atmospheric Pembrokeshire coast on an annual two-week holiday for the past nine years. Over time, our holidaying fellowship has evolved and what started as a quiet break for the four of us (my parents, sister and I), has now become a wilder event involving partners, cousins, aunts, uncles, the occasional brother-in-law and a puppy. When people ask why we return to the same place in south west Wales year after year we struggle to articulate its enduring appeal. For us, it’s a slice of Heaven. The landscape feels otherworldly, the towns and villages are quaint, pretty. But most importantly it provides us with some uninterrupted time each year to reconnect, where regular life doesn’t get in the way. It’s a home from home but a true escape from our real worlds.
We’ve always chosen to stay just outside St Davids, which feels like a village but is actually Europe’s smallest city owing to its gorgeous cathedral, on a working farm that hosts enough converted barns to accommodate our ever-expanding group. The owners are now so accustomed to our visits that our favourite barn is permanently reserved for us during the first two weeks of September! The farm sits on top of a quiet and secluded pebbly bay which is perfect for kayaking, swimming, seal spotting and generally lazing about and is accessible by the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. We try and get down there each day during our stay.
My sister’s puppy, Reggie, playing in the bay below our accommodation.
Over the years we’ve considered ourselves “lucky” with the weather which has granted us some warm and bright days on, in and by the ocean, (I guess we can thank global warming for these Indian Summers in the UK!). But, for me, the coastline comes alive on the stormier days, when the sea is whipped into frothy white waves that crash against black igneous rock faces. When the wind rips through the last of the purple heads of heather, casting its scent across the moorland. When our barn windows are battered by gales while we cuddle up inside. I’ll be honest, I do tend to have the odd Kate Bush moment when I find myself out of earshot of other humans. Hair everywhere, no make-up, belting “Wuthering Heights” at the top of my lungs. It’s difficult not to get swept up in the drama.
Taking a stroll along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
Pembrokeshire is fast becoming a hotspot for stay-cationers in the UK and St Davids and its surrounding towns and villages never really change (I love that), so I’ve put together a list of my five most favourite things to do while staying in the area. I hope you find a chance to fall in love with them too.
Grab an ice cream at Gianni’s
Gianni’s is an institution in St Davids, renowned for their amazingly varied, constantly changing ice cream menu. They’re fully indie and source all of their milk from nearby Caerfai Farm so you’re truly supporting local business when you shop here. My lactose intolerant dad is always a big fan of the dairy free option and dogs can enjoy their very own bowl of caramelised bacon flavoured ice cream. My personal favourite is Turkish Delight – rose flavoured with huge chunks of dark chocolate. Nom.
Take an offshore boat trip with Voyages of Discovery
Voyages of Discovery offer a few types of excursion from the lifeboat base at St Justinians, and I think at this point we’ve just about covered them all. But, for me, no other tops their offshore trip to Grassholm. A small, uninhabited island, it lies approximately 8 miles from the Pembrokeshire coastline and a huge colony of gannets rule supreme. You can hear and smell them before you see them! The turbulent waters surrounding Grassholm are also teaming with curious dolphins, porpoise and occasionally other whales and sharks so it’s an excellent opportunity to observe the oceanic wildlife. The Voyages guides are always funny and knowledgeable too.
Gannets surrounding the shores of Grassholm.
Stop for a pint at The Sloop
The Sloop Inn at Porthgain is, quite simply, my idea of the perfect pub. Set in a picturesque fishing harbour, it’s one of those places that thrives no matter the weather. The patio is a sun trap and a dreamy vantage point of the harbour on hot days and the cosy pillowed booths, fairy lights and warm smiles are all the respite you need in a storm. If you want to feel like you’ve earned your drink then go for a brisk walk up to the white navigation beacon (and beyond!) above the harbour beforehand; you’ll find some stunning views and curious ruins to explore. And if you have time for more than a swift half, try booking for lunch or dinner. The Sloop’s seafood is always fresh and locally caught, you won’t be disappointed (unless they’ve sold out!).
Try Coasteering with TYF
For those seeking a slice of adrenaline-filled adventure look no further than TYF’s half day coasteering session around St Davids. For those unfamiliar with coasteering, it’s essentially a bit of a scrabble around the coast including some rock climbing and swimming, exploring the biodiversity of the area with the always friendly and erudite instructors, and a lot of throwing yourself off of rock faces. TYF provide all the safety equipment you need and they’re on hand to offer a gentle word of encouragement if you’re feeling a little shaky. I had a real sense of achievement at the end of our session and I can honestly say it was one of my favourite things ever. I can’t wait to do it again.
Devour a lobster roll at Café Môr
We only discovered Café Môr two years ago but it’s now a permanent fixture on our itinerary. Set amidst the sand dunes at Freshwater West, this small street food stand may not look like much at first glance but it really is something special. They place an emphasis on traditional Welsh ingredients and sustainability, using laver seaweed in most dishes and harnessing solar and wind energy to power the café. There is something about fresh, locally caught seafood that is unbeatable for me, so their Famous Lobster Roll complete with Welsh Sea black butter and lemon mayonnaise is my choice. But if you’re a dedicated carnivore like my husband then the Môr Burger (a beef and laver bread patty) is an excellent alternative. Eagle-eyed Harry Potter fans will also recognise Freshwater West as the site where Dobby is buried in Deathly Hallows, near Shell Cottage (home of Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour). Yes, I geek out every time.
Pembrokeshire is a place that is calling out to be explored, and although these are some of my favourite things I urge you to visit and discover some of your own. We might tread some familiar paths each time we stay but we also make an effort to search for new and hidden gems – nothing feels better than finding a tiny secluded cove, a new seal pupping beach or shipwreck while rambling along the coast. The area is steeped in history, myth and folklore – from tales of King Arthur to the legend of St David (Dewi Sant) himself. I always arrive feeling tired after a relentless few months at work but can rely on feeling refreshed, inspired and just a little more content when I leave.