Britain’s smallest city both in terms of size and population, St Davids is nevertheless an important religious centre, and has been for almost a millennium.
Birthplace of St David, Patron Saint of Wales, it was historically a place of pilgrimage from the time of the Crusades and it was said that two pilgrimages there were worth one to Rome.
Modern-day pilgrims still travel there to pay homage to the saints associated with this sacred place with its magnificent Cathedral in The Valley of Roses, although few come on foot these days, except for those raising sponsorship for good causes.
The beautiful Cathedral hides so neatly in the green and leafy bowl of the Close that travellers approaching the city by either of the two roads coming from Goodwick or Haverfordwest see nothing until they are right on top of it. This is no doubt because the original church and its successor buidings were hidden from view to seaward from where Viking raiders came frequently to rob and pillage.
With a resident population of under a 1,000, but which is augmented considerably by summer visitors, St Davids remains an attractive community with many old buildings and a Welshness that is almost tangible. The natives are Welsh-speaking in the main, so the tourist gets the feeling of being in another country, especially if they attend a service in the Cathedral, for the clergy are also fluent Welsh speakers and the language features somewhere in most if not all services.
The city is a popular resort for beach lovers and there is excellent swimming, surfing, canoeing, coasteering, wind-boarding, sailing and other pursuits. It is also a grand centre for bird watching, with peregrines and choughs and all kinds of seabirds on many parts of the coast and on the islands.
St Davids was granted city status in the 18th century but, for some reason, lost it in 1888. But the present Queen, following several recent visits, restored it in 1994.
The coast around the peninsula is rugged and beautiful, with many rocky islets, including one archipelago known as the Hats and Barrels and another as The Bishops and Clerks. An Elizabethan commentator, George Owen, said of the latter group of rocks that they “preach deadly doctrine to their winter audience.”
Beautiful Blue Flag beaches like Whitesands and Carfai attract many summer visitors and the city, situated in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, is surrounded by the designated Coastal Footpath which passes the lifeboat station, sacred St Non’s Chapel, St Justinian’s Chapel, several Iron Age forts and many old tin mine workings. Offshore Ramsey Island is an RSPB Reserve and can be visited or traversd in a high speed RIB, bookable in the city.