Start with an on-foot saunter around Carmarthen, reputedly Wales’s oldest town. Now a bustling commercial hub, the modern centre is ranged around the forbidding castle gatehouse, rebuilt in 1409 after an earlier incarnation was destroyed by Owain Glyndŵr.
From Notts Square, site of the medieval market, descend St Mary’s Street to find the indoor market, a treasure trove.
Now drive west from the centre along the B4312 between the grand houses of Picton Terrace, guarded by the looming obelisk memorial to Thomas Picton, hero of the Napoleonic Wars (and also known to have been a brutal slave holder). At the bottom of Monument Hill, follow the B4312 as it veers left southwest to Llangain and beyond.
Park beneath the lowering fragments of Llansteffan’s 12th-century castle, peering through the trees down its wooded scarp across broad sands to the Tywi estuary. Pastel-hued houses face the beach, and tempting aromas waft across from the famous Florries Fish & Chips stand. Tramp across the sand alongside gulls, cormorants and oystercatchers to enjoy views over the estuary towards Ferryside and out to Carmarthen Bay.
Follow the B4312 west out of the village, passing the Old Pound Gallery in a bright-yellow, curiously round building alongside the impressive square stone tower of St Stephen’s Church. Forge along the narrow, winding backroad to Llanybri; with their high banks and hedges, these lanes feel as if they’ve been travelled for centuries – and probably have.
Remember to glance left for fabulous views towards the Taf Estuary and Laugharne, and watch out for standing stones and other prehistoric monuments in nearby fields: this little wedge of Carmarthenshire is home to a surprising number of Neolithic relics.
North of Llangynog, join the A40 dual carriageway for the short stretch west to St Clears. There’s art at the heart of this welcoming small town: Y Gât/The Gate, the West Wales Centre for Arts and Crafts, is housed in an imposing stone-built former mill. Though scant remnants remain of the motte-and-bailey castle to the south of the centre, you’ll find other reminders of the region’s history here. Porcine symbols on ironwork and benches recall King Arthur’s hunt of the enchanted wild boar Twrch Trwyth, and the Rebecca Riots memorial sculpture commemorates the townfolk’s role in 1840s protests against tolls levied on travellers (including drovers) plying the region’s roads.
It’s a short detour southwest from St Clears to Llanddowror. Here the old pound, where livestock was kept overnight, and Picton House hotel – a historic coaching inn, parts of which date from 1630 – speak of the itinerant lives of drovers and other travellers.
St Clear’s High Street (A4066) leads south to lovely Laugharne. Best known as the last home and resting place of poet Dylan Thomas, the village would be a charming spot even without its eminent literary connections.
From the car park beneath the imposing castle ruins, drink in the views across the Taf Estuary, listening for the whistling calls of oystercatchers and the gentle splash of kayak paddles. Follow the gentle shoreline trail north, curving beneath the hollow shell of the castle, and climb steps up to Dylan Thomas’s writing shed, furnished as it was when he penned Under Milk Wood overlooking the water. Continue to the Boat House where he lived with wife Caitlin then, climb to the main thoroughfare King Street, lined with stately Georgian buildings. Sip a pint at Thomas’s favourite watering hole, Browns Hotel, or choose from one of several other cafés and bars scattered along the road and down on the square known as The Grist.
At the convergence of the Tywi and Taf pouring into Carmarthen Bay, the broad sweep of Pendine Sands today beckons strollers and dog-walkers where once motoring pioneers vied to set land-speed records. Reached from Laugharne along the A4066, the seven-mile swathe of sand stretching east from Pendine is breathtaking, with salt spray smudging the horizon to the east and sun glinting off the shallows. The new Sands of Speed museum will soon celebrate those daredevil pioneers, and an eco-hostel will provide rooms with views. There’s a fine Asian fusion restaurant here, too – plus ice creams and fish and chips, of course.
Turn northwest away from the coast along the B4314, through the evocatively named settlements of Red Roses and Tavernspite, and over undulating countryside past fields and hedges. At Tavernspite, turn onto the B4328 to Whitland. Today it’s a quiet, small town, an appealing place to pick up supplies but in the 10th century it was here that King Hywel Dda set to creating a set of laws for Wales, efforts commemorated in the Hywel Dda Centre and peaceful memorial gardens alongside.
The A40 and A478 offer a fast route to northern Carmarthenshire but instead The Wild Drovers’ Way heads northeast into the hinterland. Pause at Whitland Abbey, where faint grass-clad outlines betray the site of the 12th-century abbey church and other walls.
Continue north past Jabajak Vineyards – call ahead to arrange a visit and tasting – and consider the detour along narrow lanes to pick up some of the finest Perl Las, Dol Las and Perl Wen cheeses from Caws Cenarth. But make time to enjoy the waterfalls and historic centre of little Cenarth village.
Places to eat & Drink along the way
> The Warren, Carmarthen
> Mol's Bistro, St. Clears
> Ferryman Deli, Laugharne
> Roadhouse, Whitland
> Tŷ Te Cenarth Tea Rooms
Places to stay
> Spilman Hotel, Carmarthen
> Sticks Inn, Llansteffan
> Jabajaks, Whitland
> Brown's Hotel, Laugharne