Once Wales’ largest town before the Industrial Revolution, the Tywi Valley town of Carmarthen is a living history of Wales, with Welsh folk tales citing it as the birthplace of King Arthur’s mentor, the magician Merlin, the town’s Welsh name – Caerfyrddin – even translates as “Merlin’s Fort”.
Steeped in Welsh folklore and tradition, the tradition Welsh language is still spoken in most of the region, and its traditions have it as probably being the first walled city in Wales and the home of Wales’ earliest Welsh manuscript – the Black Book of Camarthen from the thirteenth century, now in Aberswyth’s National Library of Wales. Some of the book’s folk tales revolve around the legendary King Arthur.
The Carmarthenshire town was founded as a Roman settlement named Moridunum and was Britain’s most westerly fort and artefacts from this part of its history, as well as many others and even early Welsh versions of the New Testament, can be found in the Carmarthenshire County Museum which is located at Abergwili in the Bishop’s Palace.
Visitors delight in the ruins of the town’s Norman castle, which once dominated the area, as well as the Guildhall which dates from the eighteenth century. Originally the parish church for all of Carmarthen, you can browse a series of monuments in St Peter’s Church. Also not to be missed is the amphitheatre, a large relic of the Roman days situated on Priory St.
Fine examples of architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries lie at the town’s centre below the castle, and examples of Georgian architecture can be found in Lammas St in the form of coach inns and small local shops.
Not to be missed is the Wales National Botanic Garden where a number of endangered plants from around the world are being maintained and which boasts the world’s biggest single span glasshouse. Also for the garden lovers is Aberglasney Gardens, currently being restored and gradually revealing many secrets from the past.
For shoppers, Wednesday sees a Farmers Market where local delicacies including Carmarthenshire Ham are available along with Penclawdd Cockles.
And to top off your tour, don’t fail to visit Dylan Thomas’ writing shed at nearby Laugharne where he wrote is classic play “Under Milk Wood”.