In the 19th century, Saundersfoot was established as a port for exporting high-quality anthracite coal mined from local pits at Kilgetty and Stepaside. The coal wagons were brought down the 2 ft gauge Saundersfoot railway to a purpose-built harbour, until the outbreak of the Second World War when the last of the mines closed. Now the broad quays and safe anchorage make Saundersfoot one of the finest yachting centres in Wales. The wide sands of Saundersfoot Bay, sheltered from the westerly winds, are popular for windsurfing and bathing.
This little seaside hamlet, where a stream flows down from the hillside on to a sand-and-shingle beach, is separated from Saundersfoot by a rocky hill, so that the narrow road has to wind inland between the two resorts. Walkers can take the direct route by following the coastal footpath, which runs through the hillside along the route of the old Saundersfoot Railway.
The village, once a mining community, has a sandy beach backed by a stony bank, with rock pools. At exceptionally low tides, the remains of tree stumps, deer antlers and fossilised acorns from a drowned prehistoric forest have been found in the sand.
Amroth is the eastern end of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, which runs westwards and northwards for 168 miles to St Dogmaels, near Cardigan.
Sandy beaches and a poet’s home by the shores of Carmarthen Bay
The 6 miles of firm, hard, flat sand which stretch along the foreshore from the little village of Pendine were, in the 1920s, Britain’s equivalent of Daytona Beach or Bonneville Salt Flats-a natural site for land-speed record attempts. On Pendine Sands drivers such as Sir Malcolm Campbell and Parry Thomas pushed records higher and higher. For Parry Thomas, the quest for ever greater speed proved fatal, when the driving chains of his Leyland Special speed record car ‘Babs’ broke during a run on Pendine Sands, and killed him. The car was buried where it crashed in 1927 for almost half a century, until it was dug up in 1969 and taken to Capel Curig for restoration.
The sands are hard enough to provide a vast natural car park at Pendine village. To the east, a Ministry of Defence firing range begins 1 mile from the village, but the sands are open for much of their length when there is no firing.
The eastern half of Carmarthen Bay is lower and less spectacular than the cliff scenery to the west. But broad beaches, cut through by a series of wide river estuaries, offer seclusion and solitude away from the busier resorts. The traces of industry here are both obvious and recent, though large-scale developments like the Pembrey Country Park are turning yesterday’s factories and airfields into leisure and tourist centres.
Laugharne, pronounced ‘Larne’, is known for the huge keep of its castle, built by the Welsh prince Rhys ap Gruffydd, and for its associations with the poet Dylan Thomas, who lived for many years in the Boat House, with its lovely views over the peaceful estuary of the Taf. The boathouse is now open to the public.
The town is a picturesque jumble of cottages and small houses set in winding streets. It was given a charter as long ago as 1307, and even now the Court Leet and Court Baron meet to discuss local issues on alternate Mondays in the Town Hall, presided over by a Portreeve and comprising a foreman and a jury of 20 men. Dylan Thomas is the reason why most visitors come to Laugharne, although the ‘ poet himself was said to have caused a lot of ill-feeling in the town among people who thought they recognised themselves among the gallery of characters in his classic Under Milk Wood. In fact, most of Thomas’s inspiration for the work probably dates back to the time when he lived in New Quay on the west coast, but Laugharne still fits the description of the fictional Llaregub very closely. The local Llaregub Players still occasionally perform Under Milk Wood and other works in the village.
The Boat House has been restored to the condition it was in when the poet knew it. Near by is the little hut where Thomas wrote many of his later poems, while his grave in the newer part of the local churchyard is another place of pilgrimage for admirers from all over the world. Dylan’s spirit is probably most tangible in Brown’s Hotel, where he used to drink with friends.
This peaceful little village nestles near the shore on the land between the estuaries of the Taf and the Tywi rivers, protected by a 12th-century castle set between the village and the sea. The castle’s massive original gateway was walled up in the 15th century and a new entrance opened up. Above the original gateway, it is possible to see the chute down which boiling water could be poured to drive off attackers trying to batter the gate down.
