Field Guide: Pembrokeshire

Britain’s only coastal national park boasts spectacular scenery, stunning wildlife and endless opportunities for adventure on land and sea, from surfing and coasteering to sea cliff climbing, walking and biking.

24th November 2023 | Words by Alf Alderson

Stretching out into the Irish Sea, Pembrokeshire (or Sir Benfro in Welsh) lies at the very edge of southwest Wales. Most of Pembrokeshire is situated within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Britain’s only coastal national park and an area with some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in Europe. The coastline is also internationally important for its wildlife, with huge seabird colonies on the islands of Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm (named, incidentally by the Vikings – they don’t sound very Welsh when you think about it!). The region also boasts a large grey seal population and is home to a wide variety of cetaceans, including minke whales, orca, dolphins and porpoise.

The Gulf Stream washes Pembrokeshire’s shores and ensures that it has a mild climate year-round, which makes for a great outdoor destination. People have been surfing here since the sixties and coasteering was born on the St. David’s Peninsula in the late eighties, whilst sea kayaking is a great way to explore the islands. If you prefer to stay dry, the sea cliff climbing is second-to-none, the quiet lanes and country roads lend themselves to cycling and there’s plenty to discover on a mountain or gravel bike.

Pete Roberts, Pembrokeshire surf

And, of course, there’s the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, a 186-mile trail that’s also part of the 870-mile Wales Coast Path – explore it in short sections or all in one go (it typically takes an experienced hiker about two weeks to cover the whole length). Along the way, you’ll encounter a coastline that varies from towering sea cliffs to long, sandy beaches, quiet estuaries and hidden coves.

Pembrokeshire is also rich in history. The bluestones of Stonehenge were quarried from north Pembrokeshire’s Preseli Hills, where you’ll find stone circles and standing stones erected 5,000 years ago. Celtic culture thrives and the Welsh language is part of everyday life for much of the region; and impressive medieval architecture is much in evidence too, from the imposing bulk of Pembroke Castle to the warm purple sandstone of St. David’s Cathedral, tucked away in a valley in Britain’s smallest city.

How to get there

Pembrokeshire is several hours from most of the UK’s major cities. Road, rail and coach links tend to be rather slow – but it’s well worth the journey.

Via car

From the Northwest of England and the Midlands, most visitors travel via the M5/M50 or the M4. If you’re travelling from London and the south of England, then you can use the M4 motorway, which joins the A40 west of Swansea.

Via train or bus

There are sporadic train and bus services to Tenby, Pembroke, Haverfordwest, Fishguard and points in between. Check out the National Rail, National Express & Transport for Wales websites for more information.

Travelling within Pembrokeshire

Although most visitors get around by car, there are handy coastal bus services which run up and down the National Park coastline seven days a week from May to September and two days a week in winter. These are especially good for walkers wanting to access the coast path. They also take dogs and buggies.

In addition, Fflecsi buses will pick you up and drop you off in the service area and not just at a bus stop – the bus will pick you up at your request, changing its route so that all passengers can get to where they need to go.

When to go

Spring tends to be the sunniest and driest season. Summer is usually quite warm but busy with visitors, while autumn often sees lovely mild weather and quiet coastline and hills. In winter, Pembrokeshire will often be pounded by spectacular Atlantic storms; that said, the weather is notoriously difficult to predict. Snow is rare other than on the Preseli Hills, but it’s still worth bringing warm layers at any time of year. However, the one essential is a good waterproof jacket, as it can rain heavily at any time of year.

Whitesands and Carn Llidi 2

Don't miss

Pembrokeshire’s beaches are amongst the best in Britain. From popular surf beaches such as Whitesands and Newgale to quieter golden strands like Marloes, irresistibly pretty coves such as Barafundle and wide, open estuaries like Newport, there’s a huge variety to suit all weather and all seasons.

Water sports

Pembrokeshire is surrounded by the sea on three sides, so the obvious thing to do it immerse yourself in it – the more so since the waters here are ‘warmed’ by the Gulf Stream, so that late summer temperatures can approach 20°C in some spots, and even in winter it’s not unbearable with a good wetsuit.

Surfing has been popular throughout the area for over fifty years, and the idiosyncratic Pembrokeshire Surf Club has recently seen a resurgence in activity and members, reflecting the continuing growth of the sport in Pembrokeshire.

The most consistent year-round place for waves is Freshwater West in south Pembrokeshire, whilst in winter, when big swells hit, nearby Tenby and Freshwater East are worth checking out.

