Britain’s Smallest City, July 2019

It’s very rare that we consider a UK destination (especially at home in Wales) for a mini break but as we would be going to Valencia the weekend after, and our inability to find anything cheap on the continent we decided to go as far west in Wales as possible, heading to the UK’s smallest city in St David’s.

We had a really good overnighter in Tenby last October so we were aware that there wouldn’t be endless activities to keep us occupied. For this reason we didn’t set off from Newport until midday on Saturday and although there were a few short queues once we ran out of M4 motorway, the traffic must have been a lot less painful than it would have been travelling in the morning.

Arriving just after 3pm, our hotel was impossible to miss as we entered St David’s. Our home for the night – The Grove – is an SA Brains “speciality” pub/restaurant/hotel and one of less than half a dozen in Wales. Although the pub areas were modern and spacious once we got in our room you could get a jist of how old the building actually is… not a 90 degree angle in sight!

Costing around the £100 mark for the evening, our accommodation certainly wasn’t cheap. Whilst I’m aware that our chosen weekend was about as peak as you can get in the summer, for that amount of cash one would expect a decent pressure on the shower and no tape covering the cracks in the floor tiles. On a really hot afternoon air-con or even a desktop fan would have been a bonus, considering if all 12 rooms were occupied that night they were turning over £1,200 at a guess. That said, the night was comfortable, the food was good (see below) and we would probably book there again – I was surprised how little options for accommodation or dinner there is in the miniscule centre.

Slightly refreshed having dropped the bags off in the room we headed in to town. Should we take the car and park? Don’t be silly. We assumed the hotel was on the outskirts of the city (village) but a quick check on google maps explained that the central point was 0.3 miles down the road. So we walked past the central war memorial, down the hill towards the number one things to see in St David’s, and probably the reason the place exists, the cathedral.

Walking to an archway to enter the grounds, it was a tad surprising to see the cathedral down a rather steep hill. The places of worship I had come across so far on my summer travels have all been magnificent, powerful buildings that dominate the skyline, yet St David’s Cathedral lies quietly in a ditch.

A ditch may be the wrong word. The site is certainly postcard-worthy and it was pleasant to have a walk around having missed maximum heat. Next to the cathedral lies the Bishop’s Palace that has been substantially less maintained than the cathedral but still an interesting bit of stone.

On a side note, it was really interesting to see National Cycle Route 4 running between the cathedral and palace. Route 4 starts in Fishguard and ends at the Cutty Sark ship in east London. How do I know this?? In 2014, I actually cycled 150 miles across two days on route 4 from Bristol to said Sark, raising £1600 and this is still probably my biggest achievement in life. Fast forward to today and I’ve nearly polished off a big bag of crisps writing this. Depressing much…

Anyway, the Bishop’s Palace. We had a quick peak inside and watched a few actors rehearse their play on stage before returning to the cathedral and heading inside. It was a bloody big place, but rather toned down I felt, which I found quite nice and more welcoming. And for some strange reason I LOVED the roof.

It was a slow and arduous walk back up from the site and I was getting a bit frustrated by the narrow pavements. Constantly stopping, saying thank you, trying to curb any danger of tripping over the kerb.

From here we aimed to walk in a few other directions but they all seemed to offer no source of exploration. We’d only been out for a little more than an hour. From here we decided to head back to the hotel, grab the car and go to the beach eight minutes away.

Whitesands Beach was brilliant. There were loads of people still out as teatime approached. I haven’t been to many beaches in Wales for a while but this one was very clean and the water was BLUE, would you believe it? It was a schoolboy error not to bring a change of clothes away with me so I had to make do of walking along the shore and back with Kay. This was pleasant although after an hour I still thought the water was bloody freezing; it’s late July FFS.

Once we purchased the BEST mint chocolate ice cream from the shop (forgot the name sadly) we agreed that the beach would likely be the best part of the day.

We still had a bit more to do though. We had to travel back to St David’s to get a good enough signal to hunt down our next stop.

I didn’t read much in to St Non’s Chapel and Well… as it was Kay’s choice I thought I would give her an opportunity to deliver a history lesson, especially as she is so upset having to suffer through six weeks of no teaching over summer.

As we parked up (we could have walked) it was unclear at first where or what we were supposed to be looking for but before long we followed the footpath to discover a roofed well in the middle of, well, nowhere really. It’ll be much nicer if you read from a photograph instead of me thinking I’m knowledgeable by reading Wikipedia…

The little well also had its own shrine a stone’s throw away…

A little further on we could see the ruins of St Non’s chapel. At this point Mikayla told me that St Non was the mother of St David and the chapel is said to his birthplace.

