Can you name the smallest city in the United Kingdom? That would be Saint Davids, in Pembrokeshire, Wales, population 1,600 (according to Visit Pembrokeshire).
Set in a little dell along the River (Afon) Alun, idyllic Saint Davids gets its urban designation thanks to its grand cathedral. Saint Davids Cathedral, and the nearby Cadw property, the Bishop De Gower’s Palace, are the focal point of the city, drawing tourists year-round but especially popular in the summer time.
Both the city and the cathedral bear the name of Wales’s patron saint, who established a monastic presence in the area in the late 6th century. The community was routinely terrorised by Viking raids, and in 1081, William the Conqueror himself paid Saint Davids a visit, albeit to pray rather than conquer.
Today, the cathedral remains an active place of worship, as well as place for quiet contemplation and admiration of its distinctly gothic architecture. Visitors can also pay their respects at the tomb of Edmund Tudor, father of the future King Henry VII. Saint Davids Cathedral is also the final resting place of another notable figure, Bishop Henry Gower, entombed in grand fashion with an ornate stone effigy bearing his likeness.
It is Bishop Henry Gower who was responsible for the palace behind the cathedral. The ruins of this grand work of medieval architecture are made all the more evocative with the soaring crows overhead, their caws echoing in the mist on a rainy day.
The palace’s wheel window and checkerboard patterning are particularly impressive, especially when you consider they date from the 14th century and have withstood a battering of the elements.
Visitors to Saint Davids often remark on a curiously affecting presence, a sense of spirit or magic that pervades this picturesque place. And there is a palpable tranquility to the area that belies the violence it experienced centuries ago.
Ancient and timeless, the United Kingdom’s smallest city continues to be a place of gentle reflection, much as it has since the Dark Ages. It is a must for anyone bound for West Wales no matter the time of year.