Fenna on Carmarthenshire

Walking Carmarthenshire

With John Fenna

Mention Carmarthenshire to most walkers and you tend to get a blank look. The unfortunate fact is that it would appear that the county’s glories are not as widely known as they deserve to be.

Set in South West Wales, roughly West of Brecon and East of Pembrokeshire, the county of Carmarthenshire (once swallowed into Dyfed but now with its own independent identity again) is often overlooked as a walking area, but deserves wider recognition, as it holds some of the finest walking you could ask for.

A written guide and map for John Fenna’s walks can be purchased from the CornerHouse Gallery for 95p and downloaded automatically as pdf files below:

Guides will be located here

The county has several distinct and varied landscapes, all with their own attractions, with the Western end of the Brecon Beacons National Park falling into the South East of Carmarthen the South end of the “green desert” (the Elenith) falling into the North East of the county, vast woodlands of the Brechfa Forest towards the centre of Carmarthenshire, excellent coastal walking in the South and some superb rural walking available in the West and North West.The section of the Brecon Beacons that comes within Carmarthenshire is some of the least explored and, to my mind at least, provides some of the finest walking in the National Park.

The high tops offer some rugged upland walking over almost trackless hills strewn with ancient remains and evidence of long defunct industries, while the underlying limestone and millstone grit rocks give a varied wildlife – and the views go on forever.

The lower slopes are open moorland, again earthworks and cairns marking where man has come and gone barely noticed by time and the hills, leaving only the faintest of marks and intriguing legends.

The North West of the county has a totally different feel. The uplands here part of the Welsh “green desert”, the Elenith, a high plateau of wide open moors dotted with remote standing stones and the haunt of Red Kites as well as adventurous walkers.

The valleys that carve into this plateau offer a gentler aspect with woodlands and farmland, as well as the ancient remains of lead and gold mining that date back to Roman and even pre-Roman times. This area was home to “Twm Shon Catti”, the Welsh equivalent to Robin Hood and his hideout cave can still be visited by walkers in the upper Towy Valley.

The Upper Towy Valley is especially beautiful and when it was proposed that electricity pylons were to be erected the length of the valley, public outcry at this environmental vandalism forced the powers-that-be to spend the extra cash and put the cables underground.

West of Llandovery, itself a very convenient base for walking in the Elenith and the National Park with excellent walking to be had starting from the centre of the historic town, you come to the Brechfa Forest.
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Once a medieval hunting forest of great importance, then a source of fuel for the South Wales valleys industries, the forest is now managed by Forestry Enterprise. Although a commercial forest with large amounts of coniferous planting, Brechfa also has a good variety of trees, both native hardwoods and “exotics” that make life and the walks more interesting than in some forests. An excellent network of footpaths is maintained in the forest and these paths reach up to the upland moors to give varied walking in a compact area.

The South of the county has some of the finest of coastal walking, the Carmarthen Bay Coastal path starting where the Pembrokeshire Coast Path finishes, and marching on by cliffs and beaches past some superb scenery.

Excellent walking in the coastal area is to be had, especially around Pendine – famous for its sands, Laugharne, with its connection with Dylan Thomas, Llanstephan, Ferryside and the Country Park at Pembrey. Many of the walks in the coastal area are well way-marked and take in historic sites such as castles and other points of interest. The history of this coast is full of bloodshed and murder – even the rescue from a shipwreck of Napoleon’s niece’s body!

The West of the country offers some fine rural walking, where the county’s history of cattle droving, now dairy farming, are prevalent, while the North West, in the valleys of the River Tivy and the streams that feed it, the history of woollen milling dominates the walking.

Almost every one of the steep sided valleys seems to have its remains of a woollen mill or two, the mills taking their power from the fast flowing streams that are the heart of this heavily wooded valley landscape.

Around Drefach Felindre, the centre of the old woollen industry, many of the paths have been “upgraded” and, as well as being repaired and resurfaced, have been put on a detailed local map. Interpretation boards are thick on the ground in this area, adding a clear historical dimension to any walk.

A walker will find a route worth exploring in almost any part of Carmarthenshire. Even outside the more obvious attractions of the Brecon Beacons National Park, the Elenith, Brechfa Forest, the coast and woollen mill valleys, there are walks of high quality.

Prehistoric man left his mark on the county and since him, the Romans and the Normans. Industry has come and gone in the form of mining and milling, droving and even naphtha making, conflicts have raged and legends born and all have a unique heritage for the walker to discover. There are many individual walks leaflets available from Information Centres to help guide you around some of the more popular walking areas and their attractions, but guide-books to the walking available across the county are limited.

Carmarthenshire has a huge amount to offer the walker and should not be overlooked by those who enjoy not only fine and varied walking, but also those who enjoy a unique “taste” of Wales.

Renowned for its hospitality from the days of cattle droving, Carmarthenshire still has a network of quality accommodation from the humble campsite to luxury hotels that will give the walker a warm welcome.

Any county that can boast of not only classic walks in its more remote regions, but even a walk from its city centre that takes in prehistoric, Roman, Norman and English Civil War remains, drove roads and current coracle fishing, has got to have something for every walker!

For more information on Carmarthenshire, try contacting the Carmarthenshire Tourist Association