Wales' Premier Independent Travel Magazine

St Davids: Days Out In Pembrokeshire

Pembrokeshire staycation packed with pleasant surprises and beautiful scenery.
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Our recent trip to Carmarthenshire inspired us, so we were keen to venture a little further west, but where to stay? After a quick hunt on the internet we found Penrhiw Priory, the sister hotel to Twr y Felin, a hotel we have stayed at previously. It looked like another little road trip was on the cards – from Wales’ most southerly village to Wales’ most westerly city. Yes, St David’s has a cathedral which qualifies it to carry that status, but St Davids wasn’t always a city – it lost its status at one point and city status was reinstated by the Queen in 1994. But that’s another story…

Anyway, on a pleasantly warm summer Tuesday morning in mid July, and with a promising weather forecast (how often does that ‘occur’ in Wales?), we headed west – across the Vale to Porthcawl (Elvis Festival fame) to join the M4 motorway. Door-to-door, Penrhiw Priory is about two-and-a-half hours drive away. Not too far. When we drive to west Cornwall, it’s about four-and-a-half hours.

Once beyond St Clears and Haverfordwest, we decided to head for Solva, taking a more coastal approach. It added time to the journey but also some wonderful scenery. Arriving in Solva we fancied a bite to eat so headed for The Cambrian Inn – it looked nice and had received pretty good Tripadvisor ratings (although in our experience Tripadvisor can be incredibly hit-and-miss). Once inside, what followed can only be described as farcical. The service felt like a mix between Fawlty Towers and Monty Python. We can’t be too hard on them, but their approach to the ‘Covid rules’, combined with some pretty poor customer service, meant that staying was not an option. We parted company scratching our heads. To be fair to The Cambrian Inn, the menu looked good and we would certainly give them another shot in the future, once life is back to ‘normal’; everyone’s allowed an off day.

Foodwise, things didn’t really improve much in Solva. We tried two more establishments. At the first, something must have happened to us between The Cambrian Inn and there because we became invisible to the staff. So, again, we moved on. At the third establishment, while we were welcomed warmly, after sitting down at our table, we experienced the dreaded sticky table syndrome. As far as dining was concerned, that was the straw that broke the Solva camel’s back, we were off.

Warren S. Heaton (The Little Gallery, Solva)

As a parting, positive note to Solva, this quaint harbour village does have a creative ambience and one gallery in particular, for us anyway, qualified as its hidden gem. The Little Gallery, run by and featuring the work of the very talented Warren S. Heaton. A delightful chap who happily put down his brush to chat with us. We loved Warren’s work. If you’re in Solva, make sure you pop in and say hello (and hopefully purchase a painting), his work is excellent.

The Little Gallery, Solva

Next stop St Davids, and with an hour or two to kill before check-in at Penrhiw Priory, we thought we’d have a wander around the city. We were genuinely surprised how busy it was. This was a Tuesday and there were plenty of tourists on the streets. We immediately headed for an old favourite – St Davids Plant & Garden Nursery (The Plantsmans Nursery). This beautiful little oasis of gardening goodness was established in 1986 and is still tended by Bernie Stevens who has over 45 years experience. If you’re at all green-fingered, this has to be on your list of must visits in St David’s. It’s been featured in Sunday Times Style Magazine and the Journal of The Hardy Plant Society, and yes, there are plants are for sale.

After dropping our bags at Penrhiw Priory (more about Penrhiw later), we headed back into St David’s on lunch hunt. By now we were famished and The Farmers Arms caught our eye. It looked traditional and so we rolled the dice. Inside it’s very rustic – a proper country pub – eactly what we’d hoped it would be. Service was excellent and we were courteously informed that there would be a bit of a wait because “we’re as busy as we always are” – at least they had a sense of humour. Jennifer ordered home-made curry (of the day) and I opted for the beer battered cod. And what a cod! Plump and perfectly cooked and a fairly substantial portion to boot. At £13 this was excellent value for money. Jennifer’s curry was equally good – full of flavour and her request for sweet potato fries instead of the advertised half-and-half was also accommodated without a whimper. With very happy tummies we headed off to explore the area in our van.

Apologies, no image exists of the food at The Farmers Arms. We wolfed it down too quickly. Trust us, it was good. Next time perhaps…

Ask any of the locals and they’ll all offer their own favourite beach or cove as the ‘go to’ they think you should visit. Bottom line, they’re all beautiful and all can be a little difficult to get to. We’d seen many of them before, not being new to Pembrokeshire, but it was still great to visit a few favourites again: Whitesands Bay, Porthmeigan Beach, St Justinian’s and, further up the coast, Abereiddy Beach and Porthgain.

