The U.S. has many things, but good public transport is sure not one of them. Especially in the Midwest where I’m from- you’d be lucky to catch a bus. As such, my train-travel experience before studying abroad in the UK was limited to the ‘Silver Dollar Line’ at a local theme park, and that one just goes around in a circle. I didn’t know how much I’ve been deprived of the wonders of public transportation until now!
Riding the train all across England from Oxford, then all across Wales to the Western Pembrokeshire coast was a life changing experience- I never want to visit an airport again after this.
So how did this discovery begin? Well, as most of the great adventures in my life do, it all started with me being too cheap to do things the conventional way.
My class at Oxford was taking a weekend trip to Ireland, where they’d being doing some truly amazing things, but it was an optional trip and therefore costed extra. To make a long story short, Ireland is too expensive for me at this moment in time (but I’ll be back for ya). Taking this conundrum to our professor, some friends and I asked if there was anywhere more budget-friendly that we could go for the weekend. Being the gem that she is, she helped us plan the perfect, budget friendly, off the beaten path trip to the Pembrokeshire coast in Wales.
Lets dive in!
Train Travels to Wales
This was not my first rodeo on a train, since we’d taken them to several English cities, but it was the first time we’d be riding one long-haul style. Of course, our journey started off at the Oxford train station, and we didn’t have much trouble finding our first train.
If you’ve ever wondered how train travel compares to plane travel, let me tell you right here and right now: there is no comparison. Whereas planes force you to endure subzero temperatures and shove you under the sink-cupboard, trains are like sitting at a diner booth and chatting with friends for a long time. We were lucky to get a booth with a big table between us so that we could do homework. Or in my case, as the resident motion-sickness representative- I oscillated between looking out the window and bothering my friends.
Our first segment ended in Newport, a coastal city just inside the border of Wales. Like in Scotland, you don’t have to do anything when crossing the border from England. It was exciting to see signs in both English and Welsh.
The next major segment took us along the Southern Welsh coast. The landscape here is incredibly varied. Sometimes there are trees. Sometimes there are small towns. Sometimes bigger towns. Sometimes the bigger towns even have boats. My favorite views on this train are the estuaries, by far. Where rivers meet the Bristol Channel it creates a shallow, reflective-ish sandy-ish surface stretching as far as the eye can see. While the mirror-scape only seems a few inches deep, small boats can still float, evidenced by how many fishermen are out there even in late autumn.
Hanging out in Haverfordwest
After finishing the last leg of our train journey, we had to quickly catch a bus to a town called Haverfordwest to get the rest of the way to St. Davids.
Sadly, we did not catch it quickly enough, and had to wait for the next bus. Not knowing how long that would be, we decided to just start walking along the river that cuts through the middle of town and enjoy the scenery.
Haverfordwest seems like a lovely, quiet place with cobblestone streets, walls, and buildings. We walked up and down watching the water birds for a bit before settling on a stairway to have some snacks while overlooking the water and in view of the bus stop (double whammy). Across the water, a castle rises towards the sky at the top of the hill. It flies both the Welsh and British flags, and so I wonder if maybe they have a better relationship with the UK here. I don’t know much about these sentiments, but I am curious.
About an hour and a 3 GBP bus fair later, we were off again, this time towards St. Davids on the Pembrokeshire coast.
St. Davids, Pembrokeshire Coast
Rolling into St. David’s, we passed the beach before being dropped off in near the town square. It looks absolutely beautiful and I really hope we get to have an afternoon there.
In my mind, it makes the most sense to describe St. David’s both subjectively and objectively.
Physically, the town square seems to be the altitude-inal pinnacle of the town, with the elevation dropping as the quiet cobbled streets radiate from a stone cross outwards. In the center of a small collection of shops, the stone cross monument has a staircase perfect for sitting. And so we sat. And we enjoyed the sunny skies and the smell of the Atlantic breeze.
As far as first impressions go, St.David has a lovely easy going energy. In the square, no one seemed stressed or bogged down with work, the dozen or so people in the square were just walking or sitting on the steps, enjoying the day with their families.
Settling in at the YHA Hostel
When helping us plan the weekend, our advisor recommended that we stay at the YHA hostel, which turned out to be a great idea not only because it was economically feasible, but because I didn’t see anywhere else to stay other than a campground.
The YHA hostel in Pembrokeshire is an old manor that sits at the foot of a cliff, and the top of that cliff overlooks the ocean. As such, there are only a couple of rooms, and we got the attic space since there were five of us. Since there is a communal kitchen and reading room, we had no problems cooking our own food for the weekend.
While having a pasta dinner on our first night, I looked at a collection of newspaper clippings on the wall detailing a cliff which someone crashed their plane into and two kids fell of the edge into the water below. Looking at the faded yellow image, I was like “huh, that mountain looks really familiar”. It only took a couple minutes more to realize that the cliff was the one we were currently living on. Can you say haunted mountain?
Hiking the Cliffs of the Pembrokeshire Coast
One really great part about YHA is that just behind it are a set of well marked trails leading up to the cliffs overlooking the Pembrokeshire coast.
These wooden signs are written in Welsh and English, making it easy to deduce where you’re going. Hiking the trails of Pembrokeshire had me feeling an emotion I can’t name and have never felt before. Something akin to peace. The fields are packed full of purple and yellow wildflowers, unmarred by any kind of structure for miles around. It’s a glorious place.
Eventually, the fields give way to rocky ledges, and we were met with the blue Atlantic crashing into the coves hundreds of feet below. The bubbly blue water was crystal clear this evening, and so it was easy to spot the mysterious brow object floating in the water. Trying to figure out what it was, the answer became clear when said brown object flipped upwards with a misty exhale. A seal! A huge seal! Probably 7 or 8 feet long!
I knew what emotion I was feeling then, and it was excitement!
Watching the seal bobbing around and admiring the sunset for a long while. It was a simple yet very memorable day. Honestly, this hike made it one of my favorite memories from Europe to date. There’s nothing more I could say that would add to the imagery, so lets roll out one more picture!
What an adventure today has been. Most of it was spent on the train en route to Wales, but I love it so far. It’s so distant from the bustling cities of England, and I think this time in nature is exactly what is needed. Wales is so beautiful, which I hope translates well in the pictures, and I look forward to walking around St. Davids tomorrow and talking about it here.
Until then, peace & love!
Where did she come from: Oxford, England Where is she going: St. David's, Wales