A pilgrimage around St Non's Bay
Easy walking around the wonderful coastline that gave birth to the patron saint.
3.5 miles (5.7kms)
This walk makes a great evening stroll. The paths that lead from the city are pleasant and easy to follow but as always they're quickly forgotten as you step out into the more glamorous surroundings of the coast. The all-too-short section of towering buttresses and jagged islets leads easily to a spot that can claim to be the very heart of spiritual Wales – the birthplace of St David. The serenity of the location soothes the mind in readiness for the short jaunt back to the compact little city he founded.
Considering the immense influence he has had on Welsh culture, little is known about the patron saint himself. His mother is said to be St Non, derived from Nun or Nonita, who was married to a local chieftain called Sant. They settled somewhere near Trwyn Cynddeiriog, the rocky bluff that forms the western walls of the bay named after her. Legend suggests that David was born around AD 500, in the place where the ruined chapel stands today. Although a fierce storm raged throughout his birth, a calm light was said to have lit the scene. By the morning, a fresh spring had erupted near by, becoming the Holy Well of St Non and visited on this walk. St David went on to be baptised by St Elvis at Porthclais, in water from another miraculous spring.
Man with a mission
Judging from his parentage, David would have been well educated and it is believed that he undertook a number of religious odysseys, including one to Jerusalem, before he finally returned to his birthplace around AD 550. He then founded a church and monastery at Glyn Rhosyn, on the banks of the River Alun, on the site of the present cathedral, where he set about trying to spread the Christian word to the, mainly, pagan. St David's Day is celebrated on 1 March every year and St Non, who saw out her life in Brittany, is remembered on the day after.
St David's city
St David's is little more than a pretty village, though it boasts the title 'city' due to its magnificent cathedral. It's a wonderful place and doesn't seem any the worse for the amount of tourism that it attracts. Known as Tyddewi – David's House – in Welsh, the city grew as a result of its coastal position at the western extreme of the British mainland. It would have been linked easily by sea with Ireland and Cornwall. As well as the cathedral and the ruins of the Bishop's Palace, it houses a plethora of gift shops and the National Park information centre, close to the car park, is one of the finest in the country.
Turn left out of the car park in St David's and walk down the road, as if you were heading for Caerfai Bay. As the houses thin out, you'll see a turning on the right that leads to more dwellings. Take this turning, and then turn left on to a waymarked bridleway. Follow this bridleway between hedges, past the end of a road and on to reach a junction with another road.
Walk straight across and take the waymarked path to a fork, where you keep right to continue to a gate and, a few places later, a second gate. Continue down a path between gorse hedges to a third gate and carry straight on down the left-hand side of a field to a farmyard.
Go through the gate and turn left towards the farmyard and then right. As the drive swings left, keep straight ahead with the bank to your right. Continue across the next field and drop down between gorse bushes, keeping straight ahead at a crossroads of paths, to the road at Porth Clais. Turn left to the bottom of the valley and then, before crossing the bridge, turn left on to the coast path.
Climb up steeply on to the cliff tops, ignoring the path off to the left at the top, and follow the coast path towards Porth y Ffynnon. The next small headland is Trwyn Cynddeiriog, where there's a lovely grassy platform above the cliffs if you fancy a rest. Continue walking into St Non's Bay and look for a footpath on the left that leads to the ruined chapel.
From the chapel, head up to a gate that leads to St Non's Well and, from there, follow the path beneath the new chapel and straight ahead on to the coast path. Turn left to climb easily on to Pen y Cyfrwy, continue around this and drop down towards Caerfai Bay.
You'll eventually come out beneath the Caerfai Bay car park where you turn left and climb some steps. Go through the entrance of the car park onto the road which you follow back to St David's and the start of the walk.
Coast path and clear footpaths over farmland
Leafy countryside and dramatic cliffs
On lead around St Non's Chapel and At Non's Well
OS Explorer OL35 North Pembrokeshire
Pay-and-display car park in St David's
Next to tourist information centre
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About the area
Wales meets the Atlantic Ocean in spectacular fashion at Pembrokeshire. Unlike the West Country, Pembrokeshire can offer the coast without the crowds, and quaint fishing villages without those huge coach parks. Volcanic eruptions and earth movements have left a tortured rocky coastline of some 160 miles, whose beauty and drama have been recognised by National Park status.
Sometimes known as ‘Little England Beyond Wales’, the county has held a fascination for English visitors ever since the first Norman warlords forced their way in 800 years ago, leaving a string of 50 fine castles in their wake. The anonymous author of The Mabinogion, an 11th-century collection of Welsh folk legends, started it all. His description of the old Celtic kingdom of Dyfed (which encompasses Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire) as ‘the land of magic and enchantment’ was perhaps the earliest written attempt to sum up the outstanding natural beauty of this wonderful westernmost outpost of Wales. This is a county where you can take it easy on the sandy beaches, make sport out of those Atlantic waves, or discover the mysteries of St David’s or the ancient Preseli Hills.