15 things to do in and around St Davids, Pembrokeshire

St Davids is Britain’s smallest city (population 1800) and makes an excellent base to explore Pembrokeshire. Despite being a city St Davids is the ideal place to visit if you enjoy the outdoors, be it walking the Pembrokeshire coastal path, surfing or coasteering. Read on to find out things to do in and around St Davids, Pembrokeshire.

1. Bishop’s Palace, St Davids

Located adjacent to St Davids cathedral, Bishop’s Palace was built in the 13th Century to house the bishops and entertain guests. Nowadays it’s a ruin but an impressive one and well worth an hour of your time.

Bishop's Palace, St Davids
Bishop’s Palace, St Davids

Inside there are plenty of areas to discover, up and down winding staircases. The dark undercrofts were great for hiding and jumping out on the kids, whilst the towers provided great views. Information boards are dotted around the site to give you an insight into how life would have been.

Check the CADW website for Bishop’s Palace opening times as they vary according to season. A family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children costs £10.50.

2. Solva

Just a couple of miles from St Davids, Solva wins my award for the most picturesque harbour in Pembrokeshire, possibly even in Wales. It’s particularly lovely when the sandy beach is revealed at low tide. Wander along Trinity Quay for a spot of boat and people watching or head into the village to visit cafés and galleries.

Solva, near St Davids
Solva, near St Davids

We walked from Solva over Gribin ridge to the pebble beach at Gwadn. The kids messed around in the stream before walking inland up the valley. At this point we discovered the stream the kids had been playing in earlier was the (treated) outflow from the sewage works! Despite this late discovery we all enjoyed the walk and the sudden need to wash our hands was a good excuse to visit a cafe.

3. Enjoy an ice cream at Gianni’s, St Davids

Gianni's ice cream, St Davids
Gianni’s ice cream, St Davids

It’s not the cheapest but you get what you pay for. £2.50 buys you a cone of Gianni’s organic home-made ice cream in a huge variety of flavours. We sampled many of these throughout the week, including salted caramel, raspberry dodge and mango sorbet. There’s a daily alcoholic choice, a dairy and sugar free option and even bacon flavour ice cream for your dog! Gianni’s is located in the High Street in St Davids; easily identified by the queues in sunny weather!

4. Whitesands Bay

Looking at the photo below you could almost imagine it was taken in sunny California. Although you can guess from the lack of people sunbathing that it was taken in colder climes.

Whitesands Bay, Pembrokeshire
Whitesands Bay, Pembrokeshire

If you’re a fan of golden sandy beaches then you’ll love Whitesands Bay, just outside St Davids. This large beach is popular with families and is one of the best in Wales for surfing. There’s a large car park, cafe, toilets and lifeguard service throughout the summer months.

If you prefer smaller beaches take a short walk north along the coastal path to Porthmeigan. There are no facilities here but it’s a quieter choice if Whitesands is too busy.

5. Walk around Ramsey Head

Just about any walk along the Pembrokeshire coastal path will reward you with spectacular scenery and wildlife sightings. If, like me, you prefer circular walks, you’ll enjoy a walk on the Treginnis Peninsula.

We started at Porthclais, a couple of miles from St Davids, and followed the coastal path around Ramsey Head. We headed inland near St Justinian’s back to our starting point. A highlight of this walk are the views over to Ramsey Island, which is separated from the mainland by a treacherous reef called The Bitches. Popular with experienced kayakers, the tides race through the channel creating whirlpools and eddies.

6. St Non’s chapel

St Non’s chapel is a 20 minute walk (or short drive) from the city and is said to mark the birthplace of St David. The small ruin and holy well are located in the middle of a cattle field.

St Non's chapel, near St Davids
St Non’s chapel, near St Davids

There’s not much to see but it’s a peaceful place to spend a few minutes. From the chapel you can walk down through the field to reach the coastal path. Bring a picnic and enjoy the view.

7. St Davids cathedral

The cathedral is the reason for St Davids city status. Although we didn’t go inside we walked down through the cemetery to reach Bishop’s Palace so were able to appreciate its architecture.

St Davids Cathedral
St Davids Cathedral

It’s in a beautiful location, evidently built in a dip to hide it from invaders coming from the sea. It survived an earthquake in the 13th Century but was almost destroyed by Cromwell’s forces. Fortunately it has been restored and visitors can enjoy its splendour. Find out more details here.

8. Watch the jumpers at the Blue Lagoon, Abereiddy

The Blue Lagoon, a few minutes walk from the beach at Abereiddy, is an old slate quarry. Popular with coastering groups, the quarry has several high ledges that brave souls can dive from into the incredibly blue waters. Alternatively, scaredy cats (like me) can just sit and watch.

9. Climb Carn Llidi

If you’re feeling energetic the 595ft summit of Carn Llidi makes a good destination for an afternoon walk. We parked at Whitesands Bay and walked north along the coastal path around the headland before walking up the shoulder of Carn Llidi.

carnllidi

The last few feet to the summit requires a scramble which I opted out of as it was quite windy on top. Fortunately the views are just as good a few feet below. You can supposedly see Ireland on a clear day but I was quite content with views of the coastline and Whitesands Bay.

10. Go on a boat trip

There are several boat operators vying for business in St Davids. These offer plenty of choice, from landing trips on the RSPB reserve of Ramsey Island to evening wildlife cruises and jet boat rides.

Boarding the Dale Princess, Skomer
Boarding the Dale Princess, Skomer

We chose to visit Skomer island which necessitated a longer drive to the boat departure point at Martin’s Haven. It was worth the extra effort and early start; you can read about our trip here.

11. Have a BBQ on the beach

One of our most memorable evenings was spent barbecuing chocolate stuffed bananas and toasting marshmallows on the beach. We carried foil wrapped bananas and a disposable barbecue down to the beach. I kept watch whilst the kids went off to play on a rope swing in the woods behind Aber Mawr beach.

BBQ bananas on the beach
BBQ bananas on the beach

The chocolate bananas took a while to cook but were definitely worth the wait. Although next time I’ll remember to bring some tissues as they were rather messy to eat!

If you’re going to do something similar remember to take all litter home with you and leave no trace of your visit.

12. Rockpooling at Caerfai Bay, near St Davids

We joined a sea safari at Caerfai Bay organised by Pembrokeshire National Park. Starting from the top of the beach our guide pointed out the different rocks, mosses and flowers. We walked down towards the sea, stopping often to explore the different creatures in the rock pools. We learnt lots about barnacles, sea anemones and limpets; a couple of the group got to taste seaweed too.

Rockpooling
Rockpooling

13. Enjoy the wildflowers along the Pembrokeshire coastal path

Spring and early summer are a great time to enjoy the wild flowers. Thrift and brightly coloured gorse bushes line the coastal path and helpfully cheer up photos on dull days.

Flowers of the Pembrokeshire coast
Flowers of the Pembrokeshire coast

We found groups of heath spotted orchids whilst walking on Carn Llidi, bluebells on Skomer and campion, spring squill and foxgloves almost everywhere along the coast. There were also plenty of others that I didn’t get around to identifying!

14. Visit the art galleries

Pembrokeshire is home to a large number of artists and many villages have galleries and craft shops. Whilst keeping an eye out for child related breakages isn’t the most relaxing way to spend your time we do enjoy picking up mementos of our stay. St Davids in particular has a couple of good options including Oriel y Parc and Oriel y Felin. Some of the artists also have their own galleries, including one of our favourites, Chris Neale.

15. Seal spotting

We only saw one seal on our most recent visit; however if you’re visiting in autumn you’re in for a treat. The seals come ashore to pup so keep an eye out for them from the coastal path or alternatively visit Skomer or Ramsey islands.

Have you visited the area? If so, let me know if you’ve any further suggestions for things to do with children in Pembrokeshire.

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A visit to BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (Neasden Temple), London

Tucked inside the North Circular and close to the temples of football (Wembley) and shopping (Brent Cross), is BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, also known as Neasden Temple.

Made from 5000 tonnes of Italian and Indian marble this Hindu temple dominates the local area, a spectacular building in a pretty nondescript area of London. Opened in 1995, it was funded entirely through donations from local worshippers and is the first traditional Hindu temple built outside of India in modern times.

Haveli entrance
Haveli entrance

As the kids and I walked through the entrance gate I was a little concerned. Would we be the only non-Hindu visitors? Would it be obvious what to do once inside? I needn’t have worried. The temple welcomes half a million visitors each year; friendly volunteers and explanatory signs help those unfamiliar with Hindu beliefs.

We entered via the haveli, a cultural centre, whose facade and courtyard are carved from teak and oak. I wish I’d taken more time to look at the carvings but after leaving our shoes in lockers we were directed to join a school party and ushered in to the Prayer Hall to watch a short film about the temple’s history.

Neasden Temple
Neasden Temple

The facts and figures relating to the Mandir are astounding. Neasden temple comprises 26,000 stone pieces which were hand-carved in India and then shipped to the UK. Back in London, 100 full-time and 1000 part-time volunteers worked alongside 80 stonemasons to help assemble the temple from its constituent parts over a two year period.

