After a fascinating road trip down through West Wales, we arrived at our final destination, the UK’s smallest city, St David’s…
St David’s & The Cathedral Close (Tyddewi)
Status: Pembrokeshire, City, Wales
Eating & Sleeping: Sound Cafe
Attractions: St David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, City Hall, Bishop’s Palace, National Park Visitor Centre, Celtic Cross, Cross Square, Tower Gate House, Bell Tower, River Alun etc
We parked up in a large car park opposite the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Visitor Centre, a modern new building showcasing all that the Park has to offer. The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is unique within the UK, as it’s the only National Park in the whole country to be focused upon a coastline. The Park covers an area of 234 square miles, with a length of over 180 miles along the Pembrokeshire Coast between just West of Cardigan round towards Tenby. St David’s is in a prime position, at the Westernmost point of Wales, right in the middle of the National Park.
The Park is 1 of 3 overall in Wales, with the others being the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales, and the Brecon Beacons in Mid Wales. Established in 1952, Pembrokeshire Coast became only the 5th National Park in England & Wales, of which there are currently 13.
It was only a short walk into the city centre from the National Park Visitor Centre, and the 1st building of note we arrived at was St David’s City Hall. It is the home of St Davids City Council, who help to administer the day to day runnings of the city.
Whilst St Davids is commonly used to refer to the town, it’s official name is “St Davids & The Cathedral Close”, referring of course to the famous Cathedral which is a major landmark of the city.
St David’s is 1 of the ancient Cathedral Cities of Britain, alongside Ripon, St Asaph and many others. It is however only the size of a small village, and originally attained City Status in the 16th Century, as at the time any place with a Cathedral was recognised as a city. Unfortunately, when this criteria for becoming a city was abolished in 1888, St Davids become just a town. It would take over 100 years before the ancient status of City was restored, after a petition to Queen Elizabeth II, who recognised the status that St David’s had historically held.
The centre of St David’s is characterised by a beautiful 14th Century Celtic Cross, which stands proudly in the middle of the aptly named “Cross Square”. Behind the Cross and to the left, you can see the Tabernacle, a Presbyterian Church of Wales building completed around 1815.
Just past the Cross lies a small Memorial Garden, bordered with colourful flowers, and views towards some of the cities most well known landmarks.
St David’s Cathedral is enclosed by a 15 ft high stone wall, protecting this sanctuary from attack for numerous centuries. To access the Cathedral Close, 4 large gates were built into the walls, although only 1 example still survives, the 14th century Tower Gate House, shown above to the left. It forms the main entrance into the Close, and directly beneath the gate lies the Bishop’s Dungeon.
Accompanying the Gate House, directly to the right of the main gate, is an Octagonal Bell Tower dating back to the 13th century, complete with a full complement of 10 bells.
From where we live in Lancashire, St Davids is around 226 miles, so to travel that kind of distance there must be something very special at the other end, to make the trip worth doing. The main reason we decided to come here was to visit St David’s Cathedral, and whilst we had seen pictures of it, we were unprepared for how truly magnificent it really is up close. Our 1st view of the Cathedral was over the Close Wall, looking down into the Close below. We picked the perfect day to come weather wise, and so far we were nothing short of impressed.
As I said before, St David’s is fully located inside the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, and the scenery here is fantastic. Not only is St David’s just 2 miles away from the coast of the Irish Sea, it also provides some great views of the surrounding countryside, such as a large rocky formation off in the distance towards Treleddyd-Fawr, another area of the National Park.
Proceeding through the Gate, we found ourselves at the top of a steep flight of stairs, on a mound overlooking the whole Cathedral precinct. The view is astonishing, and you are really able to appreciate the scale of what you see before you.
The religious history of this site goes back to before 589 AD, when Saint David founded a small monastery here, which would eventually become the City that still exists today, taking its name from its founder. As many of you will know, St David (500 – 589) is the Patron Saint of Wales, and was born in nearby Caerfai, also in Pembrokeshire. He passed away on March 1st in 589 AD, so this became known as St David’s Day in Wales.
