St Davids, our old family friend by Catherine Burrows

Photo by Nigel's Europe on Flickr

Highly commended in our Beautiful Britain family travel writing competition

Some cathedrals have spires that reach for the heavens or they are smothered in gargoyles and anguished saints. St David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire has none of these but its beauty is almost unworldly. The air of majesty and mysticism hangs like a mist over the miniscule city, its cathedral and the rolling waves of the Irish Sea beyond. I first visited as a small child, so it’s a huge relief that decades later my children have also fallen for its magical allure.

I was three years old on that first visit. As we entered the simple porch which belies the splendour beyond, we passed a sign that asked for respect while in God’s house.  I decided to keep an eye out for God. Then I saw him, descending stairs into the shady cavern of the nave. Swathed in long purple robes, I tugged his clothes and asked, ‘are you the Lord?’

Every time we visit, I tell this story and it’s become a family legend. Yet, as the children tip toe around the great building, I see flickers of self-doubt chase across their little faces, ‘maybe we should calm down, just in case ‘He’ is at home.’

Every time we are in Pembrokeshire, St David’s calls out to us like an old family friend. We park in the elderly streets of Britain’s smallest City, barely more than a village, and pass beneath the arch of the 14th century gatehouse, the children racing ahead to be the first to glimpse the cathedral. Nestling like a sleeping dragon in its lair, the Cathedral rises like a monument to the pure and honest faith of man.

It’s not a place reserved for quiet reflection or stuffy history lessons though. St David’s is a giant treasure trove. The small casket beyond the High Altar is said to contain the earthly remains of St David and St Justinian, a ghoulish gift to a child’s imagination. It’s always the first place the children want to get to, ‘let’s go and see the bones!’  Turn each and every corner of the echoing chapels and there is a tomb to marvel at. The marble is often chipped and the carving worn smooth by the hundreds of curious childish hands that have rubbed the cold, hard surface in amazement.

When all the riches the cathedral has to offer have been thoroughly exhausted, it’s time for us to go next door to the Bishop’s Palace. A must-visit for any princess- mad Disney buff, it’s a chance to race around a real palace. The children always love the little alcoves that are perfect for launching yourself out at an unsuspecting sibling. The Bishop’s Palace might be a ruin but the children seem to re-build it in their imaginations every time we visit, returning it to its original splendour in their minds as it takes centre stage in their swashbuckling adventures.

It’s not all about looking backwards in time. As our family grows, St David’s Cathedral is growing and evolving too. To top off our visits, we can now visit the tasty haven of The Refectory, a relatively new addition to the structure of the cathedral. In surroundings of old stone mixed with modern architecture, we enjoy delicious lunches of homemade sandwiches, cakes and old-fashioned fizzy drinks. St Davids just gets better and better.

Happily, St Davids belongs to everybody but we’ll always have that feeling that secretly it really belongs just to us. It’s our family heirloom and we’ll never tire of calling in on our old friend.

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Photo credit: Nigel’s Europe.

About: St Davids Cathedral.

Find it with a Satnav: SA62 6RH

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