Church Doors and Skrinkle Haven: a cove of majestic rock arches and a golden sandy strand for solitude seekers

Coming down to Church Doors cove ©Kerry Walker

If all place names were as wondrous as Church Doors and Skrinkle Haven, a dreamy double act of beaches just west of Tenby, we would all soon become cartophiles. We won’t deny it was in part the marvellous monikers that enticed us here when casting our eyes along this coastline for a sandy bay as beautiful as Tenby’s but bereft of Tenby’s rather considerable crowds. But of course if the country’s strands were re-ranked by the intrigue of their names, then these two would have become tourist honeypots. And we like them just the way they are: unspoilt and unpeopled.

Church Doors is a deep smugglers cove accessed from a continuation of the road to Air Defence Range Manorbier, an RAF missile-testing base and a decidedly grim-looking spot. Grim enough, at least, that quite a few are deterred from scouting the area out (and lovely Manorbier, being so close, draws them instead). But beyond the high barbed-wire fencing and no trespassing signs the rolling green coastline here, rearing up in serrated, strata-stippled cliffs and crashing in mounds of magnificent boulders to the shore, is pretty divine. The RAF base road soldiers on a little further to YHA Manorbier and a car park and then there is a path descending to a steep set of 140 iron-railed steps onto the Church Doors cove.

©Kerry Walker

The cove quickly communicates why it gets this name: there away on the left (east) side carved out of the cliffs that hem it in is an immense rock arch looking exactly like the gaping main entrance to a monumental cathedral. The lofty, narrow arch frames a geologists’ paradise of ruptured rock strata shelving away on the other side. It makes you feel humblingly small to stand beneath it. Bulky, slippery boulders strew the whole cove, but there is a small area of sand on the right (west) side at the front. You walk all around the beach and then there is a twist – although it is easy to miss it altogether. A second arch, on the opposite cliff to the main one. The arch that makes this beach ‘Church Doors’ in the plural rather than plain ‘Church Door’. It is much smaller than the other but in many ways much more significant. You can clamber through it, with little more than a scramble, and?…

The big ravishing smile of sand you saw from above and thought inaccessible because the official path has been blocked off because of dangerous landfalls, the beautiful beach you could see did not have a soul on it but could not for the life of you fathom why unless it was because there was simply no way through to it from land? The second arch on Church Doors cove leads right there. Right through to delightful Skrinkle Haven. You emerge on the Skrinkle Haven side of the arch on a rocky ledge, and then you need a low to middling tide to then climb down from the ledge seawards and walk around to the beach. It is dark and slippery enough to put most people off (and a notice as you enter Church Doors cove also warns against accessing Skrinkle Haven). But arch number two is easily negotiated and with little risk. Just bear in mind you can get cut off at high tide, so be mindful of this.

And there you are in picturesque Pembrokeshire with one of its loveliest sandy beaches all to your lonesome.

Let’s just leave exactly what Skrinkle Haven has in store as a surprise for when you visit and simply say for now that it will be utterly worth your while. Some things don’t need words.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: Pembrokeshire is well know for its havens, deep usually sandy and shallow bays that make good natural harbours – so continue 24 miles northwest to another of our favourite havens, Druidston Haven.

Worth the wait… ©Kerry Walker

Beach Basics

Sand: 10 Not much on Church Doors but a whole deserted scoop of it on Skrinkle Haven

Swimability 9 Very tempting on Skrinkle Haven given how it slowly gracefully slips into the sea.

Privacy: 9 Access keeps the masses away (and very nearly everyone).

Setting: 10 The dramatic, tempestuous prequel of Church Doors with its mind-boggling rock arch (one of Wales’ best) and then the sandy paradise of Skrinkle Haven… beyond words.

Facilities: 6 (a YHA above Church Doors and both Lydstep (1.5 miles) and Manorbier (3 miles) easily factored into a hike here (and you can get the bus back to either Lydstep from Manorbier or vice versa).

At a glance

How to get there: From Tenby, take the A4139 5 miles west through Lydstep, turning left on the B4585 towards Manorbier. Then you pass the bland village of Skrinkle (nope the name does not live up to the reality here) and take the signed turning to Skrinkle Haven on the left in the village. Continue past the RAF base and the YHA to the very end of the lane and the closest clifftop parking place (a 5-minute walk from the top of the steep steps). There is also parking in Lydstep (a left hand turn just after the pub which takes you on a narrow rough track past the entrance to a caravan park to another car park. Walk west along the coast path from either car park.

Parking: Either from access roads in Skrinkle or Lydstep as mentioned above, both clifftop car parks with plenty of space.

Refreshments: Manorbier (3 miles via the Pembrokeshire Coast Path) or Lydstep (1.5 miles via the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and tracks), both of which have friendly, welcoming pubs.

Best time to visit: Church Doors gets its share of summer visitors, but not in comparison to, for example, Tenby. Meaning that even in high season (August) you could have this cove almost to yourself. And as for Skrinkle Haven, you are almost certainly going to have to get used to the fact that there will be no one else at all on this lonely strand, unless they have also been inspired to make it there from reading this article!) Skrinkle Haven is a beach you will want to swim off, so perhaps come here April-September if you don’t relish very cold water. Church Doors starts getting really wild and majestic with the higher tides and wind-tossed days of spring, autumn and winter.

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