A Ramble around Dinas Island

Walk length: 4.75km.

Right from the off, Dinas Island dishes up surprises. Because of course, for one thing, it is not an island but a bulbous peninsula. For another, the access point from the A487 at Dinas Cross between Fishguard and Newport is unpromising: it scarcely suggests one of Pembrokeshire’s finest stretches of coast path could be so close. But weave down a couple of typically narrow, sinuous Pembrokeshire country lanes from here via hamlets scarcely big enough to possess names and you arrive at Pwllgwaelod Beach, a loveably scruffy sand and shingle cove and the start point for a classic coastal hike, heightened no end by the serendipitous presence of one of South Wales’ hidden culinary treasures, the Old Sailors, a seafood-focused cafe with a gorgeous grassy stone-walled garden sloping down to the cove.

Why has Undiscovered Wales brought you here? In the main, to hike one of the most spectacular, geologically- and wildlife-rich sections of coast in Pembrokeshire – and the Pembrokeshire coast is well known for its spectacular geologically- and wildlife-rich sections. Plus…

What to do

See the sights! The cove of Pwllgwaelod Beach marks a good place to start exploring. Whilst the views are gobsmacking from the beginning, it’s the trig point near Dinas Island’s very own Pen y Fan (there is, of course, a more famous Pen y Fan in Wales that we have managed to find a very undiscovered take on) at Dinas Head that marks the next major point of interest, with wonderful views of the cliffs tumbling away below, as well as north and south along the coast and inland. Further on is Needle Rock, a major gathering and nesting point for seabird colonies. Then there is the waylaying seaside village of Cwm-yr-Eglwys, best-known not for its lovely beach but for its iconic ruined St Brynach’s church.

Hike! As we’re about to describe below… this is the key hike to do on Dinas Island.

Dine! The Old Sailors at Pwllgwaelod Beach is a scenic spot to sample Pembrokeshire seafood like lobster and mussels – even the fish finger sandwich is very, very nice.

Wildlife watch! Porpoises and dolphins cavort in the waters hereabouts, and there is stupendous seabird action around Needle Rock, with the lead act being the ungainly but entertaining puffins (nesting April through to June/July).

An incredible (and inaccessible) bay along the walk ©Kerry Walker

The route

This leg-stretch around Dinas Island is easy enough to follow, using as it does the Pembrokeshire Coast Path for the first part of the way. Following coast path signs, climb above the beach, passing the entrance track to Island Farm, now under the auspices of the National Trust, and curve through a kissing gate with the north edge of the beach now on your left. In essence, you are tracing the outline of the Dinas Island peninsula as you climb, with first a sharp kink to the right (at the rocky mini-headland of Pen Castell) and then another to the left ushering you up onto a leveller stretch with impressive cliff scenery plunging away on the seaward side.

Approaching the top of Dinas Island ©Kerry Walker

The climb has been brief but intense and now, as you round another mini-headland and glance ahead along a wide arc of clifftop with the highest point of Dinas Island and of the walk in front, the most striking geology presents itself. Sea caves, rock stacks, jagged craggy islands and deep, inaccessible bays can be seen far below. At the trig point by Pen y Fan  (142m above sea level) with Dinas Head in front you can descend a fair distance to improve your view of this geology along a grassy slope. And, whilst you are jutting out now over a bay with views southwest to Fishguard and east along to Newport Sands, there is a profound sensation of isolation here. Despite the wild feel, the wind-whipped sea often turns some truly mesmeric shades of azure here, with Dinas Head and surrounds being one of the best spots for spying dolphins and porpoises on the Pembrokeshire coast.

The coast coming towards Needle Rock ©Kerry Walker

Descend now to another gate, after which the path splits with the coast path descending more steeply and thrillingly to the left on a route which bends giddily close to the cliff’s edge. The other path continues along a fence line and joins the coast path again soon enough. You will now catch sight of the island of Pwll Glas below you and, soon enough, Needle Rock, a tall, precipitous grassy rock stack favoured by all sorts of seabirds, but most significantly puffins, who were nesting there very early in the season when we last stopped by at the beginning of April.

The Church of St Brynach at Cwm-ur-Eglwys ©Kerry Walker

As the path continues to bend around the eastern side of the peninsula more sea caves and rock stacks can be glimpsed below. One of Pembrokeshire’s prettiest seaside settlements, Cwm-yr-Eglwys, now comes into focus ahead as the path dips into trees, advances past an earthworks and crosses a footbridge to emerge onto the lane that twists down into Cwm-yr-Eglwys. The dinky village has a gorgeous arc of beach, a jetty and a few photogenic houses, but by far the most distinctive feature is the ruined church, with its grassy old churchyard hard fast to the sea wall and bell tower still winsomely in tact. This, the Church of St Brynach, was destroyed by storms during the 1850s, with most damage being done by the Royal Charter Storm of 1859, the century’s most ferocious storm on the Irish Sea. Cwm-yr-Eglwys also has a car park, toilets and the grassy area around the church as a picnicking spot, not to mention an annual regatta in August. Indeed, even the Cwm-yr-Eglwys caravan park appears fairly fetching, as you will see when you pass through the site on the continuation of your walk to pick up a metalled footpath on the far (southwestern) side. This path threads along a shady section to return within half a mile through the trees to Pwllgwaelod Beach and your start point.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From the Dinas Head car park, it’s 7 miles south over some beautiful moorland to one of the most traditional pubs in Wales, the Dryffyn Arms

At a glance

How to get there: 5 miles northeast of Fishguard or 4 miles west of Newport. From Fishguard, take the steep and bendy A487 4 miles northeast to Dinas Cross, where (after a minimarket on the right) a left-hand turn leads past the Ship Aground pub down to Pwllgwaelod Beach.

Parking: A long, substantial car park back from Pwllgwaelod Beach. The car park is free and there are toilets.

Refreshments: The Old Sailors at Pwllgwaelod Beach

Best time to visit: Late spring or summer. The walk is a blaze of colour at this time from the gorse on the top of Dinas Island to the trees flowering on the descent into Cwm-yr-Eglwys.