St. David's to Solva
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Stage 17 St. DAVID'S to SOLVA (17th May 2015)

This is a classic stretch of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, clifftop walking but without the strenuous climbs and descents of, say, the North Cornish coast path. Between May and the end of September this area boasts a really useful set of bus services, targeted at getting walkers to and from their Pembroke Coast Path walk stages. This walk makes use of the Puffin Shuttle which runs along the main A487 road from St. David’s to Newgale, then continuing on minor roads to Marloes, out on the south west end of St. Bride’s Bay. Remember to carefully check the latest bus timetable before you set off.

From the central square in St. David’s take the SW road towards St. Justinians but almost immediately turn left along a track. The turn left again, walking behind City Hall. In around 50m take another track to the right. After about 150m at a T-junction of tracks turn right then in 50m turn left, between field, heading due South. The track dog-legs a couple of times before reaching the Pembrokeshire Coast Path just beyond a large grey stone building with a small stone chapel in its grounds. This is St. Non’s Retreat. (St. Non is reputed to be the mother of the eponymous St. David). Just behind the Retreat, in a field, are the remains of a chapel, thought to date from the mid-6th century, making it one of the oldest surviving Christian structures in the UK.

The first view of this coast is breath-taking. To the west the cliffs and headlands oscillate repeatedly to the tiny islands of Ynys Bery and Ynys Eilun, both just of the southern tip of the much bigger Ramsey island. To the East a similar sweep of dramatic headlands and coves is visible, with a stretch of sandy beach at Newgales and beyond. To the South across St. Bride’s Bay is a long promontory ending in the large island of Skomer (a major nature reserve) in the far West. The tall thin stacks of Milford Haven’s oil refineries can be seen above the centre of the promontory, if the weather is clear.

Follow the acorn signs going East, along the edge of St. Non’s Bay. Rounding the corner of the first headland the small beach of Caerfal Bay is visible, with a camp-site perched above it in fields and a short squat lighthouse beyond. Over this stretch the path maintains height beyond the next headland, with remains of ancient fortifications apparent. At the next narrow inlet (Caer Bwdy Bay) the path descends a little, past sturdy stone structures from an earlier quarry working time, then climbing again to the cliff top. It was from these quarries that the purple sandstone used in rebuilding St. David’s Cathedral was taken. Seen from a distance the cliffs have a strange banded appearance, with a clear black band persisting at the same level for miles, some way above high water but stopping well below the cliff top. Closer views show that distinctly parallel layers of strata of these Cambrian sandstone cliffs are lifted and eroded to give slabs which stick up at all angles. At sea level you can see angular cave openings and some natural rock arches in various stages of growth or collapse.

In mid-May the flowers on this stretch were stunning, great washes of thrift competing with gorse for dominance over the cliff edges and the stone walls inland from the path, with bladder campion not far behind in the profusion stakes. There were plenty of smaller clumps of colourful flowers too, bluebells, bird’s foot trefoil, some late violets and a mass of small bright blue six-pointed-petalled flowers (spring squill).

At Porth y Rhaw a narrow valley intrudes and the path descends almost to sea level to cross a stream next to the remains of quarry or mill workings. We sat here on a stone ledge in the sunshine for some time, watching wheeling crows and listening to a steady chorus of smaller birds. The climb up the other side of the valley is quite gentle. Beyond here the cliffs take on a more slate like appearance, glittering in the weak sunshine and with swirls and squiggles of strata, culminating in a massive natural arch penetrating the side of a small headland close to Segar rock.

There are substantial rocky islands offshore, (Green Scar, Black Scar and the Mare). The path seems to undulate on, unbroken, for miles. Then ahead, suddenly a deep fissure in space appears and the path is forced inland, up one edge of a steep-sided fjord (strictly, this is a ria, a drowned unglaciated river valley). The path follows just inside a field boundary for a few hundred metres before heading downhill, along the ria edge, into the unfeasibly picturesque setting of Lower Solva. The pretty inlet is crowded with small sailing boats and fishermens craft. There is the Solva Boating Club with café and toilets. Several derelict lime kilns are preserved here. Lime burning was a major source of trade for the port of Solva up to the 19th century. Limestone and coal were brought here by ships which also exported the finished product (for mortars or agricultural use). Sea transport was the cheapest form but with the spread of the railways small local lime kilns were replaced by larger ones, closer to bulk supply of the raw materials. We walked a little further for fish and chips at the Harbour Inn before going another 200m up the valley to catch the #400 bus back to St. David’s from outside the Solva Pottery.

Total distance walked 10.0km (6.3 miles) Ascent 190 m Time 3.5 hours.

The Pembrokeshire Coastal Path is one of the official UK National Trails, running from Amroth to St. Dogmaels, along clifftops, beaches and estuaries. The total length is 300 kilometres (185 miles).

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photos by Michael Beer

On St. Nons Bay

Flowery cliff tops

Pen y Cyfrwy

Caer Bwdy Bay

The 'rare' spring squill

Head high banks of thrift

Porth y Rhaw

Horses grazing the cliff tops

Green Scar island from the Cradle

Solva harbour ria