The first long-distance trail to trace the shoreline of an entire country, the Wales Coast Path offers an immersion into some of the Principality’s most charismatic scenery and legends. Dip your toe into the 870-mile route with one of three short walks, from the remote Llŷn Peninsula to dramatic Pembrokeshire.
Walk one: The west
Where the land runs out is a wild place, where the cliffs are the prows of ships, enduring the battering tides. Pembrokeshire’s south-westerly winds bring waves of freshened skies over the Celtic Sea. On a clear day, the whole western tip of Wales is visible; the Coast Path skirts the yawn of St Bride’s Bay in a long curve that runs between fields and the coves, cliffs and beaches, all the way from St David’s Head in the north to Skomer Island in the south.
Walking any stretch of the path reveals curiosities, from abandoned airfields to hermit’s chapels, but few sights are more peculiar than an oval eye of glass that gazes out of the clifftop at Druidstone, overlooking the middle of St Bride’s Bay. Known locally as the Teletubby House, it is home to former MP Bob Marshall-Andrews and his wife Gillian. The roof is turf and wild flowers; the whole structure landscaped into the ground.
‘It’s a very beautiful coastline to walk,’ Bob says. ‘To a certain extent repetitive – you round one headland and there’s another. It gives it a quality that’s quite unique in walking: after a while you stop being starstruck and enter into what it is. I love it – the islands offshore give it a frontier feeling.’
In the waves below are surfers; a benign cavalry of pony-trekkers from the village of Nolton Haven crosses the sand. It is a truly heavenly place to live.
A hundred yards away is the Marshall- Andrews’ local, the Druidstone Hotel. Part home, part refuge, its windows filled with sea-light, its walls crammed with pictures and its beds old and kind, the hotel has a bohemian enchantment. Beth Wilshaw and her husband Gus Bell are nominally in charge, but you could equally say that of their little girl Seren or cat Yoda.
‘People come down to dinner in a wetsuit or a tux; no-one minds,’ Beth says. ‘When someone rings and asks if there’s a pool I say yes, but it’s very big, and salty.’
The southern edge of that great pool is the Marloes Peninsula, where Wales runs out. The last of the land is the Deer Park, where the radiance of the light, the warm surges of the wind, the dark outlines of Skomer Island and Midland Isle and the streaming silver of Jack Sound – the tide-race between the peninsula and the islands – combine in pure invigoration. I feel I could launch myself into the air.
Turning left from the wuthering cliffs of the Deer Park begins one of the most beautiful walks in all Wales: the couple of miles along the coast path to Marloes Sands. Choughs fall headlong into the wind – they are supreme fliers, handsome with their black plumage and scarlet beaks and legs. Old beliefs held that they stole lit candles and burned hayricks; their Latin name, Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, means fire crow.
Another legend says that King Arthur did not die but turned into a chough, so harming one is very unlucky. The birds on this walk seem blessed and blessing.
The smells along the path are sweet reeks of bracken, heather and turf. The sea rushes white pounders at the cliff: other sounds are the ‘ciao!’ of choughs, the wind and wicketing crickets. A cormorant flaps across the water, fat on mackerel, along with great black-backed gulls, which sailors believed were souls of executed pirates. A ship appears, three-masted, with the mainsail up. A raven goes over. Some myths hold ravens to be messengers of sorcerers and gods: they are said to hear everything and report it to their masters. Greet one with a ‘pruk!’ and he may answer, as this one does.
In the death zone between the rock shoals and the breakers, two grey seals float and turn, fishing, peering, wallowing like fat ladies in a spa pool. The ground is springy and cushioned, starred with pink thrift.