One of Carmarthenshire’s major attractions is its coastline. More than 50 miles long, it includes the award-winning Pembrey Country Park and beach, and Pendine, whose long stretch of sand saw many land speed world records established. The Museum of Speed here celebrates drivers such as Sir Malcolm Campbell. Of the seaside villages, Laugharne is certainly the most famous, due mainly to the fact that it is the place where Dylan Thomas lived for the last years of his short life in a house overlooking the bay. The village also boasts one of the country’s most handsome castles.
There are other strongholds at Carreg Cennen and Kidwelly, abbey ruins at Talley and Whitland, and the famous rugby and industrial centre of Llanelli. An area where myths and legends still resonate, Carmarthenshire has remained essentially Welsh in most aspects.
Inland lies Carmarthen, the county town, whose origins date from Roman times, but, which has developed as a centre for the agricultural communities of West Wales. To the east is an area associated with the enduring legends and mysteries of Merlin the magician. Also in this part of Carmarthenshire is one of the country’s most recent important projects - the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Dedicated to conservation, horticulture, science and education, and boasting the largest single- span glasshouse in the world, this is one of the country’s newest gardens. Close by lies Aberglasney, one of the oldest botanical centres, first mentioned in 1477. Evidence of the Roman occupation of Carmarthenshire is most striking at the Dolaucothi Goldmines, to the northwest of Llandovery, where visitors can try their hand at panning for gold. At Cenarth, visitors can see salmon fishermen on the River Teifi still using the coracle, a tiny round boat whose origins are lost in the mists of time. A fascinating museum tells the story of these distinctive little craft.
Carmarthen (Caerfyrddin in Welsh) boasts the distinction of having a higher proportion of Welsh speakers than anywhere else in the country. It also lays claim to being the oldest town in Wales with a history going back to Roman times when it was the most westerly of their forts. It is now the county town of Carmarthenshire and lies at the centre of the West Wales agricultural community.
The name means “fort of Myrddyin”, and some people have linked this Myrddyin with Merlin the Magician. One particular story associated with the town has, thankfully, so far turned out not to be true. Carmarthen’s inhabitants are eternally grateful that, when Merlin’s Oak was removed during a road widening scheme, the town remained unharmed, and the prophecy, “When Merlin’s Oak shall tumble down, then shall fall Carmarthen town” was not realised. According to another tradition, the magician is said still to live in a cave on Merlin’s Hill (Bryn Myrddin) just outside Carmarthen where he is kept in perpetual enchantment by Vivien, the lady to whom he taught all his spells.