10 extraordinary spots along the Pembrokeshire Coast
The rainbow houses that line the streets of Tenby and the magnificent architectural design of St David’s Cathedral have put Pembrokeshire on the map. Its 186 miles of coastline, featuring over 50 pristine – and in some cases wild – beaches have also helped its reputation. The coastline has been rated by experts at National Geographic magazine as the second-best in the world, so is it any wonder travellers flock to here all year round?
But beyond the postcard-perfect front, there are lesser-known rocky headlands, towering sea stacks, monumental cliff archways, and secluded coves that make Pembrokeshire’s diverse landscapes extraordinarily beautiful.
Imagine walking the rolling hills of Barafundle Bay or marvelling at the geological wonders of Elegug Stacks and the Green Bridge of Wales. Alternatively, jumping into the cold depths of the Blue Lagoon at Abereiddi is bound to get your heart pumping, while inhaling the salty air from atop Carn Ingli – the biggest mountain in West Wales – to calm the senses.
If you’re already dreaming of these scenes, read on to find out the top 10 most striking and bizarre spots along the Pembrokeshire Coast.
St Govan's Chapel
St Govan’s Chapel is one of those places that seems to defy logic, and you’ll be forgiven for thinking it shouldn’t exist in the form it does. But this mysteriousness is precisely what makes the chapel unique to Pembrokeshire, and I can almost guarantee that there is not another religious establishment like this in Britain, or probably in the world.
Back in the 5th or 6th Century, there lived a humble monk by the name of St Govan. As he was walking along the coast, a gang of pirates descended upon him. It is said that the cliff above him miraculously opened, providing a place of safety in which he could hide until this belligerent group disappeared. The cleft then reopened, but St Govan decided to remain in this rocky cell, surviving on fish and water from a nearby sacred well, which you can still see.
The ‘bell rock’ at the top of the church is said to have been rung by St Govan every time pirates returned, warning anyone in the area to find safety. But as you can imagine, the pirates weren’t happy with this arrangement, so they stole the rock! A group of angels stole it right back, casting a spell to make it sound a thousand times more strongly when the pirates were next around.
Bosherston Lily Ponds
Less than two miles from St Govan’s is Bosherston Lily Ponds, which are situated in the Stackpole Estate, owned and managed by the National Trust. These ponds are believed to have been the spot where King Arthur obtained his famous sword, Excalibur. It is also suggested that the king sailed to Avalon, supposed to be the nearby Caldey Island, from here.
Whether you believe in these legends or not, Bosherston Lily Ponds is an area rich in swans and pike. In June and July, the waterlilies cover the lake’s entire circumference with white. In autumn time, the mile walk around the lakes is a haven of vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows which are exquisitely reflected in the waters. You might also spot an otter or two!
Positioned between Broad Haven and Freshwater East, Barafundle Bay is one of those places in Wales that looks and feels like it should be abroad, perhaps in Europe or the Caribbean. It’s owned by the National Trust, forming a part of the South Pembrokeshire Heritage Coast and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Parking is at Stackpole Quay, and from there it’s a half-mile walk over rugged fields to reach the beach, which has often been described as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Pembrokeshire, and as one of the best beaches in the world.
From waters of a cobalt blue and turquoise fusion, peppered with local and international fishing boats, it’s easy to imagine blissfully curling your toes into the sand while the sun casts its rays across your skin.
This pristine and tranquil beach is isolated, meaning there are no facilities, and it’s backed by dunes and trees, providing a rural and unspoilt landscape.
Every 10 years, a ghostly shipwreck, called the Sea King, emerges as the sand shifts. It’s believed to be a ship that ran into the rocks at Stackpole Head and drifted onto shore in the 1880s or early 1900s.
Church Doors Cave
Hidden at Skrinkle Haven on the South Pembrokeshire Coast, near Manorbier, is a geological wonder named Church Doors Cove. It’s so-called because the sandstone cliff has a high arched cave that resembles a church doorway.
Its remote location means that Church Doors Cove is often overlooked by larger beaches, but this adds to its charm. There are no sounds of civilisation to spoil the seagull’s cry and waves crashing against the rocks.
