When it comes to coast paths, circular walks are a means to an end, but connoisseurs will always prefer the simplicity of a linear route, especially as there’s no need to dilute the quality of the coastal section with often less interesting terrain. The key to success is public transport and fortunately there are a few stretches of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path that link well with buses – the county now boasts six separate services shuttling around the coast – to allow some of the finest walks to be completed without compromise. This section, along the northern reaches of St Brides Bay, is one of the best.
Half-way along the walk lies Solva, a village divided into the larger Upper Solva and the more picturesque Lower Solva down by the harbour. It was this harbour that gave Solva its raison d’être and in the Middle Ages the village became a hub for trading in the St Brides Bay area. Solva’s well-preserved lime kilns are testament to the harbour’s importance as a dropping off point for limestone, which would be heated to produce lime. This would then be spread over the fields to increase fertility. Wool and woollen produce were also traded at the harbour. Indeed, Solva Woollen Mill, a short distance from the village at Middle Hill, claims the crown as the oldest continuously working woollen mill in all of Pembrokeshire. Moved from St David’s to its present location in 1907 by one Tom Griffiths, it was equipped with a 10ft waterwheel and all the machinery necessary to turn fleeces into useable fabric. The wheel powered a number of looms but there was also a hand loom on site which was used for weaving stair-carpet. The mill has been restored in recent years and makes for a fine detour.
If you want to turn your walk into a mini adventure without pressing your boots into further service, you can take a two-hour cruise on the MV Swift from Solva harbour to seek out the delights of the north side of St Bride’s Bay right up to Ramsey Sound.
A minute island off Solva, Green Scar – and its even smaller companions Black Scar and The Mare – can be seen for a good deal of the walk. Green Scar is a popular diving spot where an underwater cave can be explored. It is also the scene of a shipwreck. Divers have reported seeing bits of an old boiler protruding from the sands beneath the southern cliffs and a rusting anchor chain.
Turn left out of the car park in St David’s and walk down the road towards Caerfai Bay. You’ll meet the coast path on the left-hand side of a small car park. Follow it down, ignoring a right turn to the beach, and bear south to round a broad promontory, tipped with a rocky bluff. The path swings left and drops down to Caer Bwdy Bay, where you’ll pass a ruined mill on the left. Climb back up on to the cliff tops to continue above Carreg y Barcud and around another inlet. The next section slips by easily, above a series of caves and arches, before you drop steeply down to Porth y Rhaw.
Climb out again and enjoy huge views over more cliffs and bluffs. One mile (1.6km) after Porth y Rhaw you'll be drawn back inland as the path dips into the sharp gash of Solva. Go through a gate and follow the the field edge down to another gate, where you turn right. This leads on to a narrow track. Follow this down and then around to the left. Continue beneath houses before dropping down a waymarked path on the right that leads down steps to the harbour. Follow the harbour wall along to the Harbour Inn and Thirty Five cafe.
Cross the bridge and turn left and then right to rejoin the coast path. After taking a right fork to pass above some fantastically well-preserved lime kilns, follow the path up on to the ridge of Gribin. The names Gribin or Cribin, literally translate to ridge. At the seaward end you’ll pass the banks of an Iron Age settlement. Turn left at a waymarker to drop steeply down steps to a footbridge in the valley below. Cross the pebbles at the back of the beach and climb steeply up on to the headland of Penrhyn. Don’t be drawn right here but at the top turn left almost back on yourself to rejoin the cliff edge, a short distance further on. The path continues to climb steadily from this point, passing above a few beautiful beaches before dropping slightly above the pronounced rocky peninsula of Dinas Fawr. An airy scramble along its back makes a great excursion if time allows. Continue easily above Stacen y Brenhin and then drop again into a deep valley by Porthmynawyd. Cross a footbridge and climb the path back on to the cliff tops once more.
The wide sweeping sands of Newgale are now visible ahead and, as you are drawn back inland at Cwm-bach, you should be able to see if the tide is low enough to allow you to finish the walk on the beach itself or whether you'll need to climb back up on to the coast path from Cwm Mawr. Climb away from Cwm-bach and then, almost immediately, drop into Cwm Mawr. The beach is accessed by a short scramble down rocks on the right. If the tide's out, continue easily along the beach, past a number of huge caves, to Newgale. Once on Newgale Beach, keep the cliffs to your left and walk up to the huge pebble bank above. Scale this and cross behind the small stream to gain the road. If the tide's too high, climb away from Cwm Mawr and continue along the coast path, with fantastic views west along the coast. This leads out on to the road at Newgale, where you turn right to drop to the village.
High cliffs and sheltered coves
Care needed near cliff edges
OS Explorer OL35 North Pembrokeshire
Pay-and-display car park in St David's
By tourist information centre at start and at Solva harbour
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
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.