St. David's Head

Page Type
Wales, Europe
Trad Climbing, Toprope, Bouldering
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
164 ft / 50 m
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St. David's Head
Created On: Sep 21, 2009
Last Edited On: Jan 14, 2015


"No place could ever be more suited to retirement, contemplation or Druidical mysteries, surrounded by inaccessible rock and open to a wide expanse of ocean. Nothing seems wanting but the thick impenetrable groves of oaks which have been thought concomitant to places of Druidical worship and which, from the exposed nature of this situation, would never, I think, have existed here even in former days."

Sir Richard Colt Hoare - Journal of a Tour of South Wales (1793)

For me St. David’s Head, or Penmaen Dewi in Welsh, epitomises all that is great about Wales’ coastal heritage – a far westerly location, a steep and ancient cliff line, secluded golden bays, wild heather-clad hillsides, and the timeless edifices of an immemorial past. For the climber it also offers something special – clean and solid rock, a variety of route types, a mixture of tidal and non-tidal stances, and of course, those iconic surroundings.

If I may be permitted to digress to matters of taxonomy for a moment, the area described as St. David’s Head technically refers to all the land northwest of the city of St. David’s. To the climber however, it refers only to the far westerly point of this headland, the remaining area being split and described on a feature by feature basis. This page therefore, refers only to this far westerly point, and the assortment of crags and boulders from which its routes are derived.

The origins of St. David’s Head are of an ancient pedigree. Its rocks are of Pre-Cambrian gabbro, one of the few remnants of the area’s once fiery creation. Like the tourists of today, the area’s first settlers no doubt had an interest in the headland; just to the east is the Coetan Arthur chambered tomb, dating back to the late Neolithic, while the headland itself bares the remains of a small Iron Age fort, known as Clawdd y Milwyr. In his Geographia (circa 150AD), Roman astronomer and mathematician Claudius Ptolemy describes the headland as the Octapitarum promontory, i.e. the 'Promontory of the Eight Perils', a testament to its wild nature. During the Middle Ages the land was held by the Bishops of St, David’s, although little cultivation took place, and the landscape that can be seen today has barely changed in over 2,000 years. This accidental conservation means that the area is a haven for wildlife. Atlantic Grey Seal, Harbour Porpoise and Bottlenose Dolphin can often be seen frolicking close to the shore, while clung to the rocks themselves, Peregrine Falcon, Kestrel and Chough join the more obvious seabirds and gulls to form an unusually rich ornithological assemblage.

Carn LlidiPorthmelgan
(Photo by Nanuls)
Carn LlidiCarn Llidi
(Photo by Nanuls)
St. David s Head St. David's Head
(Photo by Nanuls)

The rock climbing is split unevenly over the different parts of the headland, all of which follows the traditional style, and all of which encapsulate a rare feeling of exploratory zest. The most frequented crag is the South Face, which although non-tidal, only just sits above the high tide mark, and is probably best avoided when the weather is particularly boisterous. It does however, house a good collection of easy to mid grade routes. The headland’s second crag is the North Buttress, a compact piece of rock with a handful of mid to hard grade routes. The next crag worth mentioning is Craig y Crisial, which is tidal, and is home to routes of a more challenging nature. St. David’s Head’s remaining routes are technically unrecorded, although they have each no doubt been climbed many times over. My best advice is to just pick a line that looks good and climb it.

The Legend of Saint David

St. David sSt. David's Cathedral (Photo by Nanuls)

Those already familiar with Pembroke will know that this headland is named after local boy and patron saint of Wales, Saint David.

David, or Dewi as he is known in Welsh, was born in around 500AD, possibly to the then king of Ceredigion, but possibly not. According to legend, David was conceived through violence and his mother gave birth to him on a cliff top during a violent storm. He was probably educated at Whitland in Carmarthenshire under Saint Paulinus of Wales and was baptised by St. Ailbe.

He travelled widely, and became renowned as a teacher and preacher, founding monastic settlements and churches in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany in a period when neighbouring tribal regions were still mostly pagan. He rose to a bishopric, and presided over two synods, as well as going on pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem where he was anointed as an archbishop by the Patriach.

St. Non sSt. Non's Chapel - the reputed birthplace of St. David (Photo by Nanuls)

He is said to have performed many miracles, the most famous of which goes that while preaching to a crowd in Llanddewi Brefi in Ceredigion, the ground on which he stood rose up to form a small hill, so that all the spectators could hear and see him. A white dove was seen settling on his shoulder - a sign of God's grace and blessing.

He established a monastery at Glyn Rhosyn in Pembrokeshire, which was then one of the wildest, most remote places in Britain, and on which St David's Cathedral and city now stand. The cathedral in its present form was built in 1181.

