A day in…Carmarthen

By | Category: Travel destinations
The Boar's Head

The Boar’s Head

“I have to watch my cutlery this weekend; they’ll have it all away.” The lady, gossiping to her fellow worker in the Tesco café in Carmarthen, was talking of the big caravan exhibition at the county showground just outside Carmarthen. Sometimes visitors are not so welcome!

Carmarthen attracts big exhibitions and shows to the area because of the county showground. The Welsh Game Fair is often held here as well as truck shows and antique fairs. And in the town you’ll find a number of antique shops and emporiums tucked up alleys and in streets you need to know exist because otherwise you wouldn’t find them.

Most will drive to Carmarthen if they want to visit but the best way to view the Tywi estuary and the very attractive countryside is to take the train from Llanelli to the town. That is the prettiest part of the line that serves London to the east, Manchester to the north and Fishguard, Pembroke and Milford Haven in the west.

The town itself may be the county town but it is also the retails hub of south west Wales. People travel for up to 40 miles to shop there in the large department stories that you won’t find elsewhere in this part of Wales. But don’t think it is all high-street brands. There are still enough local shops to draw the visitor as well as indoor market that sells local cheeses, fruit, veg as well as all those household items that every market seems to see these days.

The newly designed market entrance complete with a quotation from the Black Book

The newly designed market entrance complete with a quotation from the Black Book

The original market was in Guildhall Square along with the fish market reminding people how important the Twyi and Carmarthen Bay were. Today, it is known as Nott Square (named after Carmarthen’s famous soldier) but by 1800 it had moved to a new area in Red Street which is where it can still be found.  The right to hold a weekly market had been granted over 800 years ago but the original market cross has long since been removed although parts remain in the local museum. That museum also contains items that range from the Celtic settlers through Roman times ( the amphitheatre is the best preserved of the remaining Roman landmarks)  until today including heady Tudor times when the bishop of St Davids was burned at the stake in Guildhall Square on the orders of Queen Mary.

The main county museum is housed at Abergwili just a few miles away. Here, in  the former palace of the Bishops of St. David’s, (up until just 40 years ago) you’ll find Iron Age, Roman, mediaeval and more  modern memories all housed in a building that itself is part of Welsh history for it was here that the bible was first translated into Welsh.  In the museum is said to be where the last piece of Merlin’s Oak can be found  for this area is linked to Arthurian legend. Merlin (or Myrddin) appears in The Black Book of Carmarthen, so called because of the colour of its binding, which is now in the National Library in Aberystwyth. Written somewhere around 1250, this makes it one of the earliest surviving manuscripts written solely in the Welsh language and in it there are references to King Arthur and Myrddin (Merlin). And in the town you’ll find words from it over the new entrance to the market and in the name of one of the streets – Merlin’s Walk..

Carmarthen claims to be the oldest continually inhabited town in Wales so it is not surprising that, around the retail areas, you’ll find old coaching inns that served a vital purpose in the days before the railways when this place was a major stop on the way to Ireland. The Boar’s Head, previously called the New Inn ( so how old must the Old Inn have been – if there was one?) for example may date back to Tudor times for by 1750, it had grown so much that extensions and improvements were carried out.

the castle entrance

the castle entrance

In those days as well, the castle was an important feature of life although little remains compared to some of the other castles in this part of the world.   Originally a wooden structure, like so many other castles in this part of Wales, ownership swung between Welsh princes and those giving allegiance to England. A stone castle was erected but much was destroyed in the Owain Glyndwr years so a new one was constructed in 1409.  This was where Henry VII’s father  was imprisoned, later dying of the plague before his son was born. After that the castle declined in importance becoming damaged further during the English Civil War and then much was knocked down in the 1780’s when a prison was built but you can still see the keep. In the grounds you will also find the tourist office.

Incidentally, it is from just outside the castle that a free guided tour of the town takes place every Wednesday until October.

Spilman Street

Spilman Street

The oldest part of Carmarthen that has largely survived is Spilman Street which, today, looks a little jaded and tired in places. But under the street is probably the main Roman settlement. In mediaeval times this was a bustling, posh area where the burgesses lived but it was outside the city walls until 1405. In the 1780’s when the cramped mediaeval streets were crammed with carts, coaches, horses and wagons it was decided to make Spilman Street the town’s bypass. And you thought bypasses were modern inventions! Here you’ll find the Ivy Bush – now a hotel but once an important coaching inn which had perhaps the misfortune of moving here from another part of town in 1803 only about 50 years before railways came to the town and ended the flourishing coaching inns. In those days there were 11 inns in just this road alone.

Today the mainline railway does an about-turn leaving those stopping to walk over a bridge into the town proper. The line that used to link the town to Aberystwyth has been taken up but a group of volunteers have reinstated part of the railway at Bronwydd, a few miles away.

the Gwili Railway

the Gwili Railway

Today, the Gwili Railway is a little unusual amongst heritage railways since The locomotive stock of the Gwili Railway is unusual in that it mostly represents local industrial and wartime operations rather than mainline services. Eventually the railway hopes to reach Carmarthen in the south and Llanpumsaint in the north. Bronwydd is on the A484, an A road that is more like a B road. It is picturesque running as it does along the Gwili River,  the other side of which has the track for the Gwili Railway. But there are bends, villages and locals who travel at speeds that will make you wonder how they do it so don’t expect to cover distances quickly.

After you have visited Carmarthen, there are many other places nearby such as AberglasneyGardens or the National Botanic Gardens. Laugharne, forever linked with Dylan Thomas is about 15 miles away and the pretty town of Kidwelly just 12. If fact because Carmarthen is at the end of the M4/A40 it is the ideal place to base yourself to see south-west Wales as everywhere would only be 60-90 minutes away from here be it seal-watching at Marloes, visiting St David’s or walking the coastal path

 

 

 

 

 

0saves
If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.
Tags: , ,