Sacred solitude on Mwnt Beach

Gorse-clad cliffs tumble down to Mwnt Beach ©Kerry Walker

Sometimes, when you ask around in a local area for good off-the-grid recommendations of places to visit, you wind up disappointed or downright annoyed if you follow through with the suggestion and go there: local recommendations are not always great. Admittedly, Mwnt and its big USP, its beach, are a mere five miles from Cardigan, the second-largest town in the county of Ceredigion with its population of around 5,000 and therefore a HUGE settlement by local standards. But the network of narrow lanes that concertina from here out to Mwnt gradually get narrower, reduce in number and generally, we thought as we made our way down there, bode very well for Mwnt’s inclusion in a compendium of undiscovered places in Wales.

Mwnt itself might just about justify being called a hamlet: it’s a few dwellings scantly sprinkled over some rolling green fields that slope to the cliffs above the tawny quadrangle of Mwnt Beach. Most of Mwnt is in fact a small and not especially pleasant caravan site, the curse of many otherwise lovely coastal locales in Ceredigion, but the saving grace is that this has kept far back from both the expansive grassy parking area, the nearby medieval church and the descent to the beach.

Charming Mwnt Church ©Kerry Walker

Mwnt’s moments of fame

Mwnt has not been deprived of times in the limelight – both in the history books and in more contemporary times. The main pilgrimage route to St Davids from the north ran right along the Ceredigion coastline, so one interesting phenomenon on the seaboard hereabouts is that many remnants of early Christian and medieval religious life can still be found: and one of the most fetching examples of this is at Mwnt church. This dinky whitewashed building, huddled above the beach by the bulky headland of Foel y Mwnt, is the other significant building at Mwnt, and dates back to at least the 13th/14th centuries in its current form – although this was almost certainly a place of worship and pilgrimage stopover for several hundred years previously. More recently, Mwnt starred on a lit of Daily Mail ‘best beaches’ and gained a Green Coast Award (similar to a Blue Flag Award, but for wilder beaches without coastguards or such well-developed facilities).

So this is somewhere that has the cachet of a place that might, in fact, attract a lot of visitors. But it doesn’t: not even on the sunny late spring afternoon when we stopped by last year. Why? Well it might be the parking charge, but we figure it’s more likely to be overlooked compared to other spots on the Ceredigion coastline because the beach is much further back from the main road than beaches further north towards Aberyswyth are.

So: a fairly undiscovered beach, close to Cardigan and with an ancient church to check out. What are you waiting for?

What to do

Exploring Foel y Mwnt ©Kerry Walker

Check out the church The whitewashed medieval mini-church is not your average West Wales beach find, and well worth a look. The Church of the Holy Cross is decorated inside with touching simplicity, with a font hewn from Preseli stone (the same stone that built Stonehenge!). It’s an example of a sailor’s chapel of ease – a place which sailors could easily access from shore to pray – and whatever else sailors do in churches.

Walk around Foel y Mwnt – and wildlife watch It’s lovely doing this, and a good contrast to lazy beach time. Foel y Mwnt is the massive heathery headland shaped a little like a steam iron that swoops above church and beach. From the land side, it’s a gentle walk to the top. Once at the top, not only are the views of the beach superb but you can also see a vast swathe of Cardigan Bay, the largest bay in Wales. On the north side of Foel y Mwnt is a secluded , flower-filled little valley. Any part of the headland is nice for a picnic – then again, so is the beach itself! The top of Foel y Mwnt is a great spot for spying the Mwnt coast’s celebrated sealife – seals, dolphins and porpoises.

Grab an ice cream This is possible in summer, as the path down to the beach first conveniently stops at a shelter where ice creams are available in the height of season, and there are inviting tables outside to lick them to death on.

Go to the beach Mwnt is a fairly large sandy beach, but it is not one of those you can keep wandering along, hoping to find your own special secret spot (cliffs either side prevent this). There are plenty of beaches for aimless wandering in Wales, and we will be writing about them in due course, but Mwnt beach is all in one sizeable open area of sand: all beachgoers will be in sight. Fortunately, the beach is fairly long and deep so there is ample space for everybody.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: It’s 10 miles east along the coast from here to an even more tucked-away sandy beach (accessible only by a 2-mile walk), Traeth Bach

The path down to Mwnt… ©Kerry Walker

Beach basics

Sand: 8 (A mix of hard and soft sand, with bands of pebbles).

Swimability: 8 (This is a Green Coast Award beach, after all).

Privacy: 4 (No separate series of coves – all one big beach).

Setting: 8 (Dramatic cliff surrounds, an undulating grassy headland up top, a beautiful church, and best of all, occasional seals and dolphins).

Facilities: 7 (Parking and ice creams available up above, what more do you want from an undiscovered beach?)

At a glance

How to get there: 5 miles northeast of Cardigan. Take the B4548 towards Gwbert (it’s also known as Gwbert Road) and after about three quarters of a mile take a diagonal right on a lane through farmland and passed two or three farm entrances. Turn right at a T-junction, then immediately left at the next junction. Then take the first right at the next junction by another farm and then the second left-hand turn which brings you down on the lane to Mwnt Car Park.

Parking: You will have to pay for the parking (a few pounds for the day), but it is extensive and grassy: no need to worry about insufficient room.

Refreshments: That afore-mentioned shack on the path down to the beach selling ice creams. Otherwise grab picnic supplies or eat in Cardigan (or at the Cliff Hotel and Spa in Gwbert 4 miles southwest.

Best time to visit: Spring or autumn often get just as spectacular weather as summer, and are good for crowd-dodging. However June to September is probably prime dolphin-watching time!