The more rugged north of the county sees surfers heading to Whitesands and Newgale, where there are also surf schools and all the other paraphernalia associated with 21st century surfing, but there are other, quieter breaks to be discovered by those prepared to explore.

Field Guide Pembrokeshire

Talking of exploring, sea kayaking is a fantastic way to discover Pembrokeshire’s wild coastline and spectacular offshore islands. A sea kayak allows you to access stretches of coastline that may otherwise be inaccessible, as well as getting close to marine wildlife (but PLEASE keep disturbance to an absolute minimum – seals, for example, can be easily disturbed, particularly at pupping time in late summer/autumn, and this can cause serious stress in the animals). More adventurous kayakers can head out to sea to explore the islands of Ramsey, Skomer, Skokholm and Caldey, for instance.

Windsurfing never really took off in Pembrokeshire due to the area’s capricious winds, but that said kite and foil surfing are becoming increasingly popular at wider, more exposed locations such as Newgale.

Sea Kayaking

Coasteering was ‘invented’ in north Pembrokeshire in the late nineties by TyF Adventure of St. David’s, and this energetic and exciting mix of sea cliff scrambling and traversing, swimming and plain old leaping into the sea from on high has now spread around the world.

The St. David’s Peninsula remains a popular location for coasteering, but there are locations throughout the county where you can enjoy it and plenty of guiding operations happy to show you the best routes.

Finally, of course, there’s the simplest of all water sports, swimming – or wild swimming as it’s now called. Depending on conditions you can dip pretty much anywhere around the Pembrokeshire coast, although you do need to be fully aware of rips and currents at more exposed beaches.


Other adventures

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path snakes around the region’s magnificent coastline from Amroth in the south to St. Dogmaels in the north and provides an easily accessible means of seeing the best of the coastline. You don’t need to walk far from even the busiest of access points to get away from the crowds, after which you’ll just have shrieking gulls, cawing choughs and just offshore maybe the occasional seal, porpoise or dolphin for company.

There’s also some fantastic walking inland, from easy trails alongside the sheltered water of the Cleddau Estuary or the deeply wooded Gwaun Valley to more challenging hikes through the Preseli Hills, where, on a clear day, you may enjoy views across most of southwest Wales, north to Snowdonia and even as far as Ireland’s Wicklow Hills in the west.

The south-facing, sun-warmed limestone sea cliffs of South Pembrokeshire offer some of the best sea cliff climbing in Britain, with routes to suit all abilities, whilst the rather more exposed sea cliffs of the St. David’s Peninsula also have a range of fine routes.

Rock climbing

There are a number of marked cycle routes around Pembrokeshire, some, such as the Brunel Trail between Neyland and Haverfordwest are largely traffic free and quite flat, making them ideal for families. Elsewhere the backroads can be very quiet, but the riding is often surprisingly challenging as the Pembrokeshire coastline is never flat for very long and the climbs between coastal villages, beaches and coves are often steeper and longer than you might expect.

Mountain biking in the area has had a shot in the arm recently thanks to the development of a new trail centre at Llys-y-Fran reservoir, with blue and red trails meandering around the reservoir, and associated bike hire and café facilities.

The reservoir lies in the shadow of the Preseli Hills, which have the best mountain biking in the area, with trails leading you up through deep green forests to the Golden Road, a 5,000-year-old trail across the top of the hills which takes you past ancient standing stones and Iron Age hill forts.

Tour of Pembrokeshire above St Brides Bay

Flora and fauna

The sea and the sky are where it all happens in Pembrokeshire, particularly around the islands. The offshore waters are home to a spectacular array of animals including Atlantic grey seals, dolphins, porpoise, sunfish, basking sharks, blue sharks, orcas, minke whales, pilot whales, Risso’s dolphins and more, and whilst you’re unlikely to see all of these on a trip out to the islands there’s every chance you’ll see at least a few of them.


Easier to observe are the wild bird populations. Skomer, Skokholm and Middleholm Island have between them around half the world’s Manx shearwater population – these tough little birds live in underground burrows and fly out to sea to feed at night.

Skomer also has the biggest puffin colony in southern Britain, whilst eight miles out to sea Grassholm island has the world’s third biggest population of gannets – the white ‘patch’ you can see on the island from the mainland is actually the gannet colony, some 39,000 pairs taking up more than half the island. It’s possible to take boat trips out to all the islands from various harbours around the coast.