Perennial is lovely. Janice, a lady who works there, was so helpful and gave us some great advice

Later in the day, travelling along Llanrhian Road we came upon Perennial, another little gem. This fab gardens and cafe is a real must visit if you like plants, good coffee and cake. We like all three so this was heaven. A lovely wander around had us bumping into a lovely lady named Janice who was so very helpful and full of knowledge. We decided to take coffee in their secluded woodland area. This was served by the very charming Dominic who, as conversation revealed, was a mechanical engineer when he wasn’t serving good coffee. We talked prototyping and 3D printing for several minutes – it just goes to show that everyone you meet has hidden depths. To be fair, we’ve been interviewing people for years, it seems to come naturally to us and we always manage to discover interesting things about the people we meet. Perhaps we’re just nosey.

Dominic at Perennial. Excellent waiter and not a bad engineer (even if he does say so himself)

Having consumed some excellent Bara Brith (with plenty of butter), and good coffee, and grilled Janice and Dominic, we thought we should try a little coastal walk to reduce the calorie burden. We headed for Melin Trefin Mill. Parking was easy, although I imagine it could get quite busy in the summer months. We headed west along the coast for a few miles. The sky was blue and the views took our breath away.

Penrhiw Priory

Soon it was time to head for Penrhiw Priory just to properly check-in and freshen up – the day wasn’t finished yet. We do tend to pack a lot in on our road trips. Penrhiw Priory was originally built in 1884 by the Church in Wales as a Vicarage. It was built on the site of a large longhouse farm building and is a fine example of high Victorian architecture, built in Tudorbethan style.

Our bedroom at Penrhiw. Lovely (good shower too)

The excellent website is full of useful information, so I quote: “In the 1960s the property became a Priory for the Community of St John the Evangelist and was extended to twenty bedrooms, three reception rooms and a chapel. In 1985 the nuns left the Priory and it was sold by the Church in Wales in 1988 to Steve and Lis Cousens who ran it until 2000 as a centre for groups, hosting up to 30 people at a time. Tim Sime ran it as a Retreat for four years and then it was sold it to Adam Hill and Rachael Knott in 2004. Penrhiw was acquired by the Griffiths Roch Foundation in 2009. Penrhiw Priory reopened as a luxury eight bedroom bed and breakfast and exclusive use venue in 2012.”

As the evening was still young, we thought a drive up the coast would be in order. So, after a quick look at the map, we decided that Fishguard could be a promising destination. A mere half an hour away, it didn’t disappoint. The tide was out in the old harbour but it was still as pretty as a picture. We sat on the harbour wall looking out to sea watching the gulls squabble and the dogs splashing in the water at the bottom of the causeway. With the sun beating down on us, it was hard not to feel good at this point.

Fishguard is very pretty

Soon a couple turned up with paddle boards and we watched them get prepared for an evening excursion around the bay – the water was like a mill pond. There are some lovely little chocolate box cottages along the harbour. It seemed many were available for rent. We took a few numbers and strolled slowly back to the van. The evening was, for want of a better word, perfect.

The chances of finding accommodation in this area in summer are as slim…

Thursday 13th July

After a great night’s sleep in the super comfortable king-size Penrhiw Priory bed, and a hot shower, we were ready for breakfast.

Breakfast was delicious. And, you don’t have to stay in the hotel to enjoy it. While we were there a gentleman popped in for breakfast – no surprise really – everything was perfectly cooked and the kitchen use superb ingredients, as you’d expect from an establishment of this quality. I think it’s important to show our appreciation of the staff at this point. They are a relatively young team, compared to us anyway – they carried themselves well and couldn’t have been more helpful. They are a credit to the Retreats Group.

Last time we were in West Wales, we popped into Narberth but the weather was pretty miserable so couldn’t really appreciate it at its best. Not today, glorious sunshine bathed Narberth in the spotlight it deserves. This charming market town glowed in the late morning sun.

Narberth punches above its weight. We love exploring…

There are several good places to visit if your into crafts, art and antiques. I won’t name the businesses here, that would spoil the fun. It’s not a large town so mooching around is really worth doing. There’s plenty of parking too which makes life easier. A couple of favourites are The Malthouse Gardenalia & Plants and The Golden Sheaf Walled Garden.