The views from here were (I’d imagine) some of the best in Wales outside a Newport County match. We continued to walk along the coastal path towards the cliff edge. I found humour in the fact the farm animals in the adjacent fields were worthy of a fence protecting them from the deathly drop but as for us, we were just yards away. Neither of us pushed the other one off. Now if that isn’t love…

In hindsight, we could have and should have stayed here a bit longer as I am already missing the views. It was however tea-time.

I fancied something along the lines of fish and chips but to our amazement we only came across ONE in town and that didn’t offer much in the way of seating. After looking around the restaurants we decided to eat at the hotel that in comparison was reasonably priced. With us having to wait 40 minutes here I doubt there would have been too many options booking tables elsewhere.

A steak, a gammon, four sides (don’t judge) and two cokes came to under £40, we were pleased with that. As a final outing of the day we had a stroll for half an hour to the supermarket, to buy nothing, then back to the hotel room and bed.

Throughout the day on Saturday we were trying to sort out a boat ride that would be the main thing to do on the Sunday. We found Voyages of Discovery on Google and although we were waiting for confirmation for quite a while, on Saturday night we were confirmed on the 8:30am “Whale and Dolphin Voyage”.

The problem with such an early start was that we had to sacrifice our free breakfast at the hotel, but the other option of a 3:30pm departure suited us even less.

We picked up our tickets from the City (lolz) Centre at 8am and made it to St Justinian’s well in time for 8:30, picking up a massive coat and getting our life jackets attached.

Within minutes we were seeing not dolphins, but ‘cousins’ of dolphins called porpoises. These are a lot smaller and less friendly that the main event. Our guide said they spend their whole life feeding and have little time to enjoy themselves or socialise. Now who does that remind me of…

Further out we started seeing an array of birds, some of which we were told would fly to ICELAND and back today to go get some food. Funny as I thought they delivered. OK, that’s the last dad joke.

It was cute to see a few puffins flapping their wings like no tomorrow as we picked up speed heading towards Grassholm. There were 10 of us in that boat but once it picks up some speed and jumps off a wave you don’t half come down with a bang! Great fun for the first 5 minutes then constant pain for the other 85!

I have never heard of Gannets before, but Grassholm holds the fourth largest colony of them in the world. On a small island quite a way out (see map) there are believed to be 110,000 birds… nesting, resting and definitely shitting!

We also saw a few seals doing what they do best (absolutely nothing) and we made our way back, in the hope that we would see the main event, some dolphins.

That hope lasted all of five minutes before two dolphins were swimming parallel to the boat. After deeming it impossible to take a photo giving the bumpy boat and speed of the dolphin leap I gave up with the phone and enjoyed the view with my own eyes. The guide said that dolphins are naturally friendly and come up to the boat to have a nose. The difference between the dolphin and porpoise is that dolphins are loads more intelligent, so don’t have to eat constantly through the day. Once they have eaten they can chill and swim by some boats of tourists. Works for me.

The journey back to shore seemed to take an age but for the first part we were constantly seeing more dolphins approach the vessel. And that impossible photo miraculously was achieved! The last sighting of them was actually a trio swimming within 5 meters of the boat. What a great morning!

This specific boat trip cost £62 each but they start from £25ish, although you can get 5% off if you book 2+ days ahead. Our trip was nearly 3 hours long and they provided super thick jackets that are a must, even in the middle of summer and if you’re my size. You can’t guarantee to see everything but today we were lucky. We both gave the trip 5 out of 5 and would recommend it to anyone. Dolphins a few hours down the road from Newport!

Skipping breakfast and being battered around on a boat for three hours meant we had know built up a bit of an appetite. Dreading the long drive home we decided to start our drive back, stopping off at the Lost Coins Pub in Haverfordwest for some lunch that was just what we wanted. I did notice there was a Premier Inn next door if you possibly wanted to save a few quid and drive 15 minutes in to St David’s… but should probably recommend you use the local services instead.

Considering we were home 25 hours after leaving, we managed to do so much. I really think it would be difficult to do everything in one day but an overnight stay allows plenty of time to check things out, including several hours having a beer in the evening that we decided against.

Thanks for reading… we’re off to Valencia next weekend and I’m still trying to finish the Jordan blog from January!