10 Things to do in Carmarthenshire - The 'Garden of Wales'
Of the southern Welsh counties, you’ve probably heard of Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, and Brecon. But sandwiched between these three pillars is Carmarthenshire, a county full of undulating landscapes featuring ancient castles, dense forests, ancient lakes shrouded in legend, and the only Premonstratensian abbey in Wales. There are also flamboyant villages, museums, and sweeping beaches that guarantee you’ll have the sand and sea to yourself.
As cliché as it sounds, Paxton’s Tower is a one-of-a-kind structure. As the story goes, after Paxton was defeated in a local election, he built this tower to remind everyone who didn’t vote for him of the wealth and grandeur they could have had.
The neo-Gothic architecture is a sight to behold, and is only surpassed by the surrounding scores of hills. There’s a free car park, and the walk is easy. However, it’s over grass, so wear sensible shoes!
Nearby are the National Botanic Garden of Wales, which used to be Paxton’s estate and houses the largest single-span glasshouse in the world.
Perched on a towering mound is Dryslwyn Castle, its crumbling ruins surrounded by bushy trees and the meandering River Tywi.
Like any castle, this one comes with a long and troubled history. It was once one of three castles at the heart of the ancient Kingdom of Deheubarth, the others being the nearby Dinefwr and Carreg Cennen.
Once you’ve clambered up Dryslwyn’s steep path and dodged the resident sheep, you’ll discover why it’s considered the best model of a masonry castle. The undulations on the hill are the remains of makeshift terraces that once held 34 houses, and there’s three-metre-thick walls, a gatehouse, and a keep.
In the castle’s shadow is a free car park and picnic area.
Llansteffan Castle’s ancient fortifications seem to ebb and flow with the mountainous landscape, to the point where visitors wonder if the earth has swallowed it up. Its views are equally impressive, overlooking Carmarthen Bay, Welsh pastureland, and Llansteffan village.
Its grand appearance, with a twin-towered gatehouse and 12th-century walls, only hints at the castle’s original role as an important stronghold.
Once you’ve had your thrill of medieval culture, head down the tumbling roads to the free car park, where you’ll find sea-view cafes, a children’s play area, and bathroom facilities.
Behind Llansteffan Beach’s headland is the rarely-visited Scott’s Bay. It’s only present during low tide, when you can walk along the beach from Llansteffan car park, or try your luck with the Wales Coastal Path.
The bay itself is surrounded by a dense forest, which is bisected by the Taf Estuary. If your mind went to paddling, you’d be right to add it to your to-do list! The rocks, cliff face, and sweeps of sand also make this beach ideal for cockle picking, sandcastle building, and rock climbing.
In the middle of a quiet, unassuming village stand the soaring ruins of Talley Abbey. It’s a peaceful region, with two swan-occupied lakes and three woodland walks. Limited parking means the abbey is rarely busy, and its rural landscape offers views of farmers, fishers, sheep, geese, and red kites.
The green space between the abbey and the lakes makes for a romantic picnic spot, or for children to race in-between trees and bushes.
For history lovers or photographers, the abbey itself will be irresistible. Its well-preserved arch is a haunting structure, dating to the 1180s and the monks of the Premonstratensian order.
Less than 14 miles from Talley is a great place to take your furry, four-legged friend and get your heart pumping. While you don’t have to be overly-fit to enjoy Brechfa’s many circular walks – which take you through dense trees, open glades, the River Gorlech, and waterfalls, and over a wooden bridge – the forest is unsuitable for those with limited mobility. The Abergorlech Picnic Site is excellent for spotting swallows.
Horse riders, cyclists, and mountain bikers will also love the rugged terrain, with specially-designed mountain bike trails suitable for all levels.
Llyn y Fan Fach
Located in the Black Mountains is Llyn y Fan Fach, which translates to “little lake near the peak”. It spans roughly 25 acres, and is the smaller sister of Llyn y Fan Fawr.
To reach this spot, drive past Llanddeusant, where you’ll come to a small car park. The hike from here is an easy four-mile walk, following a lively river. You’ll meet plenty of wildlife, including sheep and kites.
Once you arrive at the lake, there’s no doubt you’ll be struck by the mystical and foreboding atmosphere. Little wonder it gave rise to a local legend, in which a young farmer spots a beautiful girl emerging from the lake, marrying her on the condition that if he hits her three times, she will leave him. He does, and she returns to the lake with her magical farm animals, leaving behind three sons who become known as the Physicians of Myddfai.
Carmarthen Museum, Abergwili
Carmarthen’s art museum reopens in early 2022, featuring a new exhibition of a masterpiece from London’s National Gallery: Jean-Siméon Chardin’s The House of Cards.
The museum, itself the old palace of the Bishops of St Davids, also has antiques documenting 50,000 years of Carmarthenshire history. The Bishops Park and Gardens encircle the building, and have recently been restored to their former glory.
A ramp and a power-assisted outer door have recently been added.
The busy market town of Llandeilo looks like a real-life version of Balamory, sporting rows of colourful houses and quirky architecture. There’s a strong community feel, mixing independent art galleries and boutique shops with a farming lifestyle. Each eatery sources local ingredients, with The Cawdor and The Hangout being some of the best.
A visit to Llandeilo wouldn’t be complete without a walk in Dinefwr Castle and Park, where you’ll discover a deer park and an ancient breed of cattle. Newton House, also on this estate, features one of the couches used in the Downton Abbey film.
The market town of Laugharne is best known for the Dylan Thomas Boathouse, which provides an excellent insight into the poet’s life.
The Dylan’s Birthday Walk takes visitors on a three-mile trail, following in his footsteps and witnessing the landscape that inspired his Poem in October. The Wales Coastal Path is another exhilarating trek past Laugharne Castle and through delightful woodlands.
If you’re in need of a drink, the Browns Hotel is a hearty pub with great food and plenty of beverage options!