St Davids Pembrokeshire: the Smallest City in Britain
Any trip along the Welsh coastline would be incomplete without popping in on St Davids Pembrokeshire and its wonderful cathedral, great walks and whale watching trips.
Named after the Patron Saint of Wales, St Davids is also the smallest city in Britain with a population hovering around the 1,600 mark. The second smallest city is twice its size and also in Wales, but St Asaph (Llanelwy in Welsh) lies to the north of the principality.
Although St Davids only became a city in 1995, people have lived here since time immemorial. Tradition has it that the saintly David was born in what is now St Non’s, just to the south of the present city, in around 500AD.
Did you know that of all the four British patron saints, David is the only one to be born in his own country, as Patrick was Welsh, Andrew came from Galilee and George from Turkey?
Designated as a conservation area by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in 1972, the peninsula around St Davids has some of the most magnificent coastal scenery in Pembrokeshire. It is a key component of any walk along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
Today, St Davids is a quiet place that has maintained its local charm, despite the advent of tourism, largely through the outlawing of any chain stores. All the shops, restaurants and galleries are individual and owned and run by local people.
Highlights of St Davids Pembrokeshire
The main draw is the magnificent cathedral, which dates back to the 12th century and contains many relics, including the remains of St David. There were previous structures on the site but these were all destroyed. A site of pilgrimage, William the Conqueror walked here in 1077, Henry II in 1171 and Edward I in 1284. The Cathedral is still in use and has an annual festival, with 2018’s scheduled for May 25 to June 3.
Next to St Davids Cathedral lies the ruins of The Bishops Palace, which will appeal to those who prefer walking around ruins. Now run by the Welsh historic buildings agency, CADW, the palace became one of the many casualties of Henry VII’s marriage squabbles and the Reformation. Once a grand fortified residence, it was one of several grand residences in Pembrokeshire including Lamphey Bishop’s Palace and Llawhaden Castle.
Getting to St Davids Pembrokeshire
Those coming by train should disembark at either Fishguard, where there are ferries to Ireland, or Haverfordwest. Both stations have a bus service to St Davids several times a day.
The Puffin Shuttle bus runs along the Pembrokeshire coastline throughout the year, although the service is reduced from September to April. Connecting various points along the coast between St Davids and Fishguard, ramblers can hop on and off depending upon how tired they feel.
Things To Do in Pembrokeshire
Apart from genuflecting and rambling, the chief appeal of St Davids lies in the Irish Sea. In the heart of St Davids – not that it’s that big – TYF Adventure provides a range of activities including sea kayaking, climbing and surfing for the more adventurous traveller.
Whale and dolphin watching trips are popular in the summer, as are longer trips to see gannet nesting sites on Grassholm Island. Many boat companies offer these trips. Thousand Island Adventures also lands on the RSPB reserve on Ramsey Island, where you can watch nesting seabirds, such as guillemots and razorbills from April to October.
An easy circular day’s walk starting at the National Park Visitor Centre takes you to Carfai Bay and along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path to either St Justinians or Whitesands Bay, where you can double back inland to St Davids.
Also in St Davids, Oriel y Parc Gallery opened in 2008 to display some Welsh national treasures, including the works of artist Graham Sutherland, who often visited Pembrokeshire and lived here for part of his life. The gallery is open all year and is free of charge.
Restaurants in St Davids
The Refectory café and restaurant serves food for those wishing to loiter around the cathedral cloisters. There are several cafés, pubs and restaurants in St Davids itself.
Cwtch – which means a warm cuddle or hug in Welsh – is an award winning restaurant, while St Davids Kitchen specialises in local produce. There are also two pubs, The Farmers Arms and The Bishops, as well as the Sampler Tea Rooms.
St David’s and the Peninsula has a full list of your dining and imbibing options.
Accommodation in St Davids
For more information about St Davids Pembrokeshire
Mark Bibby Jackson
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