Just a short walk south-west from St Davids, Caerfai is a sheltered cove facing south across St Brides Bay, which presents a pleasant crescent of golden sands at low tide.
The descent from the clifftop carpark is a little precipitous, but well worth the effort for a nice day on the beach where the children can bathe or explore the rock pools in perfect safety.
Quarries on the cliffside provided the distinctive purple sandstone with which St Davids Cathedral was built and which has been used over the centuries to repair it,
as did the quarry workings at Caerbwdi just around the corner beyond the headland called Penpleidiau. As recently as 1972 stone was quarried at Caerbwdi for stockpiling in the Cathedral Close to provide sufficient repair material for the next half century. The craggy promontory of Penpleidiau is topped by a magnificent Iron Age fort with four protective banks. The narrow isthmus leading onto the promontory gives the site of this well-defined ancient camp a natural defensive advantage, like a rocky drawbridge with a vertiginous drop on either side.
The 18th century antiquarian Richard Fenton states in his book ‘Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire’ published in 1810, that this earthwork was “seemingy thrown up to repel the piratical Danes who much infested this coast.” For those who love to explore the past, this fort is well worth a visit, not simply for its effect on the imagination but also for the splendid panoramic view it affords around and across the broad embrace of St Bride’s Bay.
While exploring this part of the coast it is also worth keeping an eye out for the flora and fauna, for the cliffs are decorated with the beautiful pink, white and blue pastel hues of vernal squill, bluebell, sea campion, red campion and thrift. Banks of golden gorse, its heady coconut aroma filling the air, add to the pleasure. These cliffs are also populated by chough, raven, gull, fulmar and peregrine falcon, while gannets from the massive colony on distant Grassholm Island regularly patrol St Brides Bay for shoals on which these large white birds, with their black-tipped six foot wings, dive spectacularly.
Fenton commented on the unique conglomerate stone which he was shown in the vicinity of Caerfai. He described it as “a lava of immense fragments of curiously granulated and coloured marble, seemingly a concrete of various pebbles, which I think would amply repay the expense of polishing and working into chimney pieces, tables etc.” Some, he said, which had been found at Caerbwdi, had been shaped into millstones which had lain there from time immemorial but had never been finished for use. On the cliff above Caerfai is a disused submarine telegraph office, a legacy of Victorian technological advances in transmitting messages across the Atlantic to America.
The walk from St Davids to Caerfai takes one past Oriel y Parc, the iconic new National Park Tourist Information Centre and Gallery, brimming with helpful ideas and information.