Pembrokeshire’s status as one of the UK’s most cherished holiday destinations owes a great deal to the golden beaches, pretty seaside villages and numerous historical sites which dot its landscape and coastline.
Places like Pembroke Castle, St David’s Cathedral and Newgale Beach are major draws for holiday-makers year after year. However, there is one particular visitor attraction that for many epitomises the character and charm of Wales’s most westerly county. It is of course, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path.
The Pembrokeshire Coastal Path is a marvel to behold. Established in 1970, it runs for some 186 miles from Amroth in the south to St Dogmaels in the north. The path affords some of the most breathtaking seascapes anywhere in the UK and is the only coastal national park in the country.
The path wends its way across limestone cliffs, sheltered coves and over 50 beaches, many of which have Blue Flag designations. For long stretches, the path runs close to Pembrokeshire’s cliffs and coast, only deviating when expediency demands it.
The creation of this national treasure owes much to naturalist, author and ornithologist Ronald Lockley. During the 1950s, Pembrokeshire was blighted by poor communication and access between the coastal villages.
Indeed, transport routes were so ineffective that boats were often the preferred mode of transportation for locals. Recognising the problem, in 1953 Lockley compiled a report for the Countryside Commission in which he proposed the establishment of a coastal path which would connect Pembrokeshire’s coastal settlements. His findings were met with approval and accepted by the commission. As a result, the go-ahead was soon given, leaving Lockley with the task of entering into discussions with local landowners.
Following delicate negotiations, most landowners accepted the proposals recognising the obvious benefits of improved transport and communication routes. A small number refused access to their land, which is clearly evident to this day, by the path’s occasional deviation from its obvious route.
Nevertheless, work soon began in earnest to create the UK’s first national coastal path. It would take 17 years to complete and involved the construction of over 100 footbridges, around 500 stiles and the cutting of thousands of steps to help negotiate some of the more precarious, slippery sections.
The Pembrokeshire Coastal Path Opens
On May 16, 1970 the path was opened by journalist and broadcaster, Wynford Vaughan-Thomas. Its initial length was 180 miles before various diversion orders extended it to its current length of 186 miles. Today, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path is one of 15 National trails in England and Wales and is administered by Natural Resources Wales as well as the various local authorities which its passes through.
Thanks to Lockley’s foresight, communication routes in Pembrokeshire were vastly improved and the county was propelled into the national consciousness as an idyllic holiday destination. To put his achievement into perspective, it is estimated that some 5 million people visit Pembrokeshire each year. And it’s reasonable to assume that many gravitate towards his majestic coastal path so that they can absorb the wild splendour of Wales’s most beautiful holiday destination.