Approximately 10 miles west of Llanelli, the town of Kidwelly makes a great base for touring Carmarthenshire. And for a town of less than 3,500 people, Kidwelly more than holds its own in terms of history and culture. Standing on a steep ridge above the River Gwendraeth, one of the finest preserved Norman castles in Wales casts its imposing eye over the town. It’s also home to the oldest canal in Wales.
You might recognise the name Kidwelly from Dylan Thomas’ ‘Under Milk Wood’ – the SS Kidwelly is the name of Captain Cat’s boat.
Speaking of cats, the town is associated with a black cat. You’ll see its image on signs welcoming you to the town and on information boards dotted about the place. To find out more about the black cat and other things to see and do in the area, read on.
Lucky black cat
Just as Ammanford has the legend of the boar, so Kidwelly has its mythical black cat. One story says that the cat was the first living creature to appear in the town after the great plague. Another claims she survived a devastating attack on the town. It’s also possible that the association comes from one of the town’s ancient names – Catwelli.
Kidwelly Castle, set on a steep ridge overlooking the town, is one of the finest preserved Norman castles in Wales. Look out for the arches through which rocks could be thrown onto the unsuspecting enemy below.
You might feel the presence of Kidwelly’s warrior princess, Gwenllian, who led a hopelessly outnumbered Welsh army into battle to defend the castle against mighty Norman forces in 1136. She was beheaded on the battlefield and her ghost is still said to haunt the area, now known as Maes Gwenllian (Gwenllian’s Field).
Monty Python fans will recognise the castle from the first scene of Monty Python and The Holy Grail.
Back to nature
Kymer’s Canal is the oldest in Wales, built originally by Thomas Khmer in the late 18th century to transport coal out of Kidwelly. It’s also believed to be the first purpose-built canal and railway system in the world. Although the canal hasn’t been in use for a number of years, a substantial length of it has been excavated and a section of the old quay reconstructed too. As well as a pleasant walk for us humans, the area has also become a thriving wildlife habitat for all sorts of wild and rare birds, recognised by the RSPB.
From farm to fork
What started out in 2009 as a roadside honesty box selling surplus eggs from the smallholding has evolved into a farm shop, café, play area, community hub and visitor attraction in its own right. Parc y Bocs serves breakfasts, lunches, Sunday roasts and tea and cakes made to order, using the abundance of fresh ingredients available from local producers. Kids can meet the goats, feed the chickens and generally wear themselves out in the outdoor play area, while the grown-ups peruse the farm shop for seasonal fruit and veggies grown on site, Welsh food and drink and honey produced from the farm’s own beehives.
By far the best way to see some of the best scenery in and around Kidwelly is on foot. In town, start at The Old Slaughter House and stroll along the banks of the Gwendraeth Fach to the Glan-yr-Afon Nature Reserve.
For views of the wider area, grab some walking boots and head to Mynedd y Garreg, a short drive away. The remains of tramways, flooded quarries and abandoned limekilns give clues to the landscape’s industrial past. However, nature has done a good job of reclaiming the land and the quarries hold SSSI status for their unique geology while providing a home to an array of colourful insects. As you soak up the views across the beautiful Gwendraeth Valley and to the coast, you might even be lucky enough to spot one of the many birds of prey that have made the mountain home.
Given the drama and beauty of the coast and countryside around Kidwelly, there should be no surprise that it inspires creativity. Today, Kidwelly is a creative hotspot. Local creatives get their supplies from G3 Gallery and Art Supplies, a new independent gallery, which also shows work from those local artists. Another place where you can browse and buy local art and crafts is at the Kidwelly Community Craft Shop Creative Hub, which was created with the specific purpose of showcasing local creativity. If you are in the area on the 1st Saturday of the month, be sure to visit the monthly pop-up food market in the Town Square. Here you’ll find around 30 stalls of traders specialising in local quality food including jams, chocolates, and artisan foods.
To the northwest of Kidwelly, is the pretty village of Ferryside. Getting there is easy. It’s just a short car or train ride – just one stop on the beautiful coastal line linking Llanelli with Carmarthen. For the more energetic, you can walk the Wales Coastal Path via Kidwelly Quay. Historically, Ferryside was a fishing village, and although the industry has largely died out, cockling and fishing by “seine nets” continue. As the name suggests, this was a crossing point on Carmarthen Bay linking Kidwelly with Llansteffan to the west. The medieval traveller and chronicler, Geraldus Cambrensis is reputed to have used a ferry in 1188. 830 years later in 2018, the new Glansteffan ferry service resurrected the crossing after a 60-year absence. On board, you’ll get impressive views of Carmarthen Bay: the golden sands of the main beach and the secluded cove of Scott’s Bay are worth visiting whatever the season.
A Taste of Kidwelly
If you are looking for a bite to eat in Ferryside, try Pryd o Fwyd, because that is exactly what the name of this Ferryside restaurant means. Here, it’s all about preparing delicious bites to eat, whether that’s a 4-course dinner in the restaurant or a quick lunchtime snack in the café next door. And if you happen to need stamps, the café also offers a Post Office counter service, following the retirement of the village’s postmistress!
If pub grub is more to your taste, then you’ll enjoy Anthony’s Hotel. It’s conveniently located, close to the rail station and Kidwelly Quay. The chicken, smoked bacon and leek pie is something special. Just outside Kidwelly, in the village of Llandyfaelog is The Red Lion. The pub is a big part of the village community but attracts diners from all over Carmarthenshire. We suggest the Red Lion Burger topped with their homemade coleslaw.
For breakfast and brunch, we suggest The Gatehouse coffee shop and bistro. They serve the locally blended Y Bocs coffee and Hiraeth Coffee luxury hot chocolate. For the perfect lunch spot visit Kidwelly Deli, the counter is full of delicious homemade goodies. Or if it's a tea time treat you're after then pop in to Time for Tea.
The Must Do – Plan a day at the races at Ffos Las racecourse.
The Photo Stop - Follow in the footsteps of the Monty Python crew and shoot at Kidwelly Castle.
The Best Walk – Head Up Mynedd y Garreg for great views of the Gwendraeth Valley as well as the coast.
The Refreshment Stop – Try the Sea Bass with a Laverbread Butter at Pryd o Fwyd
The Hidden Gem – Feed the chickens at Parc y Bocs.