Four Go Mad in Pembrokeshire

About a year ago, I clicked a link in a marketing email from Holiday Cottages and ended up impulsively booking a week in Pembrokeshire. I didn’t know anything about Pembrokeshire other than the fact it’s in Wales, has a coastline, and the word conjured up a vague image of puffins in my head. Fast forward a year and we were making our way though twisting country lanes, stopping to let cows cross the road and arriving at our home for the week. And what a week – we were totally blown away every day. Although the Pembrokeshire Coast is Britain’s only coastal national park, there is so much more to this hidden gem than the seaside. It reminded us of Cornwall: dramatic clifftops, vibrant countryside and hidden woodlands, but without the hordes of tourists that flock to Cornwall as soon as the sun comes out. We managed to squeeze in plenty of incredible walks and sight-seeing – more than I could possibly fit into one blog post. So, today I’ll settle for sharing some of our favourite stops, with more to follow in later posts (subscribe at the bottom of the page if you haven’t already to make sure you don’t miss them!).

Bosherton & Stackpole

After doing a bit of research before the trip, the one place I’d set my heart on visiting was St Govan’s Chapel, a tiny ruined hermitage perched on the coast not far from Bosherton. While there is a car park right by the site (which is accessed via a short but slippy flight of steps), we wanted to incorporate this into a longer walk, and decided on a 9 mile circular from our Day Walks on the Pembrokeshire Coast guide.

I can’t find an online version of this route, which starts from the National Trust car park at Bosherton (free for members) before walking down the lane through Castlemartin Ranges to St Govan’s, then following the coast to Stackpole Quay and returning to the start via Stackpole and the Bosherton lily ponds. Make sure to check firing times on the MOD website before you visit (weekends are usually the best time to plan your walk).

Although at nearly 9 miles this was the longest walk we did, it actually was a very easy and gentle amble along a lovely part of the Pembrokeshire coast (aside from tripping over the dog’s lead 10 minutes after we set off and taking the skin off both hands and a knee). There is virtually no ascent or descent other than a few short flights of stairs, and we enjoyed a short stop at Stackpole Quay picnic area to enjoy our lunch in a sheltered sunny spot.

Aside from the chapel, which was beautiful if a little busy, the stars of the show are undoubtedly the two beautiful sandy beaches you cross: Broad Haven South and Barafundle Bay. We pretty much had Broad Haven to ourselves other than a red kite drifting on the breeze, while Barafundle was busier but by no means heaving.

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. This is a cracking dog walk for dogs with a moderate level of fitness – both Broad Haven and Barafundle are dog friendly all year round, and ours loved having the opportunity to let off some steam on the beach after a long drive down the day before. Similarly, Stackpole and the lily ponds are also dog friendly, with the woodland tracks around the Stackpole Estate offering plenty of shade on warmer sunnier days. You’ll want to take some water for your dogs as opportunities for drinking are scarce – ours polished off 1.5 litres on a mild sunny day in April. You will also need to keep dogs under close control, preferably on a lead, on the clifftop sections, where there are sheer drops and livestock to factor in. Another positive is the lack of stiles – in fact, none of the walks we did for the whole week required us to lift the dogs over stiles, which was marvellous!

Foel Eryr

Like I said, there’s more to Pembrokeshire than just the coast. The Preseli Hills roll inland from the town of Newport and provide a slightly more rugged feel to the north of the county. While we were all about the coastal walks, we also wanted to sample everything Pembrokeshire had to offer, and we therefore made the quick dash up Foel Eryr from the free roadside car park which we found in our Cicerone guide. There’s a similar route online on AllTrails.

It really was a quick dash – it took us less than an hour to get up to the summit and back. The views were lovely (slightly more bucolic than we’re used to in the Lakes) and there were plenty of people up there taking it all in – it would be a great way to get kids into hill walking.

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. This is a leads on walk, as livestock roam the hills and you may come across them at any time. Nevertheless, this a lovely dog walk if you only have a short period of time or a brief weather window: it’s gradually uphill rather than steeply uphill, so it makes a pleasant stroll. With the added bonus of no stiles!

