36 Hours in Llandovery
Legends and history lie at the heart of this charming market town on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, surrounded by majestic mountains, leafy woodlands and magical waterfalls that promise a breathtaking view in every direction.
Why go now
The beauty of Llandovery lies in its broad appeal; nestled on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, the town is the perfect base from which to explore the western part of the park. Thanks to its proximity to the Black Mountains, Crychan Forest, Cwm Rhaeadr (valley of the waterfall), the River Towy and Usk Reservoir it’s ideal territory for hiking, biking and horse riding, and a haven for nature lovers.
History enthusiasts and legends seekers will also be drawn to this attractive market town, thanks to its droving heritage, when thousands of animals were driven through every year on their way to markets across the land; today, you can very much feel the presence of that heritage around the town. And, as well as being home to the remains of the 12th-century Llandovery Castle, it’s also the former home of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Fycha, a key supporter of Owain Glyndŵr, the people’s choice as Prince of Wales in the Middle Ages.
Get your bearings
Equidistant from Cardiff, Fishguard and Hereford (around 90 minutes’ drive) Llandovery’s location is extremely favourable; it is both the northern gateway to Carmarthenshire and West Wales and the southern gateway to the Cambrian Mountains of mid Wales. It also boasts the magnificent backdrop of the Black Mountains, a group of ancient red sandstone hills covered in grass and heather. This stretch of the Brecon Beacons National Park is home to the wonderful red kites, whose population has increased thanks to protection and a red kite feeding station in the village of Llanddeusant, half an hour from Llandovery.
Take a view
Pretty much everywhere you turn in and around Llandovery you’ll be greeted with a breathtaking view. Yet for a real treat, pack a picnic and head to Llyn Brianne dam and reservoir in the Doethie Valley, surrounded by the lush Tywi Forest. At 91 metres tall, its Britain’s highest and is the world’s largest clay core dam, but it’s the jaw-droppingly gorgeous scenery that will stay with you.
Take a hike
Spend a morning exploring the legends of the Lady of the Lake and the Physicians of Myddfai among the sheer beauty of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Head up to the picturesque Llyn Y Fan Fach, a gleaming lake that lies beneath the gaze of the peaks of Bannau Sir Gaer, where you’ll spot kestrels, red kites and buzzards flying overhead. The scenery is magical and so are many of the legends attached to the lake. One of the fabled myths even led to another famous tale – the Arthurian legend of the Lady of the Lake and Excalibur. Hike back to the village of Myddfai (ten minutes from Llandovery), and discover further intriguing tales about a dynasty of herbalists known as the Physicians of Myddfai, who lived and worked here in the 11th and 12th centuries.
A lush lunch
Serving up home-made meals using seasonal ingredients alongside a display of Georgian treasures, is the Old Printing Office in the heart of Llandovery. The building dates back to the 1700s and housed one of the first printing presses in Wales, producing historic books such as Brutusiana, which you can see here. Now, the café produces a few seasonal meals each day, as well as homemade cakes and desserts, avoiding needless waste and using local produce.
One of the attractions of Llandovery is its range of independent shops. Hunt for brilliant treasures in vintage stores, keep hunger at bay with freshly baked bread, cakes, scones and doughnuts from The Patisserie, and head to the heart of the cobbled market square the last Saturday of every month for fresh local produce at the farmers’ market . Llandovery is also a great place to find bespoke, reclaimed and country style furniture at Davies&Co, or find a special gift to take home at the Red Giraffe Studio in the Castle Hotel; browse toys, woollen blankets, books and china created by local artists and craftspeople.
Sip on real ales such as Gower Gold and check out the special guest ales that feature from local brewers including the Brecon Brewery or the Glamorgan Brewing Co at The Kings Head, a cosy pub in town adorned with low wooden beams and exposed brickwork. Pubs have a special history in Llandovery; at the time of the drovers, the town used to have more than 100! A few remain today, such as The Whitehall Hotel, The Bluebell Inn, The Greyhound Inn, The Plough Hotel and The Lord Rhys.
Dine like local
Llandovery’s Castle Hotel combines rustic charm (think logs fires and comfy sofas) with imaginative menus of contemporary British food. Passionate about using local produce, you’ll find fish and shellfish on its menu, as well as local game, pies and casseroles during autumn and winter. When in Llandovery, it would be remiss to not try out the Drover’s Lunch it offers, of ham hock terrine, sausage meat Scotch egg and strong Welsh Cheddar served with a range of chutneys. As thoughts of drovers and all the travelling they had to do cross your mind, discover how the road between Castle Hotel and Castle Garage is the narrowest point of the A40 along its entire length from London to Fishguard.