Upriver from the castle, a wide grassy area called The Green leads to the sandy foreshore. Bathing is safe when the tide is coming in, but dangerous at other times because of strong river currents. Half a mile west of the castle is St Anthony’s Well, the waters of which were once believed to have medicinal powers. The empty niche in the side of the well once contained an effigy of the saint.
A POET AND HIS WORKSHOP
A wooden hut overlooking the River Taf has been restored to look exactly as it did when Dylan Thomas (1914-53) wrote many of his poems there. He described its view of the ‘mussel pooled and heron priested shore’ in his Poem in October. There, too, he wrote much of his play Under Milk Wood, which follows the waking hours of a Welsh fishing village and gives life to a gallery of local characters including Captain Cat, Polly Garter and Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard.
The Romans built the camp and fort of Moridunum at Carmarthen after their conquest of Britain: the site of their amphitheatre can still be seen beside the old Roman road to Llandeilo, now followed by the A40 out of the town. At the beginning of the 12th century the Welsh princes built a castle at Carmarthen, which fell to the Normans. Since then, the town’s history has been less stormy, apart from incidents such as the burning at the stake of Robert Farrar, Bishop of St David’s, during the reign of Queen Mary in 1555.
As an important market centre for the rich surrounding farmlands, the town still holds a covered market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and cattle sales on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Until the 1950s, Carmarthen was an important railway junction, with the. main line from Cardiff to Pembrokeshire spawning branches to Llandeilo, Aberystwyth and Cardigan. These branches have since closed, but one has been partially re-opened as the privately owned and restored Gwili Railway, which runs from Bronwydd Arms, 2 miles north of the town on the road to Newcastle Emlyn, to Cwmwyslan at Bank Holidays and during summer weekends.
Carmarthen Museum, at Abergwili east of the town, has a collection of local finds including Roman relics.
Henry I gave Kidwelly its charter, and the town still has a tangibly medieval air, with its massive castle dominating the town across the 14th-century bridge over the Gwendraeth Fach. From the 18th century Kidwelly became an important industrial centre, and its manufacturing past is recalled in a Heritage Centre, on the site of a former tinplate works.
Sands stretch for 6 miles between the estuaries of the Tywi and the Loughor, but for many years access was difficult because of the remains of a wartime ordnance factory. Now the derelict buildings have been cleared away and the area transformed into the 520 acre Pembrey Country Park. There are grasslands and woods, with picnic spots and nature trails, and unrestricted access to the beach where swimming is safe. Near by, the old Pembrey airfield is being converted into an Outdoor Pursuits Centre for such activities as motor and motor-cycle racing and equestrian events, while the old silted-up harbour is to be a marina.
Before the Industrial Revolution, Burry Port was a small fishing harbour. But when the booming coal industry further up the Gwendraeth Valley needed an outlet to the sea, the Burry Port and Gwendraeth Valley Railway was built and the harbour became busy with colliers. By the end of the Second World War, however, the pits were worked out and the harbour closed down as a commercial port. In recent years it has gained a new role as a centre for yachtsmen sailing the sheltered waters of Carmarthen Bay. Swimming is unsafe because of the fast currents of the estuary of the Loughor.
As part of the Pembrey Country Park and other developments in the area, Burry Port’s old power station may be converted into an indoor sports centre.
Once a busy port, and a centre for the South Wales tinplate industry, Llanelli is still a trading centre, and its covered market caters for shoppers from all over West Wales. The Trostre Tinplate Works on the eastern side of the town maintains a private museum of the old days of the industry. Exhibits include working models, prints, clothes and examples of early tinplate products such as beer cans. The museum may be opened to certain visitors: permission must be obtained in advance from the Works Manager, telephone Llanelli 2260.
The Pare Howard Museum, on the north side of the town, is housed in an old tinplate master’s house, and contains more relics of the tinplate industry, as well as exhibits from the days when Llanelli was also a centre for the now-dead South Wales pottery industry.
PLACES TO SEE INLAND
Carreg Ceanen Castle. Trapp, 15 miles NE of Llanelli 13th-ceniury hilltop castle with underground passage to spring, Daily.
Dryslwyn Castle, Llanarthney. 8 miles E of Carmarthen. 12th-century castle of Welsh princes. By arrangement with Mr Williams, Dryslwyn Farm. Llanarthney.