You can’t get any further west in Wales than the peninsula that has Britain’s smallest city, St Davids, at its tip. It marks the start of my longest coast to coast crossing of the country: fully thirteen OS Landranger Maps from 157 to 169. A horizontal line from the cove of St Justinians, where the St Davids lifeboat is kept, runs across to Walton-on-the-Naze on the Essex coast. Since this is also a railhead, I had an obvious place to aim towards. I would need to spend four nights in locations along the way and put in some serious days of cycling; but with the forecast still set fair, I felt this was doable. But first, I needed to get out to St Davids from Carmarthen.
As luck would have it, there was a handily timed train to the tiny village station of Clarbeston Road. This, in turn, was convenient for popping in to see parents of a friend back at home in Hathersage. I was not only greeted warmly in their rural Pembrokeshire home; but fed home made fruit cake and coffee and lent OS maps. Furthermore, it gave me a chance to leave behind my bags for a few hours while I rode the round trip of four hours or so to my starting point and back. I couldn’t have asked for more. It was a fine, sunny day; but the wind was high from the south west and it was set to get stronger still. I wanted that behind me.
It was a bracing day to be on a bicycle. I made it to St Davids despite the wind and bought some food to eat down by the cathedral. The cathedral sits in a natural hollow beyond and below the main streets of the village/city (it’s both) so that you have to descend steps or a long winding lane to reach the entrance to the walled cathedral close. You can just see the top of the tower peeping out at street level. Your first full view of the cathedral is dramatic as you look down upon it from above. This allows you to take it all in at once in a way I don’t think possible anywhere else. It appears as a surprise; but a good one. It looks old and important, the sort of place pilgrims would have travelled from afar to reach. Which, of course, is exactly what they did. This has been a place of worship and a holy shrine for many centuries, although the present building is mostly of Norman construction. It is the most important and impressive religious site in Wales, and well worth the effort it takes to get here.
Inside, the cathedral is equally wondrous and ancient. The carved wooden nave roof is a stand out feature, drawing the eye upwards to heaven above the two solid rows of semi-circular Norman stone supporting arches, which nowadays lean noticeably away from each other. You get a special thrill when you stand underneath the central tower and look upwards, high up to the painted wooden vaulting of its ceiling, forming a cross shape far above. Overall, despite being a large building, it manages to balance size with a sense of intimacy. You feel that it has kept its feet firmly planted on the ground over the centuries in this enclosed green valley. There is grass right up to the cathedral walls and not a vehicle within sight or sound, so you experience it much as you might have hundreds of years ago, a large and beautiful building dominating a hidden world. A stream flows right past the west front with a small stone bridge and a ford right next to it. It looked too deep and rough to cycle, but that didn’t put off someone’s dog.
The city of St Davids is the end of the main road; but the actual start of this longest coast to coast is a couple of miles further west at the dramatic cove of St Justinians. Here the small lane abruptly ends at a gate and from there you have to walk. Just beyond is the spectacular lifeboat station for St Davids, which stood high above today’s rough sea, the strong gale conditions whipping up the waves. The lifeboat is launched down a steep ramp and must be a sight to behold, hopefully rarely.
This was a fitting place to start or end a journey. It is dramatic, visually stunning, and elemental. Facing you across the waves is Ramsey Island, a nature reserve that can be visited on day trips. But not in this wind! And now it was time to use it to my advantage. I flew back from whence I had come, retracing my tyre tracks up and down the roller coaster main road, past the hidden inlet harbour at pretty Solva. Then it was back along more sheltered and quiet lanes to retrieve my bags and have one more piece of cake. I headed another twenty miles or so in the bright evening light, sheltering under trees for a few minutes when the heavens finally opened after sparing me all day. But it soon blew over.
I stayed in a restaurant with rooms and my bike found a resting space inside a greenhouse like structure that had presumably come about during COVID restrictions. As darkness fell, it looked happy, and I certainly was. A great day.