Carmarthen sits on the banks of the River Tywi, some 8 miles before this beautiful river flows into Carmarthen Bay. Here Wales’ longest river is still tidal, which is why at one time Carmarthen was reputed to be the biggest port in Wales. Over the centuries the river has shaped the story of the town, providing, defence, leisure opportunities and livelihoods.
Fishing the Tywi from coracles has happened in Carmarthen since before the Romans came. Now, very few Coracle Fishermen remain but it’s still possible to see them fishing for river trout (sewin) in the traditional Carmarthen coracles.
Some say that Carmarthen is the oldest town in Wales, and It has a rich and colourful history. Today Carmarthen remains the County Town and County Hall stands proudly above the River Tywi alongside Carmarthen Castle. A visit to the town is something all visitors to the county should experience. Read below to discover what they will find.
Find the magic
One of Carmarthen’s most famous early residents was Merlin the Magician. The Welsh name for the town, “Caerfyrddin”, means Merlin’s Fort and many believe the town was named after King Arthurs wizard. The Black Book of Carmarthen - the oldest manuscript written wholly in the Welsh language, contains poems about Merlin.
One of the legends surrounding Merlin and Carmarthen is the story of Merlin’s Oak. It was located near the Priory Street in the town centre and the legend suggests if the tree fell, disaster would befall the town. Although it did fall, Carmarthen still thrives today.
The Carmarthenshire County Museum in nearby Abergwili, is the best place to learn more about the towns past. As well as Arthurian legends, visitors can learn about the towns’ association with Franciscan Friars, it’s time as Capital of the Celtic Demetae tribe, its pivotal role in the rise of Chartism in Wales, and its Roman past. Although much of the evidence of Moridunum – Carmarthen’s name as a Roman Fort - lies beneath the streets of the town, the remains of the amphitheatre, which was the most westerly in the Roman Empire, can still be seen.
Carmarthen has been a market town since Roman times and the modern indoor market sells everything from arts and crafts to local food and drink 6 days a week. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, the outdoor market comes to town and on the first Friday of each month the farmers market draws local and visitors alike.
Beyond the market, Carmarthen is full of interesting independent shops and offers shopping as it should be. Pethau Bychain on King Street offers gorgeous items for the home. The name of the shop comes from one of the most famous words uttered by St David, Wales’ patron saint, “Gwnewch y pethau bychain” which means “Do the Little Things”. As the shop name suggests, here the emphasis is on individuality with an authentically Welsh service. You can also take a break from the shopping at the in-store coffee shop, Da Capo .
Also on King St, Oriel King Gallery, is an artist led gallery showing fine art, ceramics, photography, stained glass wood turning, textiles and sculpture. Many of the artists are based in Carmarthenshire and all the work is available for purchase. Another Gallery, Oriel Myrddin, can be found on Church Lane. Appropriately, it is located in the former School of Art.
A Certain Vintage
Hunting for vintage and antique treasures appeals to many visitors and in Carmarthen, there are lots of places to discover that unique piece to home memories of Carmarthenshire with you. Found and Seek specializes in the unique, the unusual, the original, the authentic and the truly quirky. As well as vintage and antique items, you’ll find handmade items by makers from across Wales. You can even learn to make something yourself. On weekends, this family run business, offer Blacksmith courses in nearby St Clears.
The Carmarthen Antiques Centre on Priory Street is a cornucopia of antiques, collectibles, retro & vintage. And if you stroll around the town you’ll find similar dens of discovery around every corner, look out for Second Hand Rose, The Old Curiosity. Audrey Bell Antiques and many more. The Carmarthenshire Antique and Brocante Trail has suggestions for treasure hunting across the county.
On the menu
After hunting for old curiosities, you’ll need something to eat or drink, so perhaps try the New Curiosity Restaurant on King Street. It’s run by husband-and-wife team, Dan and Rachel Williams, and the produce that goes into their dishes is fresh and local including fish from the Tywi and salt marsh lamb from nearby Gower.
Vegetarian and vegan food is served at several places around the town. Caffi Iechyd Da in Jackson’s Lane is a cosy vegetarian cafe offering organic local produce. There are delicious vegetarian options at The Warren. This family-run, multi award-winning café/restaurant promotes simple, honest, wholesome food and they are true to their word. The Waverly Food Store in Lammas Street also has a vegetarian and vegan restaurant.
You’ll also find great places to eat in the countryside around Carmarthen. Y Polyn is located on an old drover’s road in the Tywi between Carmarthen and Llandeilo. Here the vibe is informal, but the food is top notch. Almost all is sourced locally and made on the premises. The menu changes daily but you can almost always enjoy the Y Polyn Legendary Dauphinoise Potatoes.
The cheeses at Y Polyn are supplied from Blasus Delicatessen in Carmarthen. Blasus means “tasty” in Welsh and the deli lives up to its name. Owned by Paul and Delyth, they are experts in good food and wine. Once again much of the produce is local such as Mel Cilgwenyn from the Bee Farm in Llangennech
The Photo Opportunity –The view down the Tywi Valley from Carmarthen castle.
The “Must Do” for Visitors – Go treasure hunting in the town’s many vintage and antique shops.
The Surprising Story – Carmarthen’s links to Merlin the Magician and Arthurian legend.
The Hidden Gem – The most westerly amphitheatre in the Roman Empire
Personal Favourite – The chorizo in puff pastry at Blasus.
The Refreshment Stop – The coffee shop at Pethau Bychain