This guide to Pembrokeshire Coast Path trek is by Matt Lynch from Walk Wild. Having recently completed the 186 mile route we thought who better to write this Wales trekking holiday review.
I gingerly peeled back my sock to reveal a blister the size of a 50p coin on the outer edge of my foot. Formed by a weak fold of skin between my calloused heel and the soft flesh of my ankle. This was no ordinary blister, from grit or a hot spot against my shoe. It was a compression blister, from pure exertion. Developed from feet squeezed against mile after mile of hard ground.
I made this discovery sat in my tent on the final night of my hike along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. I had already been walking for 13 days and my legs were in pieces. In just under 2 weeks I would have climbed 35,000 feet of ascents and descents – equivalent to the height of Mount Everest.
The following morning, I was due to walk the last 11 miles to reach St Dogmaels, which would mark the finish line to this near 200-mile trek. In total, I had hiked an average of 8 hours a day and completed over 13 consecutive half-marathons.
Over the course of the hike, I burned through 3,000 calories a day leaving myself thin and sinewy. Weighing myself upon returning home, I was shocked to find I had lost 2 kilograms off my already narrow body. My legs had become athletic and muscular. My feet calloused and blistered.
Clearly this Wales trekking holiday review was no amble on the beach. A hike like this can take a physical toll on the body. Which may raise the question: why did I want to do it?
The simple answer? I wanted an adventure.
I’d recently hiked the 84-mile Hadrian’s Wall Path – one of the world’s best historical hiking holidays – but felt ready for a bigger challenge. I wanted to spend some time exploring a relatively untouched area of natural beauty in the UK. I wanted to hike every day, to camp, and to be immersed in more wilderness than I’d experienced on Hadrian’s Wall. Pembrokeshire ticked all these boxes and then some.
With tempestuous weather, wind blasted rocks, and a fierce coastline, Pembrokeshire was sure to be what I was looking for. Luckily, over the fortnight, I was graced with miraculous Autumnal weather. Day after day I walked under crisp blue skies and in warm September sun. When not in the small towns and fishing villages, I walked in isolation, passing over sand dunes, wild heathland, and sheer cliffs. It was apparent I was experiencing something special.
By this point you’re probably wondering how can I walk this myself? Good question. It’s a remarkable stretch of UK coastline and a true adventure for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
The Pembrokeshire Coast Path is a 186-mile National Trails walking path. It runs through the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in southwestern Wales. The trail is 1 of 15 long distance walking paths in the UK operated by National Trails.
The path crosses over 58 beaches and through 13 harbours. The starting point is in St Dogamels and the end in Amroth. However, I recommend walking the path in reverse – from south to north. This is due to the northern section being the most challenging and remote terrain on the trail. It’s better to tackle at the end when you’re fitter and more prepared.
For this guide to Pembrokeshire Coast Path trek it is worth saying that the path takes the average walker 12-15 days. This will depend on how many miles a day you plan to walk and the number of rest days you have. You must take into consideration the difficulty of the terrain. Despite being along a well-maintained walking path, the continuous incline and decline of the trail can be incredibly taxing.
This, combined with the weight you carry, makes the miles crawl by. You will have to carry all your camping gear, hiking equipment, and food. This will slow your speed drastically. But there’s no rush. Take your time and enjoy each moment along this amazing trail.
The path runs through a remote part of Wales. Although it may seem like there are accommodation options along the way, most are actually a few miles inland. Adding on this distance could cause extra hiking time at the end of an already long day.
Fortunately, there are bigger towns such as Pembroke, Tenby, Milford Haven, and Fishguard. Here you can book to stay in B&Bs or hotels. For the most part I recommend you camp along the trail. During this Wales trekking holiday review I found the path is ideal for campers and every few miles you’ll find a good campsite to stay in. Most take walk-ins but I advise you to pre-book during high season (July – August) to ensure you get a pitch.