Apparently David lived for over 100 years, and died on a Tuesday 1 March (now St. David's Day) in around 589 or 590. The monastery is said to have been 'filled with angels as Christ received his soul'. He was buried at St David's Cathedral where his shrine was a popular place of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages. Unlike many contemporary 'saints' of Wales, David was officially recognised by Pope Callixtus II in 1120 thanks to the work of Bernard, Bishop of St David's.

Rock Climbing

The South Face, North Buttress and Craig y Crisial are all in some way affected by the tide, the degree of which can depend of the time of year and weather. All of the crags can be reached by scrambling down rocks on the apex of the promontory, which are free at all state of the tide.

Crags and routes are listed from left to right, and are graded and rated with the aid of the old Climbers' Club Guide to Pembroke and old Pembroke Supplement. 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. Nevertheless it is recommended that you refer to this book for up-to-date information and route descriptions.

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.

Craig y Crisial (Photo by Nanuls)
The South Face (Photo by Nanuls)

Route Symbols:

NO STARS A so-so route, neither good nor bad. Not unpleasant unless otherwise stated.
1 STAR A good route which is definitely worth a climb.
2 STARS A very good route, one of the best on the crag and well worthy of attention.
3 STARS An excellent route, one of the best in the area, and probably in Britain too.

Used to indicate that there are currently no restrictions, either seasonal, temporary or permanent, affecting a route.


Used to indicate that there are restrictions, either seasonal, temporary or permanent, affecting a route. See the Red Tape and Access Section for more details.

Craig y Crisial

This south westerly facing crag is on the north side of a small bay immediately north east of the main bulk of St. David's Head. An early route climbed a break up the left centre of the easy slabs Central Groove (VD, 24m), and can be approached by easy angled slabs on the north side of the cliff. Most modern development has taken place on the compact wall of some 25 metres height, which can be reached via abseil at low to half tide.

The Thought for the Day is Goose, Pinch and a Punch and Headbager Wall require an abseil onto ledges at the base of a chimney on the right hand side of the crag.

No. Name Length Pitches Adjectival
Quality Restrictions
1. Obscurity 21m 1 E2 5c NO STARS NO RESTRICTIONS
2. Flaked Out 21m 1 E2 5c NO STARS NO RESTRICTIONS
5. The Crystal Maze 20m 1 E1 5a NO STARS NO RESTRICTIONS
6. Balancing Act 21m 1 HVS 5a NO STARS NO RESTRICTIONS
7. Act of Insanity 24m 1 E3 5c 1 STAR NO RESTRICTIONS
8. Treasure Trove 24m 1 E4 6a 1 STAR NO RESTRICTIONS
9. The Thought for the Day is Goose 18m 1 VS 4b NO STARS NO RESTRICTIONS
10. Pinch and a Punch 24m 1 E1 5b NO STARS NO RESTRICTIONS
11. Headbanger Wall 24m 1 E3/4 6a NO STARS NO RESTRICTIONS

St. David s Head St. David's Head
(Photo by Nanuls)
Coetan ArthurCoetan Arthur
(Photo by Nanuls)
Carn LlidiCarn Llidi
(Photo by Nanuls)

North Buttress

The northern side of St. David's Head is divided into two tiers, each of around 15 metres in height. The lower tier holds the most interest, although vague lines can be traced on the upper one. To reach the lower tier follow a wave cut platform from the upper one down to the base of a steep and compact buttress with an overhang at about 6 metres.

No. Name Length Pitches Adjectival
Quality Restrictions
12. Silver Sunset 18m 1 E2 5b 1 STAR NO RESTRICTIONS
13. The Embevmetron 18m 1 HVS 5a NO STARS NO RESTRICTIONS
14. Reachy Roof Route 18m 1 E3 6a NO STARS NO RESTRICTIONS
15. Gripping Yarns 21m 1 E3 6a NO STARS NO RESTRICTIONS
17. Flower Pot Men 21m 1 HVS 5a NO STARS NO RESTRICTIONS

South Face

This is the small compact cliff on the southern side of the low headland which juts out beyond the main bulk if the headland and beyond the obvious zawn. The cliff can be easily reached from its western side via a rock ramp which is crossed by an indistinct drainage gully. Overhanging Buttress and Central Crack lie directly above this gully.

Climbers on the South Face (Photo by Nanuls)

No. Name Length Pitches Adjectival
Quality Restrictions
18. Double Take 14m 1 S 4a NO STARS NO RESTRICTIONS
19. Rakish Crack 15m 1 VD NO STARS NO RESTRICTIONS
20. Overhanging Buttress 15m 1 HVS 5a NO STARS NO RESTRICTIONS
21. Central Crack 15m 1 S 4a NO STARS NO RESTRICTIONS

The wall immediately right of the crag has a ramp/ledge leading up from right to left, which gives another easy route - The Staircase (D, 21m), while the rest of this section of cliff yields a pleasant sea level traverse for several hundred feet at about VS standards.

