Links along the Teifi

By | Category: Travel destinations

part of Cilgerran Castle

Not more than a few miles from each other are two places that everyone ought to see before they leave this earth. Cilgerran in Pembrokeshire is home to a ruined castle painted by J.M.W. Turner, a wildlife centre where otters can often be seen and a gorge masking a river that has fishing as an attraction as well as coracle racing. Cenarth, just over the county border in Carmarthenshire houses a group of falls that could have inspired any painter, a chocolate-box bridge crossing the river and has the National Coracle Centre.

Cilgerran is the home to just about 800 people yet it has three major tourist attractions. The first is the castle, a ruined thirteenth century group of buildings that overlooks the gorge of the river Teifi on one side and the Plysgog on the other. It has had a chequered history switching between the Welsh and the English until finally being given to a family by Henry VII. It began to fall into ruin about a century later so that by the time the great painter, J M W Turner, visited it in the 1790’s it was already an evocative site. Between 1798 and 1830 he visited the area and seems to have painted it about ten times. It obviously had an impact on him as it would on anyone. Not just the castle but its location and the views remain with you. Today, most of those paintings are in the Tate in London, but Manchester City Galleries has a view where the village is called Kilgarran and it is less wooded than it is today.

from the ramparts to the gorge

Down below in the gorge, ramblers and walkers regularly meet in the car park, the starting point for many sorties into the surrounding land. After the rains there is even a waterfall. And it is here, each summer, that coracle races take place that have attracted people from all over the world. This circular, flat-bottomed boat is not easy to manoeuvre; novices often go in circles or get a soaking but the races attract the best and the Teifi is one of the few areas in Wales where coracles can be seen from time-to-time. And where there is a river there are usually fishermen so in this whole area of north-west Pembrokeshire, fishing is a popular attraction along with sightseeing and walking.

But there is one other attraction just outside the town, the Welsh Wildlife Centre. Popularly used by locals for dog walking the lane that leads to the stunning visitor centre is over a mile long. But once you’re there you can see a few things that are not widely seen in other wildlife centres. Water buffalo for instance! But this area is one where you stand a chance of seeing otters in the wild and locals claim over 400 different species of birds have been seen there. The café here, the Glasshouse, is quite an attraction in itself for the range of homemade food and the views you have whilst you enjoy a morning snack, lunch or afternoon tea. When available there is local coracle caught salmon or sewin on the menu.

Under seven miles away, the main A484 road arrives at the village of Cenarth, a small place cut in half by the bridge that crosses the river here. And on the journey you’ll pass across another bridge, that at Llechryd where many a visitor gets out and takes snapshots of the single lane bridge as it straddles the banks of the river. The edges of the road on the Llechryd side are edged with slate walls. Look at the top of them and it isn’t just modern scored marks you’ll see. There are words in Latin suggesting that the abandoned church has given up some of its headstones to be recycled into providing the wall.

Cenarth Falls

At Cenarth, just before crossing the bridge is a car park and hut that sells fishing licences. Here, a day’s parking will cost you £2.50 but the money will be well spent if you head to the end of the car park and watch the river cascading over the rocks. There is little height to the rampaging water but rampage it does. White swirls foam over the rocks in a half dozen places. Through the eighteenth century bridge you can see a picnic area. Last January at the peak of the rains, the river level had risen to just below the bench seat levels and the current became a torrent. These days, fisherman fish from the bank rather than in coracles although one can occasionally be seen. If it is it is likely to have come from the National Coracle Centre across the river.

the old mill and the falls

Just before a welcoming tea shop on the left hand side as you climb the road out of the village is the centre –the single handed effort of Martin Fowler. After running the village post office and shop for many years, he bought the old flour mill by the side of the river and restored it opening it to the public. Then, in 1989, buildings in the grounds of the mill began conversion to tell the story of what many consider to be a strange and almost completely un-boat like boat, the coracle. It opened in 1990 and tells the story of coracles not only in Wales but in the Marches and in other countries around the world. It starts when Martin seats you down and shows you the different types, how to get into a coracle and how to carry it home after you have caught your supper. Try it yourself as we did.

how to carry a coracle

Here is a man who not only knows the background but he has paddled in them too such as the time he travelled the Thames in London by the Globe Theatre. If the building isn’t all shiny steel, open spaces and interactive displays bear in mind that Martin conceived, created and runs this centre with no public money. Compare that to the millions that local authorities have spent on such new museums as those in Liverpool, Wakefield, Belfast or Glasgow.

The castle in Cilgerran was looked after for many years by keepers who lived just outside the castle until Cadw took over the running. It was local enterprise that created the museum in Cenarth. And in these small places it is a world away from the way you see heritage sites being run. With scenery that is stunning – to use that overused word – these little spots will never be overrun with tourists because there aren’t many places to stay, too few places for a cuppa and not a lot of parking. The visitor comes, looks, admires and moves on returning both places to their placid lifestyle afterwards.

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