After the walk we stopped off at the dog friendly Tafarn Sinc for lunch (watch out for cats creeping into the bar to tease the dogs!). All in all a lovely dog friendly afternoon.

Marloes Sands & Deer Park

If I had to pick a favourite walk from the week, this would be it. This 6.5 mile circular ramble along the Pembrokeshire Coast path was another walk we found in our Cicerone guide and it was a delight from start to finish – a similar route is online on the National Trust website, although this doesn’t go all the way to Musselwick Sands like the Cicerone walk.

Starting from the National Trust car park by Marloes Sands, this is another mostly easy ramble along the coast with incredible views over dramatic clifftop vistas and turquoise waters. The walk is gently undulating with no steep or strenuous sections, but it’ll take you a while as you’ll need to keep stopping to soak in the views. The beach here was used as the location for the final battle scene in Snow White and the Huntsman – it’s a pretty epic setting.

Navigation on this walk was really easy – we just followed the coast path with the sea on our left until it was time to turn off and return to the car park. We saw surprisingly few people, but then that could be said of the entire week – everyone had obviously gone to Cornwall instead!

After we finished the walk we headed into Marloes and had a tasty lunch at the Lobster Pot Inn – there’s a large beer garden here which is dog friendly, and we spent a good two hours just soaking up the sun and relaxing after our walk (sea air always make us tired!).

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. While the dogs were on their leads for the entirety of the walk along the coast, we popped down to the beach at the end of the walk to let them have a good sprint on the sand. Marloes Sands is dog friendly year round and we had it almost to ourselves, despite the fact that it was 18 degrees and sunny. I’m not sure if this was because it was mid week or because Pembrokeshire seems to be generally underrated compared to other coastal holiday hotspots in the South West! Make sure to take along some water for your dogs, especially if the weather is warm.

Cilgerran Gorge

I’d never even heard of Cilgerran before Sam found this wonderful little walk in our Pocket Mountains guide. The route is a lovely circular hike, starting close to Cilgerran Castle (which you can visit for free along the way), then picking up countryside tracks to cross woodland to reach the Welsh Wildlife Centre and Teifi Marshes nature reserve, an off-the-beaten-track gem and one of the best places in the area to spot otters (we didn’t see any sadly). The return leg is along the way marked gorge trail – described in our guide book as ‘something of a rollercoaster ride up and down the gorge’s steep slopes’ – having walked it I can confirm this is an accurate description! If you don’t have the Pocket Mountains guide, there is a similar walk on the Pembrokeshire County Council website.

This walk was such a plesant surprise – the woodland is absolutely beautiful, and we pretty much had the whole walk to ourselves. The castle is more than worth a stop – climb the stairs in the tower to get panoramic views over the gorge. It’s not a walk for the faint hearted though, as the return is steeply undulating and guaranteed to get your pulse racing.

If you don’t fancy the gorge trail (which has a warning sign at the start), there are a number of other trails starting from the wildlife centre you could follow instead. If you have a moderate level of fitness the gorge trail should be achievable, just make sure you have proper footwear. Although the walk was only about 3.5 miles, it still took us the full 2.5 hours estimated to complete the walk.

Dog friendly rating – 3/5. Although much of this walk is through woodland, there are signs up in many places asking for dogs to be kept on leads, which should be respected at all times. There are still opportunities though where leads can be taken off – and having leads on didn’t seem to detract at all from all the amazing sniffs to be had along then way!

Despite following the river for much of the return, we were too high up to be able to access water, so make sure to take extra along for your dog. You may also encounter livestock when passing through fields (a very small section of the walk).

The Blue Lagoon

If you Google ‘best places to visit in Pembrokeshire’ I guarantee that every list which pops up will include the Blue Lagoon. The site of a former slate quarry, the lagoon’s waters range from tones of lapis lazuli to cerulean depending on the time and weather of your visit. It’s at the top of every Instagrammer’s Pembrokeshire itinerary.

