A lovely sunny, isolated idyll, one of many along the trail, this one at Brynhenllan near Newport
In 1952, the powers-that-be designated the coastline of Pembrokeshire to be a national park.
According to reports, it appears that they decided to confer national park status on this stretch of sandy shore for no other reason than it is simply spectacular.
It’s a decision with which it’s hard to disagree.
Fast forward 18 years and, in 1970, a path was opened that allowed walkers to experience pretty much all of that coastline, from its south-eastern extremity to its northernmost point.
The path is 186 miles long and, like all coastal paths, is a lot tougher than you maybe imagining. Coastal paths tend to undulate more than your average trail and after a while those gradients really start to wear down both spirits and stamina.
Thankfully, there’s a lot crammed within these 186 miles to keep souls from flagging. Most people will be interested in the beaches, of course, and, rarely for the UK, Pembroke has loads of the sandy variety; 58 to be precise according to one source. In between these are 14 harbours, and almost 50 towns and villages (and, famously, one city!) where you can find some great local food and some good value accommodation too.
All of which is very well, but the question remains: is the actual walk any good?
The answer is, in my opinion, yes – but it is a qualified ‘yes’…
If you read online reviews from walkers you’ll find almost universal praise. Hardly anybody has a bad word to say about any aspect of the trail (save, perhaps, for the weather – but this is Wales, so what do you expect?)
And I agree with pretty much everything they say. It is a lovely, lengthy stroll across a largely forgotten corner of coastline. It’s beautiful, it’s varied, it’s got a lot of history (including Carreg Sampson, a 5000-year-old Neolithic cromlech, or burial chamber, and the majestic Norman-built Pembroke Castle, birthplace of Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor dynasty) and some fantastic scenery and wildlife.
So why do I hesitate from giving it my wholehearted endorsement? Well, I realise I’m being unfair but I have to admit that, on my last trek along the whole trail, back in 2019, I did actually start to get a teensy bit bored by the end.
And this, I think, has been the only occasion on any long-distance trail where this has happened anywhere.
Whether it was just my particular circumstance – I was walking by myself, and I had actually walked the entire thing once before, back in 2007 – or whether it was the path’s fault, is I suppose up for debate. But the bottom line is that I found the last couple of days, and in particular the scenery on the last day, slightly monotonous.
In the path’s defence, it should be pointed out that even if the landscape is a little repetitive, it is at least a landscape that warrants repetition. The beaches tend to be golden, the seas often clear, the wildlife is prolific and the cliffs tall and sheer. I even enjoyed revisiting the path around Milford Haven, an area that has been blighted by industry and is often both dismissed and missed by walkers, but which I find to be quite interesting.
The towns, too, are largely great. Tenby is my personal favourite – a very pretty place with a great beach – but Pembrokeshire, with its imposing castle, and St David’s, the UK’s smallest city, both merit a lot of praise. Smaller settlements, such as Porthgain, Angle, Newport and, most exquisitely of all, Solva, are also worth investigating.
So I am happy to concede that describing the trail as tedious is, to an incredibly large degree, unfair. And it’s much more likely that my feelings about the last couple of days – and the last one in particular – actually says less about the path, and more about how curmudgeonly I’m getting as I enter my sixth decade.
So I would certainly not use my opinion of the end of the trail as a reason for not attempting this coast path yourself. By all means do come, do bring your walking boots, and I am 95% sure you’ll have a wonderful time on the trail. And if you do find yourself feeling a little grumpy and bored as you walk along, well, I think you need to sit yourself down, have a word with yourself – and just be grateful that you don’t have a miserable old git like me for company.