Out to brunch
Remember your visit to the village of Myddfai? Embrace the legend further and enjoy a cosy brunch at the Myddfai Café. Dine on warming cawl, its Physicians Salad and homemade cakes, washed down with its fine assortment of herbal teas based on the herbs historically used by the Physicians of Myddfai. Even ordering one will sound enchanting; choose from a Bardic Bliss, Ceridwen's Brew, Llyn-y-Fantastic, Myddfai Magic or Physician's Treasure. You’ll also find lovely bar and restaurant meals at the newly refurbished The Bear Café in Llandovery and can enjoy the outside seating area in the summer both here and at the Penygawse Tea Room. Or order cakes and tea at the Llandovery Station Café – yet this is no ordinary station café. As well as comfy sofas and a wood-burning stove in the waiting room, you can browse exhibitions of work by local artists.
Walk in the park
Leafy woodland and magical waterfalls, Welsh folklore and a wealth of birdlife, a walk in the surrounding countryside of Llandovery will brighten any day. Bird-watching enthusiasts should head to the Dinas Nature Reserve for walks alongside the River Tywi, watching red kites, pied flycatchers, grey wagtails and redstarts soar above. Come in May and be mesmerised by the host of bluebells that spread across the woodland floor and don’t forget to climb the trail to the cave where the Welsh Robin Hood, Twm Sion Cati, was said to have hidden from the authorities. Another picturesque option is to take a picnic and follow the trail to the dramatic waterfall of Cwm Rhaeadr.
Take a ride
A lovely opportunity to combine a pleasant mountain walk with a train journey through some of Wales’ most spectacular countryside, catch a train from the Heart of Wales Line station in Llandovery. You’ll be taken across the glorious Cynghordy Viaduct, after which you can head out for walks with awesome views of the Brecon Beacons, before returning to Llandovery by train. And did you know that this railway line crosses the A40, the only time along its entire length that it is crossed by a railway?
A cultural afternoon
Walk in the footsteps of the drovers that made Llandovery famous; check out the sculpture in town dedicated to these hard-working men, visit the King’s Head building where the Black Ox Bank opened in 1799 for drovers to make promises instead of handing over gold sovereigns, and stay at The Drovers Inn guest house! The town is also home to a giant stainless-steel statue of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Fycha and you can visit the final resting place of one of Wales’ well-known sons in the churchyard at Llanfair-ar-y-bryn, just outside Llandovery – hymn writer and poet William Williams Pantycelyn. One of the great religious figures of Wales in the 18th century he penned the famous Bread Of Heaven, often sung by rugby players and fans alike at international matches.
Llandovery is also set to have its very own Blue Plaque later this year at Vicar Prichard’s house. Best remembered for his writings Canwyll y Cymry (A Welshman’s Candle), there is also the interesting story attached to the 16th-century cleric. Initially he was better known among his parish for his drinking rather than his sermons, but that all changed after getting a goat drunk; when the goat refused an opportunity to repeat the experience, he realised the animal was much wiser than himself and from that day never drank again.
Icing on the cake
The only known Roman gold mines in the UK are located just a 20-minute drive from Llandovery; the Dolaucothi Goldmines. Now run by the National Trust, visitors can head underground on guided tours to find how gold mines were used from the Roman era to the early 20th century and the types of conditions miners worked in. You can even pan for gold!
And if you’re in search of pretty, unspoilt villages reflecting true Carmarthenshire life, head to the tiny village of Cwm Du – which the National Trust helped preserve – and enjoy the charms of its restaurant and bar before heading off for a walk in the glorious surrounding countryside.
Wish you were here
Whether you’re looking to stay in high-quality, self-catering properties, picturesque camping sites and caravan parks, or excellent independent hotels and guesthouses, Llandovery has a rich and varied mix to choose from. Lovely caravan parks, such as Abermarlais and Dolbryn, are on sites surrounded by the natural beauty of Carmarthenshire and close to its vibrant market towns, while those such as Erwlon are also providing glamping experiences with log cabin-style riverside pods. Alternatively, you can find accommodation that is literally, fit for royalty, at Llwynywermod. Owned by the Duchy of Cornwall and used by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall when they are in Wales, the property can be booked as occasional holiday lets when The Prince and The Duchess are not there.