Over to the right of the Cathedral, are the ruins of the Medieval Bishop’s Palace, but more on that in a minute.
St David’s Cathedral is the successor to Saint David’s original Monastery, which was destroyed numerous times in the centuries following his death, through raids etc. The present building wasn’t started until 1181, although it was beset by problems from the start, such as the collapse of the Cathedral Tower in 1220, followed by Earthquake damage in the late 1240’s.
The beautiful Nave roof was completed between 1530 and 1540, and the building flourished for over a century, until the English Civil War reached the city in 1648. The Parliamentarian Army ransacked/destroyed much of the building, and it would be another 200 years before the major damage, that done to the West Front, was repaired, overseen by John Nash (1752 – 1835, also responsible for the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, Parts of Buckingham Palace and the Guildhall in Newport, Isle of Wight). You can easily tell the areas which Nash rebuilt, as they are a different colour of stone to the rest of the building, with a purple hue.
David himself is buried at the Cathedral, in St David’s Shrine, which still exists today, having been lovingly restored following centuries of neglect. His remains are supposedly held within 1 of the shrines reliquaries, and he remains beloved by the people of Wales even today.
1 of the most recent additions, built in the late 2000’s are the new Cathedral Cloisters, with multiple walkways enclosed within large oak frames. They enclose a large open green space, and also contain the new Cathedral Cafe.
Separating the Cathedral from the remains of the Bishop’s Palace is the River Alun, which has the appearance of a small stream. You can cross the River using the small stone bridge in the centre of the picture, which leads directly towards 1 of the 2 Cathedral Shops, shown on the left bank of the River. The other shop is located within the Cathedral Nave.
The Alun begins a few miles away, North of St David’s around Tretio Common, before beginning its journey South, heading through the centre of the city, and finally emptying out into St. Brides Bay.
The Bishop’s Palace is a separate attraction, and whilst the Cathedral is completely free to enter (although a small donation is suitable), the Bishop’s Palace is a paid attraction, with tickets available from the nearby Cathedral Shop building.
The main portion of the surviving Bishop’s Palace can be attributed to the work of Bishop Henry de Gower, who served as the Bishop of St David’s between 1328 and 1348. Work on the Bishop’s Palace progressed alongside major works on the Cathedral, which saw some of its most prosperous years.
The building would be used by the different Bishops of St David’s until the 16th century, when the Bishop’s residence was moved to the village of Abergwili in Carmarthenshire, under Bishop William Barlow (Died in 1568). The Bishop’s Palace in St David’s went into decline, and by the end of the 17th century it had become ruinous.
Many of the major exterior features survived, such as the Great Hall, which visitors can explore for themselves. Despite it’s sad history, it remains an important part of the heritage of St David’s, and no trip to the Cathedral would be complete without it.
We had actually arrived in St David’s at around 8am, having left Lancashire at 2am, and made the 5.5 hour trip (with a few stops) to Pembrokeshire. After some exploration, it was time for breakfast, and we found a brilliant little cafe called the “Sound Cafe” on the high street looking out towards the Memorial Gardens/Cathedral.
St David’s is a beautiful little city, in 1 of Wales’s most idyllic locations. It is the smallest city in the UK, as well as the only city in the UK to be located within a National Park. Built around its connection to the Patron Saint of Wales, and incredible Cathedral, it is a must see for anyone travelling to West Wales. All the locals are very friendly, and there are plenty of attractions both within the city and the wider area to spend a pleasant few days out here, such as a trip out by boat to Ramsey Island. It certainly ranks very highly amongst our Welsh trip destinations over the years, and we are very glad we made the trip here.
A pot of tea, and a Bacon/Sausage/Egg Balm later, we were ready to hit the road for the next stage of our journey, heading towards the town of Haverfordwest…