If you’re thinking of heading to the south of Wales to get away from it all you’ll have your pick of beautiful seaside and country towns and villages to choose from.
The county of Carmarthenshire has something for everyone; sandy beaches, spectacular mountains and enough ruins and castles to explore to your heart’s content. You can fly into Cardiff Airport from all over the UK and catch one of the regular buses that run into the Carmarthenshire towns.
Less than two hours’ drive from Cardiff is the picturesque village of Pumsaint (or Pumpsaint). Here you will find the Dolaucothi Gold Mines, the only known Roman gold mines in Britain. The Romans were keen to exploit Britain’s mineral resources for their Empire, and the abundance of copper, lead, iron, silver and gold was probably one of the key reasons for their invasion in the first place. Shortly after their arrival they started using hydraulic mining methods to prospect the wooded hillsides which overlook the beautiful Cothi Valley. They hit gold (so to speak) and found rich veins of gold-bearing quartzite.
The remains of the aqueducts and water tanks the Romans used can still be seen there today. Hydraulic mining involves using a flood of water to remove the sediment covering the veins of gold. A fire would then be built up next to the rock and quenched with water, making it easier to break the vein and extract its gold. A settlement, fort and bathhouse were set up in the nearby Cothi Valley, evidence to the fact this was obviously big business.
When the Romans left Britain in the fifth century AD the mines, like many of their other engineering achievements, were neglected and left abandoned until the nineteenth century. Now owned by the National Trust you can take a guided tour around, giving you a glimpse into the conditions of the mines during their use by the Romans, Victorians and in the 1930s, before their closure in 1938.
Through the Cothi Valley and across the watershed you’ll find the equally lovely Tywi Valley. Carmarthenshire is known as the ‘Garden of Wales’ and this area is one of the reasons why; located here are the Aberglasney Gardens, The National Botanic Garden of Wales and Dinefwr Park. A National Nature Reserve, Dinefwr Park has fantastic 360 degree valley views, some of the best of which can be seen from the battlements of the medieval Dinefwr Castle. The Aberglasney Gardens are beautifully maintained and a great source of inspiration for the keen gardeners among you (and also just a very pretty place to admire for the less green-fingered). The series of gardens includes a walled, cloister and pool garden, and within the medieval ruins of Aberglasney House is a tropical garden full of orchids and palms. You can even opt to stay in one of the two cottages attached to the site to carry on enjoying the evening light when everyone else has gone home.
Katherine Conlon likes to a get a feel for the history of the places she visits, and seeks out the bits which reveal something about the culture in different areas of the globe. She has travelled in four different continents and is looking forward to exploring the rest.