Legendary Cycle Routes
72.4KM (With the Merlin’s Hill Centre detour - add 5.7KM
Following National Cycle Network (NCN) Route 4, head out west from Bynea Car Park at SS554984, cycle 4.8km along the off-road Millennium Coastal Park (MCP) to the National Wetlands Centre Wales, a fairly flat route.
Millennium Coastal Park, Burry Port Harbour, Kidwelly Castle, St Ishmael, Carmarthen Castle, Merlin’s Oak, Amphitheatre, Carmarthen Priory.
Ghostly maids and monks, a famous flyer and the world’s most famous wizard all feature on a riveting ride around Carmarthenshire. Starting in the village of Bynea, near Llanelli, and ending in Trelech, this leg of the Legends Cycle Trail encompasses the Millennium Coastal Park, Pembrey Country Park, Kidwelly, Ferryside and Carmarthen.
Head towards the Discovery Centre 4.5km away, cycling around Machynys Peninsula, passing the Jack Nicklaus designed Machynys Peninsula Golf Club, which is built on the site of a medieval monastery - ghostly monks are said to roam the area, day and night!
Did You Know?
At Machynys Peninsular a white Lady said to be forever condemned to roam the countryside hereabouts until her body is discovered… Some say she’s the ghost of one of the wreckers who used lanterns to lure ships onto the sands so they could plunder the cargo; others that she’s a murdered maid who worked at a local manor house known to have secret tunnels used by the ship wreckers to store and transport their ill-gotten gains.
Burry Port Harbour
From the Discovery Centre, cycle 6.9km to legendary site Burry Port Harbour. Stop to admire the Amelia Earhart monument on the east harbour side.
Continue along NCN Route 4 around the west harbour (you’ll see the Parsons Pickle factory, head towards this, the cycle path is just to the side) towards Pembrey Country Park. Admire the golden sands of Wales’s second longest beach, Cefn Sidan. The Country Park’s leisure facilities include a dry ski slope, toboggan ride, equestrian centre and nature trails.
The Hatchet Men, or ‘gwyr y bwelli bach’, of Burry Port. Waving lanterns and lighting fires, the prolific ship wreckers lured unsuspecting ships to their doom, sunk on the sandbars of Carmarthen Bay and in the shallow waters of Cefn Sidan Beach. Some aboard the stricken vessels survived drowning only to be set upon by the villains. Not content to simply steal the ships’ valuable cargoes, the dastardly wreckers sliced off heads, hands and fingers for easier access to helpless victims’ jewellery, too. Sometimes, their ghostly wails are carried in on the sea breeze… A visitor more deserving of commemoration perhaps was ‘Aviatrix’ Amelia Earhart, when she arrived in Pwll, near Burry Port, on June 18,1928, from Newfoundland on board a Fokker F7 aeroplane with Wilmer ‘Bill’ Stultz and Louis ‘Slim’ Gordon. They had been aiming for Southampton, but heavy fog forced them to land early.
Although Amelia wasn’t at the controls, by completing this trip she became first female to cross the Atlantic in a plane. Famously, in 1932 became the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic. There’s commemorative plaque near Burry Port Harbour and a monument in town telling the story of Earhart’s visit.
In Bridge Street, Kidwelly, cross the bridge (over the River Gwendraeth). If you turn right it will take you to the legendary Kidwelly Castle, otherwise continue left to your next legends site St Ishmael.
Continue along the unnamed road for 4.8km to St.Ishmael (there are a few hills on this section), after about 1.7km you’ll come to a junction with a sharp left turn, follow left towards Ferryside. Go through Ferryside and at the first cross roads, after Ferryside, follow the sign for Carmarthen, after about 2.2km turn left (following the NCN blue cycle signs) keep on this road heading towards the A484.
Did you know?
One of the most well-preserved castles in South Wales with many towers, rooms, walls and passages intact to explore, Kidwelly Castle and its surroundings are associated with a number of fascinating legends. The exact origins of the black cat of Kidwelly’s town emblem are unknown. Some believe the moggy was the first animal to show itself after the devastating plague blighted Kidwelly in the mid-14th Century when between 30% and 80% of the Welsh population was killed. The Black Cat is featured on the Town’s road signs.
Just north of the town of Kidwelly lies a field that was the site of a famous battle and the death of an extraordinary heroine. A large memorial stone to Gwenllian stands outside the gatehouse of Kidwelly castle. In 1136, while her husband was away, Gwenllian, wife of Gruffydd ap Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth, raised her own army and rode out to fight invading Norman forces. The battle ended when Gwenllian was caught and beheaded. A spring sprouted on the spot where she was killed, and the battlefield was named Maes Gwenllian in her honour. You can visit the field at SN42520883 (it is marked on the OS map). You may spot her spirit walking in the field…
In 1607, a terrible tsunami swept away the village of St Ishmael, 4.5 km west of Kidwelly, yet miraculously left its 12th century church intact on the foreshore. Take a short walk east from the church along the beach and you can see remnants of the ruined village’s houses sticking out of the sand dunes.
