Must see attractions in North Pembrokeshire

  • Top ChoiceSights in St Davids (Tyddewi)

    St David's Cathedral

    Hidden in a hollow and behind high walls, St David's Cathedral is intentionally unassuming. The valley site was chosen in the vain hope that the church would be overlooked by Saxon raiders, but it was ransacked at least seven times. Yet once you pass through the gatehouse separating it from the town and its stone walls come into view, it's as imposing as any of its contemporaries. Built on the site of a 6th-century chapel, the building dates mainly from the 12th to the 14th centuries. Extensive works were carried out in the 19th century by Sir George Gilbert Scott (architect of London's Albert Memorial and St Pancras) to stabilise the building. The distinctive west front, with its four pointed towers of purple stone, dates from this period. The atmosphere inside is one of great antiquity. As you enter the nave, the oldest surviving part of the cathedral, the first things you'll notice are the sloping floor and the outward lean of the massive, purplish-grey pillars linked by semicircular Norman Romanesque arches, a result of subsidence. Above is a richly carved 16th-century oak ceiling, adorned with pendants. At the far end of the nave is a delicately carved 14th-century Gothic pulpitum (screen), which bears a statue of St David dressed as a medieval bishop, and contains the tomb of Bishop Henry de Gower (died 1347), for whom the Bishop's Palace was built. Beyond the pulpitum is the magnificent choir. Check out the mischievous carved figures on the 16th-century misericords (under the seats), one of which depicts pilgrims being seasick over the side of a boat. Don't forget to look up at the colourfully painted lantern tower above (those steel tie rods around the walls were installed in the 19th century to hold the structure together). Between the choir and the high altar is the object of all those religious pilgrimages: a shrine containing the bones of St David and St Justinian. Destroyed during the Reformation, it was restored and rededicated in 2012, adorned with five new Byzantine-style icons by artist Sara Crisp. Accessed from the north wall of the nave, the Treasury displays vestments and religious paraphernalia crafted from precious metals and stones. Just as valuable are the treasures in the neighbouring library (entry £1), the oldest of which dates to 1505. Towards the rear of the cathedral is the low-lit Holy Trinity Chapel, distinguished by a superb fan-vaulted ceiling dating from the early 16th century, and the light-filled Lady Chapel. Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd, the greatest of the princes of South Wales, and his son Rhys Gryg are known to be buried in the cathedral, although their effigies in the south choir aisle date only from the 14th century. Gerald of Wales, an early rector of the cathedral, has a gravestone here, but scholars suggest he is actually buried at Lincoln Cathedral. In August there are hour-long guided tours at 11.30am Monday and 2.30pm Friday; at other times, tours can be arranged in advance.

  • Top ChoiceSights in St Davids (Tyddewi)

    St Davids Bishop's Palace

    This atmospheric ruined palace was begun at the same time as St David's Cathedral, adjacent, but its final, imposing Decorated Gothic form owes most to Henry de Gower, bishop from 1327 to 1347. The most distinctive feature is the arcaded parapet that runs around the courtyard, adorned with a chequerboard pattern of purple and yellow stone blocks. The corbels that support the arches are richly adorned with a menagerie of carved figures – animals, grotesque mythical creatures and human heads. Interesting displays within the basements and ruined rooms bring each part of the palace to life. The distinctive purple sandstone, also used in the cathedral, comes from Caerbwdy Bay, a mile southeast of St Davids. The palace courtyard provides a spectacular setting for open-air plays in summer.

  • Top ChoiceSights in St Davids (Tyddewi)

    Oriel y Parc

    Occupying a bold, semicircular, environmentally friendly building on the edge of town, Oriel y Parc is a winning collaboration between the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and the National Museum Wales. Not only does it function as a tourist office and national-park visitor centre (open slightly longer than the gallery), it houses changing exhibitions from the museum's art collection. The focus is on landscapes, particularly scenes from Pembrokeshire's rich cache of natural beauty.

