British break: St Davids, Wales

The tiny Welsh city of St Davids is known the world over for its cathedral; now a burgeoning eco-scene is helping visitors to discover it in a whole new way...

4 mins

Like so many before me, I was drawn to St Davids – on Pembrokeshire’s westernmost tip – by tales of its saints and its history; in particular, the purple-hued cathedral that once made this a bustling centre for medieval pilgrims. Back in the 12th century, it was decreed by Pope Callixtus II that two pilgrimages to St Davids were worth the equivalent of a single journey to Rome; three, it was said, were equal to visiting Jerusalem. Even back then, this tiny Welsh city had a knack for offering up low-carbon alternatives.

Those in search of examples of the area’s centuries of unwavering religious commitment will find no shortage. The patron saint of Wales, St David (Dewi Sant), is a big deal to us Walians, and it was here that he founded his monastery in the 6th century AD, upon which now stands the present-day cathedral. It was also here that St Patrick was said to have set sail for Ireland on his mission to convert its people to Christianity.

This twin heritage is preserved in myriad activities, from trails following in the ‘footsteps of St David’ to Celtic chapels and holy wells where prayer beads still decorate saintly statues. But that is very much just one side of life here.

Pembrokeshire is one of the smallest UK national parks (Jade Braham)

Pembrokeshire is one of the smallest UK national parks (Jade Braham)

Foraging for seaweed (Jade Braham)

Foraging for seaweed (Jade Braham)

Despite being Britain’s ‘smallest’ city (in both population and size of urban area), St Davids still has room for a wealth of experiences centred around another theme entirely: sustainability. This is reflected in its status as Wales’ first bee-friendly city, as well as some of its more interesting quirks. Soon after arriving, I found myself devouring a ‘bug burger’ at Grub Kitchen, the UK’s only full-time insect restaurant/café and part of a local research centre focused on sustainable food production and wildlife conservation. Much to my surprise, it was rather tasty.

What Grub Kitchen highlights is that there’s far much more to St Davids than just postcard charm. There is a growing trend here towards sustainable escapes, and it is being spearheaded by local guides leading foraging tours, trips helping visitors to reconnect with the ocean by exploring the coast, and culinary geniuses incorporating wild ingredients into their recipes. Like the saints of long ago, the city’s locals are on a mission to change the world around them.

I, for one, am a happy convert. St Davids is, for me, where horizons are broadened, and I would bet that most visitors gain a deeper appreciation of their place on Earth just by being there.

How to spend 48 hours in St Davids

Day 1

St Non's Chpael (Jade Braham)

St Non's Chpael (Jade Braham)

St David once said: “Be joyful [and] do the little things.” There is perhaps no better advice for exploring his namesake town. For starters, download the St Davids Pollinator Trail map and follow the City Trail, learning just how this became Wales’ first bee-friendly city. Begin your exploration at Oriel y Parc, an award-winning ‘green’ building that usually has one or two environmentally themed exhibitions as well as art and artefacts from the National Museum of Wales on show. Next, venture to Really Wild Emporium, which sells products made from foraged and found ingredients, then drop in on TYF, which has ethically-made clothing and equipment and also offers coasteering, wild-swimming and kayaking tours along the Pembrokeshire coast. The trail ends at St David’s Cathedral, where you will find a shrine to the saint himself. Adjacent to this is the opulent Bishop’s Palace, which is where the clergy once entertained important pilgrims. From here, walk to The Mill Café for a lunch of smashed avocado with poached eggs and vine tomatoes, before visiting St Non’s Chapel, the birthplace of St David. Finish the day at Blas Restaurant, whose menu champions local produce such as that of sustainable seaweed farm Câr-y-Môr.

Day 2

Whitesands Bay (Jade Braham)

Whitesands Bay (Jade Braham)

Day 2Start your day at The Bug Farm, a research centre that is doing its bit to lessen the environmental impact of what we eat, including teaching visitors about sustainable farming and the merits of using insects as food. Here you will also find the Bug Museum, the Tropical Bug Zoo and, lastly, Grub Kitchen, where – having put aside all squeamishness – you can taste cricket cookies, bug burgers and mixed-insect pakoras. Afterwards, step back in time over a thousand years as you search for St Patrick’s Chapel in the sand dunes overlooking Whitesands Beach. This excavated site is said to be where the eponymous saint set sail for Ireland; some 100 human remains have also been found in its cemetery, which dates back to the 6th century. Afterwards, stroll to the hidden Porthselau Beach for sweeping views of St David’s Head before returning to Whitesands to meet forager John Mansfield from Wild About Pembrokeshire, whose foraging courses and walks teach travellers about the many different types of seaweed, their health benefits and how to find them. The perfect end to the day is to dine at Really Wild Emporium, sampling a six-course tasting menu brimming with seaweed that you will probably have seen (and maybe even picked) earlier in the day.

Ask a local

“I love that St Davids is so wild and that there is so much sky. You can see the clouds moving and storms coming in. That’s something you don’t normally get – even when there’s lots of mountains – and I’ve found this to be quite profound. So, I’d suggest going rock-pooling, especially at Abereiddy, which has lots of wildlife along the coast that not many people see.”

- Tabitha Gibbons, research and conservation team member at The Bug Farm

Four top things to do in St Davids

DETOUR to Lammas Ecovillage. Named after the Celtic festival of harvest, Lammas is a collection of 15 smallholdings representing different ways to live sustainably and off the grid. Saturday tours (Apr–Oct) explore the community and its mosaic of ecosystems, passing turf-built dwellings and woodlands.

SAIL towards the Pembrokeshire Islands. These isles are known for their diverse wildlife, including leaping porpoises and myriad seabirds. The two-hour Islands Voyage cruise (Apr–Oct) passes rock gorges, sea caves and the Bishops and Clerks Rocks. It is best to book in advance.

HIKE to Carn Llidi. The walk begins at the Whitesands car park and passes bushes of yellow gorse, a promontory, and the site where St Patrick’s Chapel used to stand. Continue inland and uphill, hiking towards the summit and gaining views across to Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains. 

EXPLORE with TYF, whose passionate team helps individuals reconnect with nature, whether via coasteering tours, trips to examine rock pools, paddleboarding on the River Teifi, or by conquering the surf at Whitesands Beach. 

Essential travel information for St Davids

Twr Y Felin Hotel

Twr Y Felin Hotel

Getting there: By far the easiest way to reach St Davids is to drive. The journey from London takes just over five hours, following the M4 west before joining the A40 to Haverfordwest, then picking up the A487 to St Davids. You can also hop on a train from London Paddington to Haverfordwest. From there, catch the T11 bus to St Davids.

Stay at: Twr y Felin Hotel is Wales’ first contemporary art hotel, featuring over 100 pieces of local artwork. This former windmill has many eco-friendly initiatives, such as plastic-free, biodegradable slippers, compostable coffee pods and solar panels. Its restaurant focuses on seasonality, with many ingredients being locally sourced. There are 41 rooms;

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