Halfway to Rome

by
13 June 2014

By David Godfrey

Where?

ST DAVIDS, almost on the most western point of Wales, where in the sixth century St David founded his monastery in a quiet, green valley, well out of sight of the ships of marauding Norsemen.
 

What to see

St Davids Cathedral is the crowning glory of the Church in Wales, and its purple-stoned mass, dating mostly from the 12th century, now slopes up from the softer ground at its west end.

Even after the depredations of Reformation and Commonwealth - Cromwell is said to have smashed the floor tiles by riding his horse up to the high altar - it contains treasure upon treasure.

The ceilings of the nave and tower are exquisite examples of their kind, and the 15th-century choir stalls are gorgeously carved, with crocketted pinnacles and witty misericords. They are in use every day, and the Dean and Chapter have managed to maintain near-daily choral worship in this glorious little backwater.

The Archdeacon of Brecon's stall, which has been vacant since the loss of that archdeaconry to the diocese of Swansea & Brecon in 1923, seems to await defiantly the reunification of the sees, and the royal arms on the south side of the choir are a reminder of one of those pleasing quirks of history: the sovereign is also a member of the Chapter.

The magnificent table tomb of Edmund Tudor, father of Henry VII, used to dominate the chancel; but that honour now goes to the shrine of St David - two pilgrimages to which, Pope Callistus II declared, were worth one to Rome - which was restored to splendour in 2012.

The Bishop's Palace, next to the cathedral, and now in the care of Cadw, is one of the most evocative ruins in the country.
 

Near by

The area is dotted with medieval churches on the old pilgrimage routes to St Davids, many of which are architecturally noteworthy.

St Davids is small; so options for fine dining are limited. That said, there are plenty of hostelries in the city that offer honest, home-cooked food and a selection of good ales from Wales and further afield.

With a car, however, the possibilities are numerous. Haverfordwest, half an hour away, has all the amenities of a county town. The Shed, a fish-and-chip bistro at Porthgain, 15 minutes to the north-east, serves its own daily catch, and has acquired something of a cult following.

Solva, five minutes to the east, has a magnificent natural harbour, and is a good base for bracing clifftop walks in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. The Café on the Quay is staffed by cheerful local teenagers, and its balcony is the perfect place to sit and read, or to take in the view.

There are opportunities for surfing at Whitesands and Newgale near by, and boat trips run from St Davids to Ramsey Island, taking in seals, puffins, and the occasional dolphin on the way.

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