This next walk in our series, Walk 9, takes us from the ancient site of St. Govan’s headed westwards across a rugged and wild coastal landscape to the awesome natural rock feature known as ‘The Green Bridge of Wales’. As this area is part of the Ministry Of Defence Castlemartin Range East, access is restricted on military training days and planning a walk here in advance is essential.
We start from the car park at St. Govan’s, which is accessed by following the country lane from Bosherston Village. At the car park an information board provides some helpful details about this area. A track leads across a level grass area to the top of a cliff sided cove which contains an iconic place of Pembrokeshire National Park, the historic and holy site of St. Govan’s Chapel. From the top of the cove a winding set of stone steps leads down to the entrance of the chapel building.
This 13th century chapel was built over an earlier cell believed to be the home and final resting place of the mysterious Celtic Saint Govan, who died here in 586 AD.
Stone steps lead down a steep craggy slope to the chapel which was built in the cove between high sided cliffs. There’s a legend that if you count the steps on the way down to the chapel and then recount the steps on the way back up, the numbers never match. We find out later if there’s any truth to this legend.
At the foot of the steps is an archway entrance to the chapel, leading into a sparse small dark room with a single window outlook to the coast. Some visitors have said that on entering the chapel there’s an eerie feeling of leaving the modern world behind and stepping back in time to an age of Celtic myths and legends.
In the east wall of the room is an archway recess and a crevice in the rocks. The most famous of the legends pertaining to St. Govan is that when fleeing a raid by pirates he sought safety by hiding in this space and praying for help, the rocks miraculously closed around him until the danger passed and so saving his life. There are markings in the rock which according to the legend are the imprint of Govan’s ribs cast as the rock encased him.
Looking out on the wild and windswept cove you can take in a view that Govan himself would have looked upon and imagine for a moment what must have been his peaceful but bleak life spent at this extraordinary place which still retains an air of ancient celtic mystery.
At the back of the Chapel some stone steps lead down a rocky slope to a small stone structure covering what was once a holy well. From medieval times up until the early 20th century, pilgrims and infirm travellers came from far and wide seeking miracle cures from the healing waters of St. Govan’s Holy Well. Today this is an isolated place and even more so in centuries past, so you have to wonder how infirm some of these cure seeking travellers really were if they had managed to make it here!
Walking down through the rocks into the cove provides a dramatic view of the chapel in this unique setting, perched on the cliff side and wedged between the rocks and huge boulders.
On the south side is an impressive rock arch and richly coloured limestone cliff face with the backdrop of St. Govan’s Head in the distance.
Leaving the chapel and the ancient world behind us, we climbed the stone steps back to the clifftop. On reaching the top we compared step counts and found that yes, we did have differing numbers! Perhaps there’s some substance then to that old legend.
Back on the coast path we passed a military gateway from where a rough stony track heads westwards. Although the official advice is to keep to this track on the range, doing so would really deprive you of enjoying some spectacular scenic views along this stretch of coastline and would be an uninspiring trek.
The next 3 miles of coastline is internationally acclaimed for having some of the finest examples of geological rock formations in the UK, so it’s definitely worthwhile going off track to explore where possible and importantly, safe to do so.
Along this coast the landscape is exposed to the full force of the elements so the wind is bracing, ranging from blustery to almost galeforce at times and the sea waves swell and crash thunderously into the rocks below.
This all adds to the experience and the reward for walking nearer to this rugged and wild coastline is numerous spectacular views of towering cliffs, rock arches, hidden caves and incredible scenery at every turn.
Huntsman’s Leap is a narrow rock chasm with massive sheer sided cliffs. The name originates from the local legend of a huntsman who rode his horse to jump the gap and having successfully done so, he looked back into the chasm and promptly dropped dead from shock. It’s not known how his horse reacted to the feat.
There’s a more recent story of a Polish visitor attempting to emulate the leap, though without a horse. Not surprisingly he failed, slipped and fell down the gap onto the thin rock ledge a few metres below the cliff top. He apparently suffered a badly broken leg in the process and required an airlift rescue, but rather fortunately lived to tell the tale.
There’s a number of places along this coastline that have interesting names. There’s a prominent headland known as The Castle. An intriguingly named Bullslaughter Bay and another headland is known as The Cauldron.
Near to Bullslaughter Bay I had a first sighting of a pair of Choughs the rarest member of the crow family. They are noticeable by their red bills and legs and their Welsh name, brân goesgoch, translates as red-legged crow. This pair proceeded to perform some aerial acrobatics and followed for a time seemingly showing off for attention with their distinctive call.
A knowledgeable reader of this blog remarked how fortunate it was to see Choughs and provided some interesting details on their habitat. They feed on a very particular type of short grazed grassland using their long beaks to dig grubs out of thin soils. This area of coastal grassland, grazed extensively by sheep but with no other farming activity, is an ideal habitat for the chough.
Walking near to the clifftops there are extensive views across the landscape at Bullslaughter Bay, an awesome sight.
Flimston Bay has a secluded beach with rock pillars and massive vertical cliffs which make it incredibly scenic.
Further on is the headland known as The Cauldron with fearsome sheer vertical cliffs, definitely best viewed from a safe distance!
Next are the magnificent pair of limestone pillars, Stack Rocks, also known as Elegug Stacks. The word Elegug is the Welsh name for Guillemots. These huge rocks provide a major nesting site for masses of guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes during spring & summer. The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park has a Razorbill bird as it’s logo.
From Stack Rocks we head towards one of the most spectacular sites on the Pembrokeshire coast and probably one of the most famous and picturesque landmarks of Wales.
Walking to the end of the coast path near to Stack Rocks car park there’s a path to a viewing platform set near a prominent cliff edge which offers a breathtaking viewpoint for the Green Bridge of Wales.
The Green Bridge of Wales is a truly impressive monumental limestone arch and pedestal rock feature, regarded as a true natural wonder and icon of Wales.
In the distant past, the rock would once have had a double arch span but the effects of continuous weathering and erosion from the elements over millennia have reduced it to the present, single arch, form. The pedestal rock nearby is all that remains of that second arch. In October 2017 during Storm Orphelia a huge slab of limestone was sheared off the seaward edge changing the appearance in an instant. The damaged area is a noticeable copper colour.
A visit to a natural landmark wouldn’t be complete without a viewpoint selfie, all part of the experience even if a bit windswept.
The viewpoint is at the boundary of the Castlemartin Range West, a heavily restricted area with access for guided walks only by permission of Ministry Of Defence a few times a year. The coast path route therefore goes inland from here past the closed Flimston Chapel and some derelict farm buildings, before leaving the military range and joining country roads to the village of Castlemartin.
We returned to St.Govan’s by the official track across the Range and then back to the village of Bosherston. The local ‘St. Govan’s Country Inn’ is a ‘walkers welcome’ pub with a good food menu and bar, for a perfect finish to the day.
We revisited the Green Bridge on a clear, sunny and crisp winter day. The photo below taken in sunlight and calm weather conditions gives a different perspective of the arch detail and coastline.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable walk, from the celtic history of St.Govans to the unspoilt and phenomenal natural features of this unique coastline.
This walk brings the distance covered on our series of short walks on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, to 30 miles.
Join us again on our next walk, ‘Castlemartin range west’ a guided walk on Ministry Of Defence restricted land on a rarely accessible section of Pembrokeshire’s coastline.