Look at Pembrokeshire’s coastline closely, the extreme-west coastline snagging in madly-gouged cliffs and cave-mouths and coves and rock stacks and smashed reefs and bewitching brokenness around St Davids, and a colour you would not expect distinguishes itself. Purple. And not from the heather, but from Pembrokeshire’s purple stone, most famously gracing St Davids Cathedral, which characterises both the craggy seaboard and lots of the regional architecture: striking purple-grey when dry, its hue when wet deepens into a unique shade somewhere between the Tyrian purple of antiquity and the colour berries turn when cooked in porridge to bursting point. It is beautiful. And it was the most significant building the stone built, St Davids Cathedral, that would give the stone a name. And so this mauvish rock, a sort of sandstone, became known as Caerbwdi Stone, because it was quarried at Caerbwdi or Caer Bwdy Bay.
We have been collecting purplish pebbles on trips to Pembrokeshire for years, because we are big pebble collectors (jars of them sit around our house emitting a maritime odour from time to time) and the colour is just one that cannot be found in such abundance, if at all, elsewhere. But to discover the bay which, giving birth to the cathedral as it did, can justifiably be called Pembrokeshire’s purple stone capital, was a pleasure we only got to enjoy on our latest foray to the far west.
Caer Bwdy Bay is one of the St Davids beaches, closer than the jam-packed Whitesands Bay to the city centre by far. But no one goes there really. Not any more. Many come close, to Caerfai Beach, but that has a car park easily accessible from St Davids right above it and a big scoop of sand, and these two things waylay most of the rest of the would-be visitors.
For Caer Bwdy Bay, you must walk on around the riven coastline to the east from Caerfai, or leave St Davids altogether on the main Haverfordwest road and, just as you start to be able to pick up speed down the hill after the service station, swing right on a minor lane which takes you to a tiny verge-side car park from where you can walk the half mile to the bay.
So it has no close-at-hand car park and very little in the way of sand but this is not the point, with Caer Bwdy Bay. What it has a prevalence of is purple stone, polished pretty as a gemshop window.
Perhaps in truth, admiring other nearby stretches of coast, you never really appreciated Pembrokeshire’s purplishness. Or (you will be forgiven for this) you spent your time looking out at the sea, or after your children or husband or wife or dog, and had no time for gazing at cliff colours. Usually, actually, the purple hue in the rock around here is better descried from out at sea looking shoreward. But not at Caer Bwdy. Here it is on full display in the bay.
We descended here from Caerfai beach, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path first thrusting us out onto a gangly, grassy, gorse-and-heather-covered headland before whisking us back inland down to the bay entrance, so we clapped eyes on Caer Bwdy from the seaward side first. Overall it is deep, although mini-promontories of boulders and rock columns partly account for that, and the ‘beach’ of stones and boulders and seaweed and rockpools and streamlets is a little smaller.
Hidden in the vegetation on the way down, you pass what looks like an old kiln – perhaps a trace of the bay’s former quarrying industry. If other traces remain, they are muddled now into this beach’s general likeable unkemptness: shelves of grey shingle at the top spilling quickly into a spread of big, slimy, seaweed-jacketed boulders in-between which are pockets of the lovely purple pebbles, washed rosy by streams flowing down it and by tides advancing up. It is a slippery beach, and the fact that you need to pick your way along carefully gives it the feeling of greatness, and of a great unknown.
And great it is: not just for pebble-bagging, but also for seaweed foraging (St Davids most in-the-know foragers rate the spot highly) amongst its briny rocks and rockpools, and for climbing, especially free soloing, along from its eastern edge over the ludicrous afore-mentioned rockscape of stacks and columns and faces and ledges fanning out to the next headland along.
Reasons to return then. But for now we have our pockets stuffed with perfect purple Caer Bwdy stones.
NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Caer Bwdy Bay, it’s a 2.5-mile drive/easy 2-mile walk to Penrhiw Priory Hotel
St Davids is one of our special star destinations. Scroll to the bottom for our mini guide to access all our St Davids content in one place…
Sand: 1 (there is not much of this)
Swimability: 5 (it doesn’t scream ‘swim’ at you because of the slimy rocky, but navigate these and you certainly have peace when you get to the water – seaweed is good for you remember:))
Privacy: 8 (Unpeopled enough even on first viewing, but get out exploring along that rocky peninsula pictured and you will have privacy redefined!)
Setting: 8 (We are partial to these wild coves, and one so close to touristy St Davids is a big, brilliant surprise)
Facilities: 6 (none at the bay, of course, but Caerfai Beach and also St Davids are, incredibly, within 2 miles)
At a glance
How to get there: From Haverfordwest, take the A487 14 miles northwest towards St Davids. After Solva, and just before the service station marking the entrance to St Davids, look for the little turning left to Caer Bwdy, as the road approaches a dip. Parking is just along this lane on the right.
Parking: As mentioned above, just along the Caer Bwdy turn-off on the right is a wide grassy verge with room for 8-10 cars. As space is at such a premium, it does fill up. Parking is free. Otherwise, continue into St Davids, take the exit to the Twr y Felin hotel and continue down to Caerfai Beach parking (more room). Or park in St Davids and walk, it’s not very far even from the centre.
Refreshments: One of the campsites halfway down the lane to Caerfai Beach does wood-fired pizza, but actually all St Davids’ key eating options are within a 2-mile walk. Or go get picnic items to bring with you! There’s a big supermarket (CK’s) and St Davids Food and Wine in the centre, to name but two.
Best time to visit: Really. Any time. Summer for a swim, but winter perhaps shows it off at its wildest best. In fact a bay like Caer Bwdy suits winter. And the colour of the purple stone, unlike that of the flower-covered heath backing the bay, does not diminish with the season!
ST DAVIDS MINI GUIDE: