A high-octane active holiday on Wales’s wild Pembrokeshire Coast
For a person who spends much of their life seated behind a keyboard and for whom the height of derring-do is choosing to have two coffees before midday, there is something pleasingly intrepid about donning a wetsuit.
Feeling rugged and dynamic, I went to leave the changing room to collect my helmet and lifejacket, only for a kindly fellow adventurer to lean in and whisper discreetly “it zips up at the back”.
Correcting my mistake was tiring, but more substantial exertions were to come during my stay in Pembrokeshire earlier this summer.
Invented in Wales’s most westerly county in the 1980s, “coasteering” is the name for the novel pursuit of scrambling along a coastline, jumping into and out of the sea as you go.
With our Preseli Venture guides Ollie and Ali (the latter reassuringly training to be a paramedic), our eight-person group entered the sea on the north Pembrokeshire coast near Mathry, swimming a short distance before clambering out and scuttling along the rocks.
Picking our way was an enjoyable challenge (pro-tip: barnacles offer grip, seaweed is a banana skin), but things stepped up a gear when we hopped back into the water and entered a channel between two cliffs.
Our guides had said things would get rougher as we turned a corner, but none of us were quite prepared for what literally hit us. Now I know how laundry feels.
Breasting the waves, steering away from boulders and cliff faces with your feet, while all the time battling to advance up the channel was high octane, thrilling stuff, seasoned with a sprinkling of what felt at the time like mild peril. Half our group made it to the end before our guides took the decision to make a strategic retreat.
Temporarily thwarted by Mother Nature, we hiked over the cliffs in search of a calmer spot. On our way we had the good fortune to spot a pair of nesting choughs – the rarest member of the crow family in the UK, with a charming red bill and legs. Ollie also introduced us to several types of edible seaweed, including pepper dulse, which tastes remarkably like its namesake.
No coasteering session is complete without a cliff jump. Nervously eyeing my landing zone (“those rocks do look quite close”), I heeded Ollie’s advice to “look out and jump positive”. Sharp drop, deep plunge and after resurfacing, pure exhilaration – the perfect way to finish.
For lunch, it was a short drive to Porthgain where we relived the thrills and spills of the morning over fish and chips from The Shed, a popular bistro in the picturesque harbour.
Porthgain sits in the shadow of a ruined brickworks – now a protected archaeological site – which once served quarries further down the coast. We opted for a more laid back afternoon, picking up the Pembrokeshire Coast Path above the village and strolling south west.
I have been on some beautiful coastal walks in the UK, but the sheer drama of Pembrokeshire may top them all. Cubist cliff faces, headlands vanishing to the horizon, craggy rocks menaced by crashing waves and foam – every twist in the path was a revelation. We walked as far as Abereiddy Beach to see the Blue Lagoon, a former quarry flooded in the early 20th Century where the slate lends the water a beguiling deep blue colour.
After a full day, we returned to our hotel. Crug Glas is a country house on a 600-acre family-run working farm near St Davids. Our room was a handsome retreat – carved wooden bed, Georgian wallpaper, paintings and cameos in gilt-edged frames. After a day on the coast, I was most impressed by a gloriously opulent free-standing bath – ideal for washing away the sea-salt and dust of the day.
In the evening we headed to St Davids. We took a quick turn around the UK’s smallest city – the cathedral was splendid in the evening light – before dinner at St Davids Gin and Kitchen. Smart, contemporary décor, warm service and excellent, locally-sourced food and drink, there was nothing not to like. I had a G&T infused with seaweed hand foraged from nearby St Justinian’s (if you buy a bottle at the bar afterwards you will also be supporting the RSPB). The half lobster Thermidor was lip-smackingly good.
The next morning we went for a ride on bicycles delivered by Pembrokeshire Bike Hire. The lanes and byways of Pembrokeshire are just as diverting as the coast path, their green banks garlanded with pink fox gloves and red campion. It was 20 minutes to St Davids Airfield.
Used by the RAF in the Battle of the Atlantic during the Second World War, the disused site has been reclaimed by nature, and its level trail makes for gentle cycling terrain.
Part of the airfield is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and as we happily pedaled our circuit, we were lucky enough to catch the liquid song of skylarks nesting in the scrub.
In the afternoon we had a surfing lesson booked with The Big Blue Experience at Newgale Beach. But when we arrived, owner Ed gave us an apologetic grimace: “It’s flat”.
Not only was it like a millpond, but the offshore wind also ruled out stand-up paddle boarding. Such is life and the British weather. The pleasure of walking the attractive, sandy beach was ample consolation.
Back at Crug Glas, we dined at The Cow Shed – the wedding venue which doubles as a restaurant. A decade ago it really was a cow shed. But after the farm switched from dairying to beef and cereal, the only ruminants it now serves are of the two-legged variety. The bubbles in my sparkling rosé were gentler than the spume of the coasteering. But in Pembrokeshire, both have their place.
Where to stay
Crug Glas has B&B from £160, rarebits.co.uk/
Where to visit
Preseili Venture offers half-day adventures from £60pp, preseliventure.co.uk
Pembrokeshire Bike Hire offers bike hire from £20 per day. pembrokeshirebikehire.co.uk
The Big Blue Experience offers surfing lessons from £35pp, thebigblueexperience.com
St Davids Gin and Kitchen, stdavidskitchen.co.uk
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