The coves are backed by cliffs, and the only way down is via some steep steps. But the challenge is worth it! There’s lots of sand at low tide, but at high tide, the beach disappears. There’s a smaller cave to the right, and at low tide, you can scramble through this to Skrinkle Haven Beach, which is inaccessible except at these times, or by kayak.
Situated in the North of Pembrokeshire, Carn Ingli is the largest mountain in West Wales and features one of the oldest and most impressive Neolithic hillforts in the country. There’s a legend claiming that whoever sleeps on the top of the mountain will meet angels and they will whisper their secrets to you. It takes roughly one hour to hike to its summit, and 45 minutes to descend.
But the effort to reach the top is well worth it, as you’ll see the Irish Sea and Newport Bay, along with an endless carpet of green countryside known as Nevern Valley. In the distance, there are several other peaks hosting Neolithic hillforts, providing a glimpse into the hive of prehistoric activity in the area.
To reach the summit, you must pass a topography of rocks dating to the Bronze Age. As you get closer to the top, you’ll pass an Iron Age settlement with slope and rock cliff defences, stone embankments, hut circles, and terraced enclosures.
The Elegug Stacks are two dramatic limestone cliffs resembling two large pillars. Elegug is the Welsh name for guillemot, the type of sea bird which often frequents the tops and ledges of the Stack Rocks. Other birds to look out for here are razorbills, kittiwake, herring, fulmar, and black-backed gulls. During the winter, you’ll discover lapwings, crows, and thrushes; and, thanks to its unspoilt surroundings, there’s a rich colony of rare butterflies, including the dark green fritillary.
The Green Bridge of Wales
A short walk from the Elegug Stacks is the Green Bridge of Wales, a natural archway that has been formed by crashing waves, pebbles hitting its surface, sand particles drifting away, and chemical erosion that dissolved the limestone.
All of this, over time, eroded the mineral into the arch formation we see today, which is about 80 feet high and has a span of 66 feet. Due to its dimensions, the National Arch and Bridge Society has labelled it as ‘probably the most spectacular arch in the United Kingdom’. The top part of the arch is covered with green vegetation, hence the name.
The whole area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Protected Area, and a Special Area of Conservation, meaning it is one of the best places in Pembrokeshire to see ancient fossils and pristine landscapes.
St Justinian's Harbour
The bay in which St Justinian’s Harbour stands is known as Porthstinian, which features the current St Davids Lifeboat Station, two former stations, and the ruined chapel of St Justinian.
The latter is a Grade-I-listed building now on private property, and the area gets its name from a 6th or 7th-century monk who was known as Stinan, or Justinian. This monk soon became friends with St David, the patron saint of Wales, and settled on the nearby Ramsey Island. Unfortunately, some didn’t like him, and he was subsequently beheaded.
The quaint harbour is a great starting point to hike the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Expect to find maritime heath and grasslands, as well as wildflowers like thrift, thyme, campion, squill, and crowfoot.
The Witches Cauldron
Known in Welsh as Pwll Y Wrach, the Witches Cauldron is a collapsed cave or crater that formed after the sea eroded the soft rocks. This geological wonder is near Moylegrove, and you can hike to it from Ceibwr Bay. Moylegrove is probably the prettiest chocolate-box village in Wales, and Ceibwr Bay is a tranquil beach with a rich smuggling history.
The path to reach the top of the cave is about 700 metres. Alternatively, you can kayak through the coves, straight to its iridescent blue-green water. It’s here you can search for the legendary sea witch. Although, do this at your own peril because, as legend would have it, the sea witch uses the cave as her lair to consume any who venture in alone. Those who kayak into the cave will discover many intricate tunnels, as well as seals and choughs.
The Blue Lagoon
Abereiddy Beach is a wonder for its extraordinarily dark sand made from grey slate, but it’s the Blue Lagoon north of the beach that’s truly astonishing. The lagoon was formerly the main slate quarry for the St Brides Slate Company up until 1910, and just as the slate makes the sand at Abereiddy unusually dark, it makes the water at the lagoon a vibrant aqua blue.
Any history fans will delight in exploring the ruined quarry buildings sitting on the clifftop, and the remains of the workmen’s cottages are near the car park. The Blue Lagoon is an excellent spot for coasteering and climbing the cliffs!