As with elsewhere in the UK, technically you can only wild camp in Scotland and Dartmoor National Park. However, if you follow a few pointers, there are some excellent spots to wild camp along the coast path – but do so at your own discretion! Make sure you arrive late and leave early, be discreet, and leave no trace.
Generally, the best tactic is to find a secluded stretch of headland or an empty beach to camp on. There are plenty of these along the Pembrokeshire Coast, particularly in the wild northern sections. Just be aware, they aren’t always easy to come by. Sometimes you’ll have to walk miles at the end of a long day to find a suitable spot. Personally, I think that’s all part of the adventure!
As with all National Trails walking paths, you need to follow the acorns. They are printed on every signpost and act as trail markers. Follow these and you can’t get lost during this Wales trekking holiday in Pembrokeshire. Also, as this is a coast path, keep the sea to your side and you’ll always be on track!
You’ll also see signs for the Wales Coast Path a lot, which has the symbol of a shell. This follows the same route as the Pembrokeshire Coast Path but extends to cover the whole of the 870-mile Welsh Coast! If you want a serious adventure, that one’s for you.
For this guide to Pembrokeshire Coast Path trek it is worth pointing out that the trail heads are tricky to get to. The two closest transport hubs are Swansea and Cardiff which are accessible by train, bus, and flight from the rest of the UK. From here you’ll have to change trains and use the Pembrokeshire local bus network to reach the start and end of the trail.
In Pembrokeshire you’ll find some of the most rugged and unspoiled stretches of coastline in the UK. Everyone will have their own favourite beach, and there are many to choose from. My favourites were: Freshwater West, Barafundle Bay, Newgale, and Whitesands.
If you’re looking for wilderness, the northern section has your name all over it. The section between Whitesands and Strumble Head Lighthouse was a highlight for me. Mountains seem to climb onto already enormous cliffs. Fields with grazing cattle flow into overgrown bluffs before dropping into the crashing waves below. It’s sublime.
If you’re interested in history, there’s the enchanting Manorbier Castle which looks out to sea, rising above the beach of the same name. Pembroke Castle is also worth a visit and is famed for being the birthplace of Henry VIII.
For those interested in adventure activities, there are sheer cliffs, excellent for rock climbing, along the stretch between Freshwater West and Freshwater East. Sea kayaking is popular and when the tide’s right, many try to brave the ferocious waters of the amusingly named “Bitches”.
Coasteering in Wales is a popular in Pembrokeshire and was supposedly invented in Wales. Leap into a submerged quarry known locally as the Blue Lagoon. Or, book a tour to take you on a guided adventure along the coast. There is lots to do along the way but during this Wales trekking holiday review I stuck to the hiking!
Different seasons bring a variety of wildlife. During Spring, flowers blanket the moorland and migrating birds perch on the cliff tops.
Autumn is when the Atlantic grey seals huddle around the coves to raise their young. You hear them before you see them. The mournful cries of the hungry pups echoing up the cliffs to meet you. Down on the beach the adults slide in and out of the water whilst the fluffy white pups lay sleeping in the sun.
In addition to this, the Pembrokeshire Coast is home to numerous bird colonies and an RSPB bird nesting site on Ramsey Island. Puffins line the grassy cliffs of Skomer Island which can also be reached by boat on a day trip.
If you’re lucky you might catch sight of a porpoise or dolphin dipping below the waves. There are many endemic species of vegetation and a range of protected coastal habitats to enjoy throughout the National Park.
Beware the tides. Many beaches are completely obscured at high tide. If there’s a particular beach you wish to see it might be hidden from view when you arrive. More importantly, there are sections of the trail which can only be crossed at low tide (Sandy Haven and Newport). Timing this wrong will mean a detour many miles inland to reach the trail on the far side.
We hope you found this guide to Pembrokeshire Coast Path trek by Matt Lynch from Walk Wild useful. If you found his Wales trekking holiday review inspirational but are not sure about going it alone then then check out these organised trekking holidays worldwide where you hike with more support.