The River Tywi curves and darts its way east from Carmarthen through some of the most magical scenery in South Wales as well as through a couple of budding gardens: one, the National Botanic Garden of Wales, and the other a faithful reconstruction of walled gardens around the long-abandoned house of Aberglasney. The twenty-mile trip to Llandeilo is punctuated by gentle, impossibly green hills topped with ruined castles, notably the wonderful Carreg Cennen: it’s not hard to see why the Merlin legend has taken such a hold in these parts.
Fifteen miles east of Carmarthen, the handsome market town of LLANDEILO is in a state of transition, with a small kernel of chichi cafés and shops just off the main Rhosmaen Street.
There’s little to see in town, but a mile west is the tumbledown shell of the largely thirteenth-century Dinefwr Castle, reached through the gorgeous parkland of Dinefwr Park. Set on a wooded bluff above the Tywi, the castle became ill suited to the needs of the Rhys family, who aspired to something a little more luxurious. The “new” castle, half a mile away, now named Newton House, was built in 1523, and is now arranged internally just as it was a hundred years ago.
Isolated in rural hinterland in the far western extremes of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Carreg Cennen Castle is one of the most magnificently sited castles in Wales. Urien, one of King Arthur’s knights, is said to have built his fortress on the fearsome rocky outcrop, although the first known construction dates from 1248. Carreg Cennen fell to the English King Edward I in 1277, and was largely destroyed in 1462 by the Earl of Pembroke, who believed it to be a rebel base. The most astounding aspect of the castle is its commanding position, 300ft above a sheer drop down into the green valley of the small River Cennen. The highlights of a visit are the views down into the river valley and the long, damp descent into a pitch-black cave that is said to have served as a well. Torches are essential – continue as far as possible and then turn them off to experience spooky absolute darkness.