Thirty miles up the road is St. David’s, which, like Tenby, is geared for tourism, much of it related to the coast path, with trinket shops, cafes and a small park lining the main road through town.
We found the town square, a neon-orange espresso shop, a surf shop and, eventually, St. David’s Cathedral — which appeared large enough to fit the rest of the town inside it — but didn’t fully grasp the map route on getting to the path. We stopped in at the Farmers Arms, a by-the-book Welsh pub and, after a pint (or so) of Carling, got directions to “the path” from the bartender.
Ten minutes later, Ann wasn’t convinced. “You’re sure this is the path?”
If it was the correct path, it was not the most well trod in the United Kingdom, really just a narrow corridor between a tall hedgerow and a barbed-wire fence. I knew there was a boot-packed rut beneath our steps, but we couldn’t actually see it. Grass on both sides created a tiny jungle canopy that engulfed our feet in a comical way — comical until I realized I couldn’t see uneven spots and that we didn’t know what else used this path. (The snakes that left Ireland had to go somewhere, right?)
Just as my claims of qualified navigator were starting to look thin, we met a 50-ish English couple in the corridor heading the other way.
“Is this the coastal path?” I said a little too hopefully.
Not yet, they said. Keep going and keep straight and right past the gate.
“Is this the path to St. David’s?” he asked.
Yes, I said. Turn right at the horses and left at the stop sign.
On Welsh paths, apparently, courtesy means providing more than a simple yes or no.
SCENTS OF NATURE
We trod on, passing through path gates and stopping occasionally to examine varieties of buttercup, Queen Anne’s lace and more violet thrift.
The aromas of walking the paths in Pembrokeshire seem to come a la carte: grass with a side of sea breeze, grass with a side of sheep dung and, well, just grass. We were standing at yet another vague junction in the path when a side order of salt-seasoned breeze was served. We cut through a caravan park, found an opening in an ancient wall and stepped toward the cliffs.
Other than a muttering or two in awe, we didn’t speak.
It was postcard-blue water lapping on pocket-size beaches of the sort more often associated with Grand Cayman than Great Britain. The cliffs were tumbled and tilted blocks, as if ruins of an ancient castle under constant attack — not by outside invaders but by its own moat.
We followed the well-marked path along the cliff top until we found St. Non’s Bay (and our bearings), and visited the saint’s chapel, supposedly built on the spot where she gave birth to Wales’ patron saint, St. David, in the middle of a storm in 500 AD. The drama of the scenery seemed appropriate to the history.
The location these days also has a spiritual retreat center that is accessible by car. But I considered the surroundings here, and on the coast along the path up to this point, and figured that to earn the view, you either have to be a saint or you have to be willing to walk.
As we headed up another path back to the Farmers Arms, I was pretty happy we chose the latter.