St David's Head coastal walk
Whitesands, near St David's, Pembrokeshire, WalesRoute details and mapDownload as a print friendly PDF
Explore Pembrokeshire’s most spectacular coastal headland several miles away from Wales’ smallest city, St David’s. Look out at island-dotted seascapes against the steep backdrop of Carn Llidi, prehistoric monuments and a fantastic array of coastal wildlife on this rugged circular walk.
- Bus stop
Start: Whitesands beach car park, grid ref: SM734272
From Whitesands car park, go through a gap in the wall on passing the Site of St Patrick's Chapel. Climb a sandy slope up on to the cliff path. After about half a mile (0.8km) you reach a kissing gate and National Trust sign. Continue to the crest of the hill.
From here, see Coetan Arthur silhouetted against the sky. St David's Head is forged of very old volcanic rock, some of it dates back almost 500 million years. This geology is best represented by Carn Llidi, the towering jagged outcrop, or tor, and in the rocky islands of Ramsey, Bishops and Clerks several miles out to sea. Our main route sticks to the coast, descending into the valley ahead via broad steps to a spring above the tiny cove of Porth Melgan. An alternative route heads gently uphill round the back of Carn Llidi with fine views to the east, or adventurous souls can scramble to the summit of this peak.
Cross the stream by a bridge and turn right or north-east to walk up this valley. This area can be slippery and muddy in winter.
To your right is a marshy area with the typical 'dinosaur egg' shapes of purple moor grass or 'rhos pasture', green in summer and earthy coloured in winter. Higher up, on the flanks of Carn Llidi, you can see ancient field patterns. Look out for birds like stonechat, meadow pipit and skylark in clumps of reedbed and willow. The rare Dartford warbler has also been seen in recent years.
At the highest point here, the peak of Pen Beri and the expanse of Cardigan Bay appears in the distance. Two headlands away is the winking lighthouse of Strumble Head with the peak of Garn Fawr above it. Descend to rejoin the coast path and turn left towards St David's Head.
Heather and gorse turn St David's Head a bright shade of purple and gold in late summer. They also provide a home for butterflies, moths and beetles, plus birds like stonechat and linnet. Up to 50 Welsh Mountain ponies graze St David's Head. They keep the vegetation open and maintain the right conditions for the coastal heath plants like heather, gorse and the rare hairy greenweed to thrive.
On the plateau a remarkable rockscape opens up. Jagged erratic rocks are mirrored by the rugged profile of Ramsey Island out to sea. North of Ramsey are the 'Bishops and Clerks', little islets, one of which is home to a big lighthouse. Offshore, you might be lucky enough to spot porpoise or dolphin playing in the waves.
A range of birds breed on the cliffs here each summer, from peregrine falcon to raven, and, swift to chough. St David's Head is about 15 miles from Grassholm, one of the largest gannetries in the world, with 34,000 breeding pairs of gannets. You can often see gannets feeding close to St David's Head, they plunge into the sea for mackerel, making a very large splash.
The route eventually passes Coetan Arthur and descends to an Iron Age coastal fort at the end of the peninsula. Continue on the coast path, returning to Porth Melgan. Retrace your route from here back to Whitesands beach.
Coetan Arthur is a Neolithic burial chamber dating from about 4000BC. It has a huge capstone almost 20ft (6m) wide, supported by a side stone over 3ft (1m) tall. It was almost certainly built this way, with one end resting on the ground, as an 'earthfast' megalith. It mimics the shape of Carn Llidi behind it. This coastline has a rich prehistoric past. There are also remains of ancient field patterns, enclosures and defensive banks dotted all around.
End: Whitesands beach car park, grid ref: SM734272
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- Trail: Walking
- Grade: Moderate
- Distance: 3.75 miles (6km)
- Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
- OS Map: Explorer OL35; Landranger 157
Clear route on rugged coastal paths, with some rocky bits, slopes and 70 steps. Why not explore further on minor paths, fire breaks and animal tracks as you go?
- How to get here:
By foot: On Pembrokeshire Coast Path
By bike: Easy detour off the Celtic Trail, National Cycle Network Route 4, which passes 1 mile (1.6km) from start of walk
By bus: Celtic Coaster shuttle bus, St David's to Whitesands beach, April to September
By car: 2 miles (3.2km) north-west of St David’s city, at end of B4583
- Telephone: 01437 720385
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/st-davids-peninsula/