There is a small upper tier about 100 metres east of the main South Face and is just right of the steep part of the descent used to gain the aforementioned crag. The 8 metre buttress is steep in places, and boasts an obvious overhang towards its centre, which can be climber at about 4a/b on its left and around 5c up its centre.

Weather Conditions and Tides

Weather Forecast

This section displays the weather forecast for St. David's, which is located to the east of St. David’s Head. This gives a pretty good indication of what the weather will be like on the crag, as both St. David's and St. David’s Head sit pretty close to sea level.

This weather forecast is generated by the Met Office Weather Widget

Tide Times

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 St. David's Head:

When to Climb and Essential Gear

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 to speed up access to the base of the crag.

St. David s HeadSt. David's Head
(Photo by Nanuls)
St. David s HeadAbseiling!
(Photo by Nanuls)
St. David s HeadSt. David's Head
(Photo by Nanuls)
St. David s HeadSt. David's Head
(Photo by Nanuls)

Getting There

Although there are a variety of ways to get to St. David’s Head, 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). Drive into the centre of the city and at the traffic island at the bottom of the hill (marked in the centre by a tall Celtic cross), continue along the A487 signposted for Fishguard and Cardigan. Just as you are about to leave the city limits, there is a left hand junction (SM 757 258) which will signpost Whitesand Bay. Take this junction, and soon afterwards another left hand junction, and follow the road (the B4583) to the Whitesand Bay car park (SM 734 272). Park at the car park, where you will be charged a small fee for the privilege. There is a café and toilet facilities here. Incidentally Whitesand Bay is home to one of the best beaches in Britain, and is well worth a post climb visit.

From the car park follow the coastal path north to Porthmelgan (SM 728 279). Here the paths split, and you will need to follow the westward path along the coast. Soon you will reach the first rocks of St. David’s Head (SM 722 279). Craig y Crisial is on the westward facing slab just to the north. For the South Face, scramble over the headland and descend to an obvious zawn. Cross the narrow coll past the zawn and continue to a broad gully running from north to south across the headland. Descent gently southwards along the gully to a rocky platform just above the high tide line. From here, when facing inland, the South Face crag is just to your right. It has a small drainage ditch in its centre and a line of quartz running laterally across its base.

Camping and Accommodation

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:

Youth Hostel Association in Wales
Independent Hostel Guide
Campsites in Pembrokeshire

For everything else and more see Visit Pembrokeshire’s website.

Red Tape and Access

Whitesand BayWhitesand Bay (Photo by Nanuls)

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:

Regional Access Database

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.


Open Space Web-Map builder Code
Navigation Maps

Ordnance Survey 1:25k Explorer Series OL 35 North Pembrokeshire/Gogledd Sir Benfro

Ordnance Survey 1:50k Landranger Series 157 St David’s & Haverfordwest/Tyddewi a Hwlffordd

Road Maps

Ordnance Survey Tour Series 11 South & Mid Wales


Pembrokeshire Coast: The Official National Park Guide Pembrokeshire Coast: The Official National Park Guide by Alf Alderson, John Cleare and Ian Mercer.

A handy book full of useful information and interesting facts about the National Park.
Climbers’ Guides to Wales: Pembroke Volume 1 Pembroke North Climbers' Club Guides to Wales: Pembroke Volume 1: Pembroke North by Steve Quinton

A superb and extremely comprehensive guidebook to the climbing in North Pembroke; includes descriptions of most of the routes at St. David’s Head.
Rock Fax Guide: Pembroke Rock Fax Guide: Pembroke by Alan James and Mike Robertson

Not quite as comprehensive as the Climbers’ Club guide, but lavishly illustrated with tons of large photo diagrams and topos.

External Links

St. David s HeadSt. David's Head (Photo by Nanuls)
Carn LlidiWhitesand Bay (Photo by Nanuls)

Government Bodies and Other Organisations

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority

Council for National Parks

Association of National Park Authorities

Natural Resources Wales


Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments in Wales

Dyfed Archaeological Trust

The National Trust

Maritime and Coastguard Agency

Outdoor Organisations and Companies

British Mountaineering Council

Pembrokeshire Climbing Club

Pembrokeshire Outdoor Charter Group


Weather and Tides

The Met Office

BBC Weather

BBC Tide Tables

UK Hydrographic Office

Tourist Information

Visit Wales

Visit Pembrokeshire

Travel Information

Welsh Public Transport Information

UK Train Timetable


Youth Hostel Association in Wales

Independent Hostel Guide

Campsites in Pembrokeshire

Maps and Guidebooks

Ordnance Survey

The Climbers’ Club

Cicerone Guidebooks


Mid Wales Climbing

Cordee Travel and Adventure Sports Bookshop

Wildlife and Conservation

Joint Nature Conservation Committee

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre

South West Wales Wildlife Trust