  • Sights in St Davids (Tyddewi)

    St Non's Bay

    Immediately south of St Davids, this ruggedly beautiful spot is named after St David's mother and traditionally accepted as his birthplace. A path leads to the 13th-century ruins of St Non's Chapel. Only the base of the walls remains, along with a stone marked with a cross within a circle that's believed to date from the 7th century. Standing stones in the surrounding field suggest that the chapel may have been built within an ancient pagan stone circle. On the approach to the ruins is a pretty little holy well. The sacred spring is said to have emerged at the moment of the saint's birth and the water is believed to have curative powers. Although pilgrimages were officially banned following the suppression of Catholicism in the 16th century, the faithful continued to make furtive visits. The site has now come full circle. In 1935 a local Catholic, Cecil Morgan-Griffiths, built the Chapel of Our Lady & St Non out of the stones of former religious buildings that had been incorporated into local cottages and farms. Its dimensions echo those of the original chapel. The Catholic Church repaired the stone vaulting over the well in 1951, and Morgan-Griffiths' house is now used by the Passionist Fathers as a retreat centre.

  • Sights in St Davids (Tyddewi)

    Ramsey Island

    Ramsey Island (Ynys Dewi) lies off the headland to the west of St Davids, ringed by dramatic sea cliffs and an offshore armada of rocky islets and reefs. The island is a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve famous for its large breeding population of choughs – members of the crow family with glossy black feathers and distinctive red bills and legs – and for its grey seals. You can reach the island by boat from the tiny harbour at St Justinian, 2 miles west of St Davids. Longer boat trips run up to 20 miles offshore, to the edge of the Celtic Deep, to spot whales, porpoises and dolphins. What you'll see depends on the weather and the time of year; July to September are the best months. Porpoises are seen on most trips, dolphins on four out of five, and there's a 40% chance of seeing whales. The most common species is the minke, but pilot whales, fin whales and orcas have also been spotted. Thousand Islands Expeditions is the only operator permitted to land day trippers on the island, where they can explore some of its 3½-mile walking circuit. Voyages of Discovery, Aquaphobia and Venture Jet head out to the island but don't land there.

  • Sights in St Davids (Tyddewi)

    St Davids Head

    This atmospheric heather-wreathed promontory, formed from the oldest rock in Wales, was fortified by the Celts. The jumbled stones and ditch of an Iron Age rampart are still visible, as are rock circles, once the foundations of huts. The tip of the headland is a series of rock and turf ledges, a great place for a picnic or wildlife spotting – in summer you can see gannets diving and choughs soaring. Adding to the ancient ambience, wild ponies can often be seen. Further along the grassy path an even older structure stands. The simple burial chamber known as Coetan Arthur (Arthur's Quoit) consists of a capstone supported by a rock at one end and dates to about 3500 BC. The rocky summit of Carn Llidi (181m) rises behind, offering panoramic views that take in Whitesands Bay, Ramsey and Skomer Islands and, on a clear day, the coast of Ireland on the horizon. Look for the remains of two neolithic chambered tombs just below the start of the concrete path leading to the lower of the two rocky outcrops at the very top. Rather than backtrack on the coast path, another route leads down the landward side of Carn Llidi, past Upper Porthmawr Farm, joining the main road to Whitesands just past the caravan park.

  • Sights in St Davids (Tyddewi)

    Whitesands Bay

    This mile-long sandy beach is a popular surfing, swimming and strolling spot. At extremely low tide you can see the wreck of a paddle tugboat that ran aground here in 1882, and the fossil remains of a prehistoric forest. If Whitesands is really busy – and it often is – you can escape the worst of the crowds by walking north along the coastal path for 10 to 15 minutes to the smaller, more secluded beach at Porthmelgan. Whitesands, 2 miles northwest of St Davids, has lifeguards, toilets and a cafe between May and early September. If you drive, expect to pay an extortionate amount for parking (£5 even for a short stop in winter!). Otherwise, catch the Celtic Coaster bus from the Oriel y Parc centre (summer only) or walk, but you're well advised to ask at the tourist office for directions.