Carmarthen & Merlin's Oak
Cross the A4242 and follow Blue Street into the town. Turn right at the bend and head to the castle (pedestrianized area). In the same square as the castle the legendary Merlin’s Oak can be seen in St Peters Hall.
To get back to the cycle path, re-trace your steps back down Blue Street to the cycle bridge across the River, stay on the north side of the river. Turn left at the cycle bridge heading along ‘The Quay’ to the junction at the road bridge. Cross the junction (busy junction BEWARE of traffic) into Old Station Road, eventually turning right into ‘The Parade’ (follow the blue cycle signs).
Did you know?
Some locals blame the floods that hit Carmarthen in October 1987 on a wizard’s curse. An oak tree that stood in Priory Street until 1978 was said to be the very tree that Merlin used to sit under. According to legend, he put a spell on the oak: ‘When Merlin’s tree shall tumble down, then shall fall Carmarthen town.’ By the late 1970s the ancient tree was dying and dangerous, and the decision was made to remove it, against strong public opinion. Nine years later, when the floods struck, causing the tragic loss of four people’s lives when a train plunged into the river Tywi at Llandeilo, Merlin’s Curse was remembered. You can see pieces of the oak at the County Museum, Abergwili, and St Peters Hall, near Notts Square, in Carmarthen.
Carmarthen Priory & Merlin's Hill
On reaching Old Priory Road visit Carmarthen Priory and also detour north to the A484 (Priory Street), turning right at the end of Old Priory Road to visit the legendary Roman Amphitheatre.
Return to the cycle path and continue along for about 1.1km, turning left into Abergwili Road. Make a detour to Merlin’s Hill by turning right at Abergwili Road, following into High Street to the roundabout, exit second left then turn right. Continue for 1.4km to Merlin’s Hill Farm. Retrace your steps back to Abergwili Road to continue along NCN Route 47.
Carmarthen Priory - Black Book of Carmarthen
The Black Book of Carmarthen, named after its dark cover, is believed to have been written around 1250AD by a monk in St John’s Priory in Carmarthen, nearby the site of Merlin’s oak and supposedly the priory where Merlin’s mother was a nun. The Black Book recounts historical stories and poems, including ones about Welsh kings and warfare. The book holds many references to Merlin, including one telling passage which is a record of a conversation between Merlin and Taliesin, a great Welsh poet, in which they discuss Welsh history. The book is now to be found in the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. The Priory is remembered in street names such as Priory Street, but the Priory’s site can also be visited, the Priory Gatehouse and gateway has been preserved in the modern buildings seen along the street and a park occupies the site.
Legend has it...
Merlin's final resting place is said to be in a cave under what is now called Merlin’s Hill, 3.5km from Carmarthen. Some stories say he chose to enter the cave to die peacefully when he was old; others that he was imprisoned by his sorceress lover and lives on - locals claim his cries can be heard on stormy nights.At the foot of the hill, watch cows being milked, see rare breed Jacob’s sheep and explore the visitor centre’s displays on local legends and history at Merlin’s Hill Farm.
Merlin’s Hill is also the site of a great Iron Age fort, believed to have been occupied around 400BC. It has vast ramparts and huge ditches and can be visited by the public. Merlin may be long dead now, but according to legend, he will return when he is needed by the Welsh nation.
Merlin - Carmarthen Amphitheatre
The Roman Amphitheatre in Carmarthen is associated with one of the earliest mentions of Merlin. A young boy called Emrys was playing here when local youths began to bully him. Soldiers intervened and Emrys, who was seen to be a wise child, with knowledge beyond his years, was taken to see Vortigern, the King of Britons at Craig Gwrtheyrn, a large hillfort near Llandysul (at Grid Ref SN 43309 40307), you can the fort from the B4336 on the way from Llandysul to Llanfihangel yr Arth. Emrys, now renamed Myrddin or Merlin (meaning wise man), advised him that his fort’s walls kept collapsing because two dragons – one white, one red – were fighting in a cave underneath it. Merlin released the dragons, ending the subsidence problem. The beasts battled on until the red one killed the white one.
Stradey Park Hotel, Llanelli http://www.stradeyparkhotel.com/en
Whitfords, Burry Port
Kidwelly B&B http://www.stayinkidwelly.com/
Ferryside Farm http://www.ferrysidefarm.co.uk/
Spilman Hotel,Carmarthen https://spilmanhotel.co.uk/
Cilwen Country House, Talog https://www.cilwenbedandbreakfast.com/
Regular trains to Swansea, Neath and Fishguard run from Llanelli and Carmarthen Station. Please note that space on trains for bicycles is limited. https://tfwrail.wales/during-your-journey/bikes-on-board
Camping at Pembrey Country Park http://www.pembreycountrypark.wales/
© Tour of Britain images copyright: SWpix