The lagoon itself is interesting, but it’s right next to the car park (£4 all day) and therefore probably the busiest place we visited. It’s also just one of many beautiful places on the Pembrokeshire coast -I wouldn’t say it’s more worthy of a visit than the Marloes Peninsula, for example. But still, we wanted to see it for ourselves, and so combined it with a walk down the coast to the pretty village of Porthgain.

We combined two walks in our Pocket Mountains guide to make a circular walk, but actually this would be a great linear walk up and down the coast between Abereiddi and Porthgain. It takes you past lots of dramatic coastal views and quarrying ruins (and the people all disappear once you get past the Blue Lagoon, no one seems to like walking more than 500m from the car park). The path here wasn’t even that undulating!

We timed our arrival in Porthgain to be around lunch time and had an absolutely delicious fish and chip takeaway from The Shed, which we enjoyed on the picnic benches outside. I’d say this is the nicest fish and chips I’ve had in the last year at least and would definitely recommend stopping by.

Dog friendly rating – 3.5/5. The inland track we followed used lots of enclosed lanes where we were able to take leads off, but along the coast we kept leads on due to steep drops. There is however a lovely sandy beach which you can access via steps about half way between Abereiddi and Porthgain, where you could go to let dogs have a good run around if you choose to do a coastal linear walk.

This is another walk where you’ll need to take extra water along for your dog, although again there were no stiles which is always a bonus when you’ve got a dog.

Freshwater West

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you absolutely have to include a visit to Freshwater West. This vast sandy beach was the location for Shell Cottage in Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, and is also famous as the place where you can visit Dobby’s grave. Being a CGI construct and a fictional character, there is no actual grave here, just a large cairn of painted stones which you can find on the dunes next to the beach.

It looks lovely on Google images, with a simple cross made of driftwood crowning the cairn. Sadly it was a case of ‘insta vs reality’ as someone has strapped a stuffed house elf toy to the cross, somewhat ruining the poignant effect.

We visited this beach on our last day and we absolutely loved it. We didn’t incorporate it into a walk, just parked in the free roadside parking area and spent an hour and a half strolling up and down the beach. It was the perfect end to a perfect week.

Freshwater West is huge, and although it’s apparently popular with surfers and in peak season, we basically had it to ourselves. It’s absolutely stunning and if there’s one beach I’d recommend you to visit it would be this – definitely in my top five beaches ever (maybe it’s even better than Sandwood Bay in Scotland considering it didn’t hail as soon as we arrived).

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. The beach here is huge, and our dogs spent the whole time we were here galloping across the sand in enormous circles with all the space in the world – we were practically the only ones here. This probably wouldn’t be the case in peak season but nevertheless, this is a great dog friendly beach which allows dogs all year round – so you don’t need to worry about timing your visit around pesky dog restrictions.

Where we stayed

We stayed in Llety Wen, a converted milk parlour close to Narberth. The cottage itself was lovely – comfortable, clean and most importantly spacious enough to be able to relax with two dogs. There is a cosy log burner for colder evenings and an open plan kitchen/living room, and the four poster bed in the bedroom looks like something out of a fairytale.

The location of the cottage was unbeatable for being able to get out and explore all that Pembrokeshire has to offer – we literally went to all four corners of the county and nowhere was more than an hour’s drive away. Reading the guest book, the number of entries from repeat visitors makes it clear what a great place to stay this is.

Dog friendly rating – 4/5. This cottage is great for dog owners, with plenty of room both inside and outside (including an enclosed garden – although this wouldn’t keep in dogs who jump over fences). This living space inside has a tiled floor, which is ideal if you’ve got a soggy dog after a walk in the rain or a trip to the beach (luckily we had our Ruff and Tumble drying coats, which we popped on at the end of the walk and meant we had totally dry dogs by the time we got home – use code Merry15 to save 15% (gifted items)).

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our week away – and that’s only about half of all the stuff we managed to cram in. Subscribe below to get weekly walking updates and inspiration:

4 thoughts on “Four Go Mad in Pembrokeshire

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