St Justinian

St Justinian is a rocky cove tucked under the cliffs at the northern end of Ramsey Sound and it has been the site of St Davids Lifeboat Station for generations.

The lifeboat house and the long slip, which ejects the boat into the sea over jagged rocks, are completely hidden from the landward side by the high cliff, coming dramatically into view as the visitor breasts the cliff crest. Nearby is the 6th century chapel of St Justinian, marking the place where he was buried, reputedly carrying his severed head in his arms across Ramsey Sound, having died on the island.

He was a hermit born in Britanny and a reputed friend of St David. He had fled to Ramsey from the monastery at St Davids where there were goings-on with which he disagreed. The legend is that he cut off the causeway linking the island to the mainland with an axe, which got blunter as he progressed, leaving a jagged row of fangs which decrease in sharpness as they near the island. The nearest rock to the island, which is more like a molar than an incisor, is known as The Axe and the rocks, because of their fearsome appearance and reputation, are called The Bitches and Whelps. Some years after his burial at St Justinian his remains were removed to the Cathedral, he was held in such reverence. The Celtic Oratory which he built there was replaced by the present stone chapel by Bishop Vaughan in 1509-22. It is said that bells stolen from the chapel by puritans are heard to chime during great gales. What was going on at the Monastery to which he so vehemently objected the historians don’t tell us, but reports of what monks did in other monastic communities in later medieval times give us some idea, as many had mistresses and children. St David, a strict ascetic, probably sorted it out.

St Davids Lifeboat has a wonderful record of service. Successive coxswains and crewmen have won awards for gallant rescues. One in living memory was the rescue of seamen off the Liberian oil tanker World Concorde which broke in half off St Davids Head during the worst hurrricane in living memory in 1954. The mainly Italian crew were successfully taken off by Cox’n Watts-Williams and his crew in a death-defying series of approaches to the huge ship as it rolled and pitched in massive seas.

In more placid weather in August 1961, the Royal family dropped anchor in the Royal Yacht off Ramsey and were taken ashore by boat for a private picnic on the island, surprise guests of the tenant farmer at the time, Phil Davies. They had been on passage up the Irish Sea for Balmoral and the weather was so calm and the Pembrokeshire coast so tempting that they went ashore unannounced.

Hundreds of people flocked to St Justinians to try and get a glimpse of the Royals, but they picnicked out of sight.

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