Great tapas at Ultracomida

If you’re in Narberth then Ultracomida is a must visit. It opened its doors in 2005 (the owners already had one in Aberystwyth) and we remember it well as we were in the town that year. Nothing much has changed, thankfully. They describe themselves as “The best of Spain, just a click away”. In this case a short drive. After browsing and noticing that we were ten minutes away from the restaurant area opening, we thought it would be rude not to. Several excellent plates of tapas were consumed at a pace reflecting the ingredients’ leisurely journey plus a sharing of the obligatory almond tart. Jennifer enjoyed a couple of glasses of good Spanish red and all was good with the world – time seems to slow a little at Ultracomida – a very good thing.

With a few bottles of Spanish sulphite-free red wine we left and headed for a Cardigan. Now Cardigan, like most towns in the UK over recent years, has had a bit of a bashing – every town we visit has its fair share of boarded up shops and last time we popped in to this proud Welsh town its head had dropped and it was looking a little sorry for itself. Well, we’re delighted to say, on this beautiful July Thursday, Cardigan was looking very smart indeed. It’s picked itself up over recent years and many of the empty shops have been occupied by new indie businesses which has given the town a much more optimistic vibe. We had a lovely stroll around the town and also popped into the market. I like the market but I think it’s a huge missed opportunity. If you’ve ever visited the market in Valencia, then when I say Cardigan Market could be a mini version of that, you’ll appreciate what I’m thinking. Valencia Market attracts visitors from all over the world and, while interesting, Cardigan market doesn’t. We didn’t get the opportunity to visit the castle this time but it’s certainly on our to-do list for next time.

With a lovely drive down the coast on the cards,we thought we’d pop into one of our favourite West Wales towns, Newport. It is a bit of a rarity in Pembrokeshire, a small bustling town flanked by a mountain, an estuary and good beaches. Well worth a visit in its own right but, as we were passing through, we had to stop.

Pwnc Cafe in Newport

It has a few cool little shops and an excellent selection of pubs and eateries so lunch or dinner will never be a problem (with the caveat that it’s wise to book ahead). These places are much in demand in the summer months. Jennifer usually pops into Newport Wholefoods and I nip across the road to the Carningli Centre (antiques and collectables). I love browsing there and, on this occasion, came across a lovely old weathered Japanese enamel sign. I didn’t buy it, which I now regret. Who knows? It may be there next time ’round. Just up the road is the very cool Pwnc Cafe and, around the corner an excellent butcher.

Point to note about Newport. Some shops are closed on certain days so we did pop back on our way home on Friday. Always worth checking before you visit.

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur really. A good blur. We just tootled around, had a walk, an explore, a coffee. Just basically chilled – which is what we like to do when we’re away.

Friday 14th July
A glorious sunny Pembrokeshire morning. The Penrhiw Priory breakfast was so good the previous day, we thought it would be good idea to remind ourselves how good, and yes, it was.

Manorowen is a great little stop if you like plants

We would shortly be heading home but had noticed Manorowen Walled Garden on our drive and thought we’d have a look. This delightful little garden is slowly being restored by a mum and son team. We had a nice stroll around, purchased a few plants and headed headed for home.

Every time we visit West Wales, we discover something new. I’ve been visiting this area for over forty five years and it still surprises me. I was listening to a lady on Radio 4 and she was telling the host she had visited the Cardigan Bay area and was astonished by how beautiful it was. The host replied “Really?” I must confess I was quite taken aback that she would doubt Wales could be so beautiful. The lady then went on to say she had visited Devon and Cornwall all her life but not Wales. She said this trip had changed her life and she would be visiting Wales a lot more in the future. She said it had taken her breath away. We can certainly second that.

Useful information

Penrhiw Hotel
St Davids
SA62 6PG
01437 725 588

The Little Gallery Oriel Fach
Warren S. Heaton
21 Main Street
SA62 6UU

St Davids Plant & Garden Nursery
High Street
St Davids

The Farmers Arms
14 – 16 Goat Street
St Davids
SA62 6RF
01437 721666

Perennial Gardens & Cafe
Llanrhian Road
St Davids
SA62 6DB
07398 804148
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Check the address for Manorowen. I lifted it from the internet. We came across it just passing it along the road so can’t confirm if the address is accurate. And please don’t expect something out of the National Trust. It’s not like that. But we liked it.

Manorowen Walled garden
SA65 9PY

In case you’re curious…
Wales has six cities. Bangor, Cardiff (the capital city of Wales), Newport (not the one in west Wales), St Asaph, St Davids and Swansea.

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