Porth-Clais is one of northern Pembroke’s most famous crags and is a firm favourite for many who visit the area. Just a short walk south from the eponymous little harbour that has served the city of St. David’s since the Middle Ages, the crags occupy an attractive little headland and consist of two beautiful clean slabs separated by a more broken and somewhat less appealing zawn. The two slabs are of course Porth-Clais’ principle attraction and both hold routes that are well known for their classic status.
The most westward of these slabs is the Dreamboat Annie Wall, which is home to a number of excellent routes in the Very Difficult to Very Severe range. The wall’s main attraction is of course Dreamboat Annie itself, a route established in 1978 by Al Evans and originally given the grade of E1 5a. Since then it has been re-graded as HVS 5a, a move that attracted its fair share of controversy and is far form being universally accepted. East of the broad zawn is the strikingly coloured Red Wall, home to three good routes ranging from Severe to Very Severe and one poor one graded Difficult. The wall’s original route, also known as Red Wall, which was first recorded by Colin Mortlock back in 1967, is still considered to be the best; it is graded S 4a and will swallow as much gear as you can throw at it. Limited bouldering is also available, with sea level traverses de rigueur; no need for expensive crash mats here… just a big tide and a towel. Those who exhaust what Porth-Clais has to offer, or who just want a bit of variety, will find further interest just few minutes walk away at Porth-y-Ffynnon, which offers two excellent slabs with routes from Difficult to E1.
The climbing at Porth-Clais can be split between two walls, namely the Dreamboat Annie Wall and the Red Wall. There are also a handful of routes in between the two. Both crags offer a classic and eponymous route each, the former giving Dreamboat Annie (HVS 5a) and the latter Red Wall (S 4a). All routes are in some way affected by the tide, the degree to which is very much dependant on the time of year and weather.
Routes are listed from left to right, and are graded and rated with the aid of the old Climbers' Club Guide to Pembroke, the old Pembroke Supplement and the 2009 Rockfax Pembroke guide. Since then, the Climbers' Club have published a new comprehensive guide for this area, Pembroke Volume 1: Pembroke North, which adds a significant number of new crags and routes to the area, though the changes to this pages' crags are few. Neverthless it is recommended that you refer to this or the Rockfax book for up-to-date information and route descriptions. In addition to these sources Rockfax’s website also has descriptions for the routes included in its book, which can be viewed on its online route Database.
Routes are rated using the British Adjectival Grading System. A conversion table of international climbing grades by SP member Corax is available: download it here. With the exception of Tenby South Beach Quarry, bolting is strictly prohibited everywhere in Pembroke, so don’t even think about it here.
Dreamboat Annie Wall
The Dreamboat Annie Wall is a great little place to climb no matter what grade you feel most comfortable at. Access can be made by traversing in from the left, or more easily, by abseiling in from the top. There’s no shortage of good anchors and most visitors choose the latter option. It’s worth noting that the crag is tidal, and that to avoid getting wet prospective climbers should wait until the channel separating the crag and the platform at its base is clear. The photograph below was taken at high tide.
The zawn to the east can be accessed either by abseiling in from the top of the Red Wall or by traversing in from the Dreamboat Annie Wall. From personal experience, I would recommend the abseil. According to popular consensus Ship of Fools (HS 4b), Zawn Climb (HS 4b) and The Cracker (S) are considered to be horrible and dangerous and are better off avoided.
|No.||Name||Length||Pitches|| Adjectival |
| Technical |
|1.||Against the Grain||12m||1||VD|
|8.||All Lines Engaged||15m||1||HS||4b|
|12.||Ship of Fools||20m||1||HS||4b|
Ticking off a route on the Red Wall is a must do for all first time visitors to Porth Clais. The starts of the routes are essentially non-tidal and climbers are likely to remain dry in all but the liveliest of seas. With the exception of Red Adair, which is best reached via abseil, the routes are accessed by scrambling down to the right of the wall and then stepping across an obvious chimney to the base of the wall. The step across can be protected by throwing a sling around a large flake, but this will definitely fall off once you start your ascent proper. There’s a subtly placed stake at the top of the slab which can be used as an anchor; it’s easy to miss, so a rece is advised before committing to the route.
|No.||Name||Length||Pitches|| Adjectival |
| Technical |
|19.||Red Wall Right-Hand||18m||1||VS||4c|
This section displays the weather forecast for St. David's, which is located just to the north of Porth-Clais. This gives a pretty good indication of what the weather will be like on the crag, as both St. David's and Porth-Clais sit at around sea level.
Tide times can have a significant impact on where and when one climbs. It is therefore extremely important to check the timetables before embarking on trip to the area. UK tides information for all standard and secondary ports is provided by the UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO), and displayed on the BBC's website. The link below provides a link to the nearest monitoring station to Porth-Clais:
The most reliable conditions are in the summer, but the low altitude of the crag may make it a viable option in winter. The gear needed depends entirely on the routes you plan to do. Easier routes will only require a moderate rack, while harder routes will require a something more comprehensive; a good compliment of friends or other camming devices will certainly help. A single 50 metre rope should serve well on most easy routes, however, double ropes would be a wise choice for the harder stuff. In addition to your usual gear, you might want to bring along an abseil rope as this is by far the best method of reaching the base of the Dreamboat Annie Slab.
Although there are a variety of ways to get to Porth-Clais, which is located just the south of St. David’s, most will probably be coming from the west. If so, when approaching from Carmarthen (SN 405 196) take the A40 Truck Road signposted for Saint Clears (SN 274 160). At the Saint Clears roundabout, continue along the A40 towards Haverfordwest (SM 962 158). Here you will need to leave the A40, take a short detour through the town, and take the smaller A487 which will signpost St. David’s (SM 753 253).
Enter the city and continue to the 'roundabout' with a Celtic cross at its centre (SM 753 253). Take the first exit left, which is signposted to 'Porth-Clais 1.5 miles'. Follow this road all the way to the National Trust car park at the little eponymous harbour (SM 740 242). There is a £2 charge for parking here. From the car park follow the path along the left hand side (western side) of the harbour for 5 minutes until you reach the little headland that is home to Porth-Clais' crags (SM 743 238).
Conveniently, there's a great campsite at Porth-Clais, which would be an ideal base for those wanting to climb at any of the crags along this stretch of coast:
For the wider area, there’s an almost unlimited supply of accommodation within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park so it would be inappropriate to list it all here. The city of St. David’s and its hinterland is particularly well provided for. For budget accommodation it’s worth checking out some of the following sites:
For everything else and more see Visit Pembrokeshire’s website.
No red tape or access issues here!
For climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers, the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) runs a Regional Access Database, which holds mountain/crag specific information on matters of conservation and access, including issues such as nesting restrictions, nature designations and preferred parking:
If you are in any doubt about any particular access arrangement, or need to report an incident, you should contact your local BMC Access Representative or the BMC Access Officers for Wales: Elfyn Jones.
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