Entrance to BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (Neasden Temple)
Entrance to BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (Neasden Temple)

After the film we headed up the marble staircase to the Mandir. Photography is not permitted inside the temple so you’ll have to take my word that the interior is even more impressive than the exterior. Intricate carvings of Hindu figures adorned every column, punctuated by patterns and friezes.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

We stayed for Arti, a prayer ceremony which takes place daily at 11.45am. Male and female visitors sit in separate areas during the ceremony, and my son was initially a little hesitant about being directed to sit on his own in a different section. However, he wasn’t alone for long as the room filled with visitors and several school groups (who weren’t as silent as they should have been!).

The Arti ceremony involves the waving of lighted wicks in front of the sacred images, to the sound of music and prayer. It seemed like a joyous and happy occasion, plenty of worshippers were clapping along to the music. Afterwards we were directed to walk clockwise past the shrines which enabled us to take a closer look at the deities.

Neasden Temple
Neasden Temple

It’s easy to spend a couple of hours at the temple, particularly if you co-ordinate your trip with the Arti ceremony and visit the exhibition about Hinduism. I’m embarrassed to say that we missed this out as my materialistic twosome were desperate to go to the temple souvenir shop instead!

It takes some effort to get to Neasden Temple from central London but I wholeheartedly recommend a visit. The architecture is truly stunning and we felt welcomed by everyone we encountered at the temple.

More info

  • BAPS Shri Swaminarayam Mandir is open daily between 9am-6pm; entrance is free although there is a small extra charge for the exhibition. Respectable clothing is required and bags should be left in the storage facility across the road.
  • The temple is about 20 minutes walk away from the nearest Underground stations. We travelled to Stonebridge Park, but Neasden is equi-distant.
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Shaun in the City trail, London

Last year London was home to the Books about Town and Paddington trails. This year it’s the turn of Shaun the Sheep to grace the streets of London (and Bristol). We spent a pleasant couple of hours following one of the art trails, spotting Shaun in his various guises.

Rule Britannia (Broadwick St), Ram of the Match (Regent St), Monsters (Picadilly Circus), Woolly Jumbo (Leicester Square)
Rule Britannia (Broadwick St), Ram of the Match (Regent St), Monsters (Picadilly Circus), Woolly Jumbo (Leicester Square)

The models have been designed and decorated by artists and celebrities and placed in key locations around the city. With the exception of five lost sheep they can all be seen by following four trails around central London. The trails range from 3-5km; they are supposed to take between 35 minutes and 1 hour 10 minutes to complete although we spent about double that time.

We picked up a free map from the information centre at Paddington railway station. You can also download an app for £1.49 which details the sheep in both cities, provides bonus information and challenges. One lady I spoke to on the trail said it had drained her battery so make sure your phone is fully charged before heading out.

The Gruffalo Shaun, Picadilly Circus and Mossy Bottom, Leicester Square Gardens
The Gruffalo Shaun, Picadilly Circus and Mossy Bottom, Leicester Square Gardens

We followed Shaun’s trail; from Oxford Circus we walked through Carnaby Street, along Regent Street to Picadilly Circus before heading to Chinatown and Leicester Square. The whole area is popular with tourists and it was quite funny to see them taking photos of the attractions whilst we were busy photographing sheep.

Jingtai, China Town
Jingtai, China Town

Most of the sheep were outside although we did have to battle through the madness of Hamleys Toy Store to find one. Another was in the foyer of Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, where my son would have happily stayed for the afternoon if I hadn’t dragged him away. However, my favourite sheep was Nelson in Trafalgar Square, particularly as it was home to one of the few pigeons you’ll find there nowadays.

Trafalgar Square Shaun the sheep
Nelson Shaun the sheep

Have you visited the trail? If so, which was your favourite?

More info

  • The trail runs in London from 28 March-25 May 2015. There’s a separate trail in Bristol from 6 July to 31 August 2015.  The trail is raising money for Wallace & Gromit’s Children’s Charity; all 120 sculptures from both locations will be auctioned off to the highest bidders on 8 October 2015.
  • Full trail details can be found on the Shaun in the City website.
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5 free things to do in Cardiff

There are plenty of places to spend your money in Cardiff but on a recent visit we discovered the city attractions you can enjoy for free. Read on to find out more.

1. Bute Park

Bute Park is located between the River Taff and Cardiff Castle. Walking up to the entrance we passed the Animal Wall which consists of a variety of animal sculptures such as lions, a hyena and a sea lion.

We didn’t visit on the nicest of days. The rain was just stopping when we arrived so our first port of call was the cafe. Unlike a group of Japanese visitors we resisted the lure of afternoon tea (at 10am) although it was rather tempting.