Other birds to be found along the coastline include cormorants, shags, razorbills (the emblem of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park), kittiwakes, choughs, crows, several species of gull and peregrine falcons. The area’s estuaries are home to shelduck, grebe, dunlin, turnstones, ringed plover, redshank, oystercatchers and grey herons.

If you visit in spring, you’ll also enjoy a spectacular array of coastal wildflowers – white sea campion, yellow and red kidney vetch, violet-blue spring squill, pink thrift, bright white and yellow oxeye daisy, orange-red birdsfoot trefoil, bluebells and red campion are just some of the wildflowers that make a coastal walk in May and June a bright and colourful experience.

Dolphins Pembrokeshire coast

Where to stay, eat and drink


The old Norman coastal settlement of Newport is in a great location for outdoor action, tucked beneath the Preseli Hills and right beside the wide expanse of Newport Sands, and it’s home to the award-winning Llys Meddyg hotel and restaurant. This is not only a great place to eat, drink and stay but also offers e-mountain bike hire and guided rides (

Fishguard and Goodwick

Fishguard has an upper and lower town, the former often busy and bustling, the latter more serene and picturesque, situated as it is on the estuary of the River Gwaun, and there’s a near neighbour in the form of the Irish Sea ferry port of Goodwick.

They’re all good access points for the secluded Gwaun Valley and the Preseli Hills along with Pembrokeshire’s quieter north coast. A good accommodation option close to the centre of upper town is the James John Hamilton House & Backpacker Hostel, which is within easy reach of the town’s various bars and restaurants – one of the best is Hooked@31 for delectable fish and chips.


This rough and tumble old harbour village is perhaps best-known for The Sloop, a lively pub dating back to 1743 that often has live music and also offers self-catering accommodation. There are some great walks along the coast path from Porthgain – it’s close to Abereiddi and the Blue Lagoon, a popular coasteering destination and venue in the past for the Red Bull Cliff Diving Championships.

St Davids Cathedral

St Davids

Britain’s smallest city boasts a cathedral, a ruined palace, a compact and attractive centre you can walk around in minutes and a fine selection of bars, restaurant and shops. It’s a five-minute drive from Whitesands, one of Pembrokeshire’s most popular beaches, and the coastal walks around the St Davids Peninsula are some of the finest in Britain. A great B&B option is Ty Boia– the owner is also the founder of the Boia Music festival held every autumn in the city, whilst Grain does top notch wood-fired pizzas and locally brewed ales. There are several campsites close to St Davids and the coast, with those above Caerfai Bay and Whitesands being literally walking distance from the sea.

Bishops Palace


The pretty harbour village of Solva lies about three miles east of St Davids, with the coastal walk between the two settlements being voted one of Britain’s top ten walks. There’s a selection of pubs along the short main street along with several gift shops and galleries – check out The Ship, which also does B&B, and if you’re looking to camp, Nine Wells Caravan and Campsite is conveniently located mid-way between Solva and St Davids.


Dominated by its mighty Norman castle, Pembroke is a gateway to both the Daugleddau Estuary and the coast of South Pembrokeshire, particularly the wave-rich beach of Freshwater West and pretty Barafundle Bay. The town is full of attractive Georgian and Victorian homes and has a good selection of bars, eateries and shops – try The Quayside Café ( for coffee and cake – whilst there are numerous campsites out towards the coast. In town, check out The Old Stables ( for a bit of luxury.


Tenby, centred around its picturesque harbour, is the most popular holiday resort in Pembrokeshire, with a rich history reflected in its building, from the impressive 13th century town walls and Five Arches to buildings such as the 15th century Tudor Merchant’s House and the old sea water baths of Laston House. There are beaches to the north and south of the town and Caldey Island, just offshore, is accessible by boat from Tenby.

There are stacks of accommodation options to suit all budgets, from camping and caravan sites to B&Bs, self-catering and high-end hotels. Options for wining and dining are similarly numerous – try the historic Plantagenet House ( on Quay Street, or the Brewery Inn ( above the harbour.


This coastal settlement is a busy and popular holiday town characterised by its colourful harbour. There are great beaches either side of the town, and Tenby is within easy reach – one of the most popular spots to eat and drink is the historic Royal Oak just above the beach on Wogan Street.


Alf Alderson is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about adventure travel for 25 years, with his work appearing in a wide range of newspapers, magazines and websites globally. He divides his time between the Pembrokeshire coast and Les Arcs in the French Alps.

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