The magical Pembrokeshire Coast National Park

You will be forgiven for assuming that The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is the place to go for a summer beachside holiday, but it is also an excellent destination for walkers. And the surprise is that there are also mountain routes to navigate!

The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is divided by the Landsker Line that delineates the largely Welsh-speaking north from the predominantly English-speaking south.

Running through the county roughly east to west, it hits the coast at the top of the 2 mile-long beach of Newgale. It also marks a difference in the character of the landscape with the north holding the mountains and rugged and remote coastline.

The rocks here are tough and resistant creating dramatic cliffs and jagged outcrops in the mountains. The southern part is gentler and more populated with the traditional seaside towns of Sanderfoot and Tenby.

The jewels here are the southern stunning cliffs and cave formations created in the Carboniferous Limestone and Devonian Old Red Sandstone.

The Preseli Mountains rise in the north in a snaking line running east to west, gently overseeing the rest of the park to the north and south, and on a clear day, an exceptional 360-degree panorama unfolds with views of the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland to the west, Snowdonia in the north, the Brecon Beacons to the east and the Bristol Channel and West Country to the south.

Calling them mountains may be stretching the point a little as, from a distance, they appear as a rolling landscape of no great height, lacking definite peaks with the highest point being a mere 1760 feet.

Those with a little bit of insider knowledge know this area as having a very special magical quality. I am of course talking about Welsh fairies, Merlin and the ancient tribes that lived here 5500 years ago. They really believed that a particular rock quarried at Carn Goedog, the Preseli Bluestone, imparted an incredible healing power to water that flowed over it.

Foeldrygarn
Foel Drygarn in the Presili Mountains overlooking Brnberian Moor

Another intriguing aspect of the Bluestones is that around 10% of them have an extraordinary 'musical' property as they ring like a bell when struck with a hammer stone. The local village name of Maenclochog means ringing stones.

This area is crisscrossed with ley lines, ancient trackways, standing stones, Neolithic burial chambers, Bronze Age cairns and stone circles numbering over 200 sites in total, clearly demonstrating that this was a very special spiritual place to Prehistoric man.

One can just imagine the conversation that took place here 4500 years ago when someone came up with the bright idea of transporting 11 huge stone monoliths 160 miles to Stonehenge where they now form much of the outer stone circle.

Experts believe that it was these Bluestones that were the focus of Stonehenge due to their healing mythical powers rather than the larger sarsen stones. Legend has it they were magically moved to Stonehenge by Merlin for the construction of Camelot and King Arthur’s Round Table

The splendid Gors Fawr stone circle can be found in the foothills to the south near Mynachlog-ddu within easy access of a road. Sixteen upright stones form this ancient site in a setting that is wonderfully atmospheric with a ceremonial avenue leading to two larger stones to the north.

Ty canol ancient woodland
Ty Canol is an ancient woodland with a timeless ethereal atmosphere

These are just two of over 100 designated archaeological sites in the area with the Golden Road, an ancient pathway, running along the length of the Preseli Hills. This Neolithic trackway links many more other interesting features such as Bedd Arthur, or Arthur’s Grave, an oval of 13 standing stones claimed to be the burial place of King Arthur.

Further to the west on the other side of the hills is one of the most impressive megalithic structures in the UK. Pentre Ifan is an awe-inspiring burial chamber with a massive capstone of over 16 tons delicately balanced 2.4 m above the ground on three large upright stones with the original doorway being blocked with a large stone.

The chamber is sometimes called the The Womb of goddess Cerridwen, acting as a gateway into the Celtic underworld of Annwn or fairyland. The hill overlooking the cromlech to the west is Carn Ingli, the Hill of Angels, and it is said that if you spend the night there you will become a poet, a lover or a madman.

Just to the south-west of Pentre Ifan is Ty Canol, an ancient woodland that developed at the end of last Ice Age and would have looked the same as it does now as when the cromlech was built.

There is an ethereal atmosphere in the woodland reminiscent of scenes from Lord of the Rings and you can’t help but wonder if an orc is going to pop its head from around the trunk of a tree or even one of the knarled sessile oaks suddenly coming to life in Ent fashion, leaning down to have a word in your ear.

This sense of place of ancient history and mythical undertones is imparted by the lichens that carpet the trees and stones and this area is a National Nature Reserve, which is special for these lichens with over 400 species being identified so far.

Down in the valley to the north is the village of Nevern and the Norman church of St Brynach, built on the site of a 6th century 'clas', which was an important ecclesiastical centre. Here you will find a magnificent Celtic cross standing 13ft in height dating from the 10th century and is believed to be one of the best examples of its kind.

Nearby is the Vitalianus Stone dating from around 500AD and inside the church are two stones set into the window sills. The Magloconus Stone is inscribed in Latin, Maglocuni Clutori, and in Ogham, maglicunas maqi clutr, and is from the 5th or early 6th century.

Last, but not least, one of the trees in the avenue leading to the church is known as the Bleeding Yew, which has exuded red sticky sap from a lower limb for as long as anyone can remember. The legend associated with this phenomenon is that the tree will bleed until a Welshman is once again Lord of the castle on the hill.

Skomer
Sunset over Skomer Island, a haven for wildlife and the nesting site for the charismatic Atlantic puffin

Local folk lore also tells of two atmospheric pubs in the area. The Tafarn Sinc (The Zinc Pub) is in Rosebush, sheltering below The Preseli Mountains. Originally built with corrugated tin sheets as a temporary hostelry for the workers of the nearby slate quarries, it's now one of Pembrokeshire's most interesting pubs.

Also of note is the Dyffryn Arms in the Gwaun Valley, better known as Bessie’s, with a just a humble room in which to sit where you will be served real ale from jug drawn from a barrel.

The Pembrokeshire Long Distance Footpath runs from St Dogmaels in the north to Amroth in the south. It is a serious undertaking at 291km with an equivalent ascent and descent of Everest when all the ups and downs as taking into account.

The well-marked path means that there are plenty of opportunities to access discrete sections and the Puffin Shuttle will bring you back to your starting point. The northern section is rugged and dramatic with the highest sea-cliff in Wales at 400ft found at Cemaes Head.

The pebbly and inaccessible beach at its foot has the largest Atlantic seal colony in Wales and they can be seen during the winter months when they haulout to moult. They also give birth here from the end of August to the end of November.

A lesser-known part of the park, even by the locals, is the Secret Waterway, an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty formed by the coming together of the Western and Eastern Cleddau, Carew and Cresswell rivers together with many small creeks known as pills.

Cemaes head
Air Cemaes head is the highest sea cliff in Wales with spectacular folded rock strata

The tide fills and drains these two times a day with a huge difference in water levels due to a tidal range of nearly 8 metres. The exposed mudflats at low tide provide a smorgasbord of worms and crustaceans for tens of thousands of birds that visit here during the winter months. The 95km Landsker Borderlands Trail passes through this magical area.

The southern part of the park is known as Little England Beyond Wales and was placed under military control after the Norman invasion in the early 12th century. They built many impressive castles to protect themselves from the marauding Welsh. Henry Tudor was born in Pembroke Castle in 1457 but was exiled to Brittany for 14 years.

In 1845, He landed on the Dale Peninsula and raised an army comprising French, Scottish and Welsh troops and march to Bosworth Field to vanquish Richard III to take the throne.

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