Bute Park, Cardiff
Bute Park, Cardiff

The park covers an impressive 130 acres and includes an arboretum collection, fitness and play trails and a riverside path. It’s famous for its champion trees, which are the tallest or broadest specimens of their type. As ours was a springtime visit the leaves weren’t out but this meant we saw some great tree shapes (photo above).

I was also impressed by the amount of bird life so close to the city centre. We watched a jay up close for ages and also saw a tree creeper, nuthatch and lots of robins and coal tits.

2. St Fagans National History Museum

St Fagans is the most visited heritage attraction in Wales. Its 50+ historical buildings have been moved from around the country and re-erected at the open air museum. The buildings cover a wide time frame and range from farmhouses through to urinals and workshops.

St Fagans National History Museum
St Fagans National History Museum

It’s best to visit on a dry day as the buildings are spread out across 100 acres of parkland. Whilst you can shelter in the buildings there’s a fair amount of walking between them.

Some of my highlights were the coloured paintings at St Teilo’s church (picture above), the 1940s prefab and watching the blacksmith in the smithy. I also enjoyed the Ironworkers cottages, which were similar to those we visited at Blaenavon Ironworks last year.

St Fagans National History Museum
St Fagans National History Museum

We spent most of our planned time looking around the buildings and hadn’t left much time spare to look at St Fagans Castle. This was a mistake as it meant we had to rush round the rooms and didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy the castle or its grounds. Plan to spend a whole day here if you want to see everything the site has to offer.

3. Cardiff Story

Cardiff Story is a small museum providing visitors with an insight into the history of the city. It takes you on Cardiff’s journey from a small market town to a world port through to the modern capital it has now become.

It’s a good place to start your exploration of Cardiff, allow a couple of hours to see it in detail. We only popped in for a short visit but lingered over a dolls house exhibit and a ‘build your own’ model city which I think was probably aimed at younger children rather than us!

4. Cardiff Bay

It’s easy to spend an afternoon wandering around Cardiff Bay. The area was once a thriving dockyard but fell derelict as the coal industry declined. The building of the barrage and subsequent regeneration of the area has resulted in Europe’s largest waterfront development.

Some of the original buildings remain, such as the Pierhead, where we watched a short film illustrating the growth and decline of the docks. The Norwegian Church is another survivor. Formerly a place of worship for the Norwegian community in Cardiff (Roald Dahl was baptised in it) it’s now a cafe and arts centre.

'People like us', Mermaid Quay, Cardiff
‘People like us’, Mermaid Quay, Cardiff

There are new buildings too, most notably the Senned, the National Assembly for Wales, and the Wales Millenium Centre. Both buildings are impressive from the outside although we didn’t go in.

The Mermaid Quay area is a ‘leisure district’ and primarily home to shops and restaurants. It’s a nice enough place to wander but I found it a little soulless. If you’re a Torchwood fan however you might enjoy Ianto’s shrine, a board full of notes left following the fictional death of the character. It was a bit lost on me though as I’ve never see Torchwood.

5. Cardiff Barrage walk

The controversial construction of the Cardiff Barrage created the 500 acre freshwater Cardiff Bay and has contributed (some would say, at great cost) to the regeneration of the local area.

Whilst there was strong opposition to the original project the resulting trail along the barrage is popular with walkers, cyclists and kids on scooters and is an excellent choice for a city walk.

Walking out along Cardiff Bay Barrage
Walking out along Cardiff Bay Barrage

Walking from Mermaid Quay, we were waylaid by a Tardis (courtesy of the Doctor Who Experience), playgrounds and a skate park en route to the barrage locks. These control the flow of water into the bay and it’s fun to watch the bridges opening up to let yachts and sailing boats through. We also enjoyed watching the cormorants diving for fish in the fast flowing waters of the fish pass.

Cardiff barrage locks
Cardiff barrage locks

The yellow rings in the photo above are part of an art installation ‘Three ellipses for three locks’. The full set of aligned concentric circles can only be seen from one spot; they highlight the different parts that go into making the barrage work.

We had planned to take the water bus back into the city centre from Penarth but timed it wrong so ended up walking both ways. If you’re visiting late on a Sunday afternoon check sailing times in advance!

More info:

  • Bute Park is open daily from 7.30am until 30 mins before sunset.
  • St Fagans is open daily from 10am-5pm. It’s 4 miles from the city centre so you’ll either need to drive (parking charge applies) or take the bus from outside Cardiff Central station. A return adult fare is £3, children £1.70.
  • The Cardiff Story is open 10am-4pm from Monday to Saturday (closed Sundays).
  • The Pierhead building is open daily from 10.30am-6pm; the Norwegian Church is also open daily from 11am-4pm.
  • The barrage embankment is open daily; further details are available on the Cardiff Harbour website.
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