If you’ve never been to Pembrokeshire, you are definitely missing out. Tucked away in south-west Wales, it has the same sort of beautiful coastline and picturesque little towns as Cornwall, but minus the bustling crowds and sky-high prices. It also happens to be a great spot for a bit of A&E – which in this context means adventure and exploration. Although you never know once I get involved…
The National Trust-owned Stackpole Estate lies on the south coast of Pembrokeshire: five square miles of stunning sandy beaches, calming wooded valleys, high cliff-top walks and wildlife-rich lakes.
There’s plenty of accommodation tucked away in secluded corners of the estate; from group-friendly dorms in the on-site Activity Centre, to luxury self-catering holiday cottages overlooking the sea.
We plumped for Lavender Cottage which is one of three ‘basic range’ cottages – but don’t let the b-word put you off. It was still the perfect comfy retreat after a hard day’s adventuring, with all the facilities we needed, and at a pretty great price too. Plus if you don’t fancy cooking one night, the lovely Stackpole Inn is only a short drive away.
You appreciate the good value even more when you realise just how much there is to do in Pembrokeshire, and even just at Stackpole itself. You could easily manage a good few days of exploring the estate without ever needing to get in the car. Here are some of the best ways to enjoy this beautiful corner of Wales…
Coasteering and Kayaking from Stackpole Quay
If your idea of fun involves scrambling over rocks, hurling yourself off cliffs and swimming in the sea, then you’ll love coasteering. This extreme sport was invented right here in Pembrokeshire, and offers the chance to discover some of the more secret and dramatic parts of coastline – while getting a good work out at the same time.
If you prefer something a little more chilled out then why not try a bit of sea-kayaking. The team use ‘sit on top’ kayaks which are stable and very difficult to capsize, so you can paddle along to your heart’s content under their expert guidance.
There are locations to try these sports in many places around Pembrokeshire, but Stackpole offers these activities on-site during peak season. The best way to get more info is to drop the friendly team an email or call them on 01646 661425.
Evening swims at Barafundle Bay
It isn’t hard to see why Barafundle consistently makes it onto lists of the ‘top 10 most beautiful beaches’ variety; a perfect crescent of soft golden sand with azure-blue water, and wooded cliffs on one side that feel distinctly Treasure Island-ish. It’s also only a 15 minute walk from Lavender Cottage, so come evening you can wend your way across the fields, through the deep woods and over the sand dunes – and arrive to find you’ve got the beach all to yourselves.
On calm days it’s a beautiful sheltered spot for an evening swim, followed by the customary quick dash back to the pile of towels and warm clothes when dusk (and the water temperature) begins to fall. Even the trek back in the dark is a treat – especially on clear nights where everything is tinted silver by the starlight, the resident tawny owls glide past on the hunt for food, and there’s the promise of a warming cuppa back at the cottage.
Walk the Stackpole Estate
Barafundle is beautiful, but it’s definitely worth exploring beyond the bay too. There are marked trails criss-crossing the whole estate, so you can do a short leg stretch or link routes together for longer walk. This 6 mile route is a good starting point that takes you round most of the estate. Clifftops covered in wildflowers (and the odd pony), past Broadhaven beach, around Bosherston lily ponds and across the Eight Arch bridge – where if really lucky you might see one of the resident otters. The walk begins and ends at Stackpole Quay, where the Boathouse café serves the best lemon drizzle cake in Wales (and other nice stuff, but I am all about the cake.)
Stargazing at Broad Haven
Stackpole’s second beach, Broad Haven, has been classified as a Milky Way-class Dark Sky Discovery site. This means that it has very low levels of light pollution, so after dark it’s possible to see the Milky Way with the naked eye. The car park above the beach provides a great vantage point for watching the night sky – so take a few blankets and a thermos of something warm, and cosy up for an evening under the stars.
Rock climbing at The Overhang, Tenby
Fancy sea views while you climb? The Overhang is a small but perfectly formed wall right on the beach at Tenby. It’s great for regular climbers who want an indoor session, while newbies can book a 60 minute taster session where the experienced staff will show you the ropes (both figuratively and literally). If you want to progress to outdoor climbing then the team can help you out with a half-day session on the crag. Afterwards you can grab some well-earned fish and chips and sit on the picturesque harbour wall, or while away the hours exploring Tenby’s cobbled streets and quirky independent shops.
Beach riding with Nolton Stables
It may not be as fast as a car, or as adrenaline-pumping as throwing yourself off a cliff, but I still reckon that the thrill you get from galloping a horse through the surf is hard to beat. Fortunately Nolton Stables offer the chance to try it for yourself at Druidstone Haven – another one of Pembrokeshire’s glorious beaches. They have mounts for all abilities, so even people new to riding can enjoy a gentle trot along the sand with the salt wind in their hair. To find out more (and see a little video) you can read my full review here.
Discover the tiny city of St Davids
About an hour’s drive from Stackpole, St Davids is Britain’s smallest city and the final resting place of the country’s patron saint, after whom it is named. The cathedral is the town’s focal point – open for the public to explore. It’s a beautiful place to wander round, especially if it happens to be raining outside. Once the sun comes out though you explore the quirky little art galleries and bookshops, or head out along the peninsula to try one of the coastal walks. Local activity provider TYF Adventure have their base and outdoor gear shop in St David’s too, where adrenaline junkies can get their shopping fix.
Nature watching on Skomer Island
While you’re on the St Davids peninsula, it’s worth making a detour to visit Skomer Island. Just a 15 minute boat ride from Martin’s Haven, this tiny island is teeming with wildlife – including about half the world’s population of Manx shearwaters during nesting season. There are also seals, birds of prey and even dolphins – but the real stars of the show are the Puffins.
It’s often possible to get within a few feet of the characterful little birds, so you can easily watch as they squabble over nesting burrows, and in early summer see the newborn chicks starting to make their way in the world. By the first week of August they’ll all be gone back to sea, so make sure to visit earlier if you want to be certain of seeing Puffins. From September the seal pupping season starts, and then all is quiet again until the next spring brings bright wildflowers, and the return of the birds.
Boat trips to the island run between April and September. N.B. Landing is not permitted on Mondays, except Bank Holidays. If you want to make the most of your trip then you can now stay overnight in Skomer’s self-catering hostel, and enjoy the island after the day trippers have gone home.