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St. Davids and its environs are in a part of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park that had inhabitants far back in Paleolithic and Mesolithic times. About 5,000 years ago, New Stone Age (Neolithic) farmers arrived and made their homes here. They didn't leave many traces, but their tombs, or cromlechs, have survived. A large number of them lie on or near St. Davids Head, on Newport Bay, and in the Preseli foothills. Many people believe that the massive blue or foreign stones at Stonehenge came from the Preseli hills more 4,000 years ago. Bronze Age cairns have also been found in the Preseli region.

Iron Age Celts came here, bringing with them from Gaul the beginnings of the Welsh and Gaelic languages. Near St. Davids, walls built during that era are still in use around fields. The Romans ignored this part of Wales, and contacts with Ireland, where fellow Celts lived, were strong. Irish tribes settled in Dyfed in the 3rd and 4th centuries, and then the monastic movement in the early Christian church was brought by Irish and spread by Welsh missionaries, when a vigorous Christian community was established on the St. Davids Peninsula.

The coming of the Normans did not really affect this section of Wales, and Welsh is still widely spoken here. In Tudor times and later, village seafaring came in, taking the mining output of coal, silver, and lead out of small village ports. All this has changed, of course, and today the coastal area is a popular holiday territory, with beaches, boating, fishing, and other leisure pursuits taking over.

There's a tremendous allure to one of Britain's most visited surf beaches, Whitesands, which is located 3.2km (2 miles) northwest of St. Davids. From June to early September, lifeguards are on duty. Access to this windswept beach is free, but there's a £2 charge for parking. Whitesands is noted for some of the consistently best surf waves in Britain. As such, it's the site of surfing exhibitions, where participants arrive from as far away as Huntington Beach, California.

The tiny cathedral city of St. Davids is the birthplace of the patron saint of Wales. The countryside around it is centuries away from the hurry of modern times. The cathedral lies in a grassy hollow of the River Alun, chosen by St. David for its small monastic community because the site was hidden from approach by attackers, yet it was conveniently only a mile from the waters of St. Bride's Bay.

Dewi Sant (later St. David), son of a Welsh chieftain and a Welsh woman named Non, was a Celtic religious leader in the 6th century. The little church he and his monks built where the present cathedral stands was burned down in 645, rebuilt, sacked and burned by the Danes in 1078, and then burned again in 1088. After that, a Norman cathedral was built, its organization changing from the Celtic monastic to diocesan type. The stone village of St. Davids grew up on the hill around the church.

St. Davids lies 117km (73 miles) west of Swansea and 180km (112 miles) west of Cardiff. Motorists take the A487 to reach St. Davids from Haverfordwest, 24km (15 miles) away. Richard Brothers (tel. 01239/613756; www.richardbros.co.uk) runs buses from Haverfordwest to St. Davids every hour; a one-way ticket costs only £5 round-trip for adults, £3 for children. Haverfordwest is the nearest rail station.

For information, the tourist office is at the Grove (tel. 01437/720392; www.orielyparc.co.uk), open from Easter to October daily 9:30am to 5:30pm. From November to Easter, it's open Monday to Saturday 10am to 4pm.