Llandovery & the Brecon Beacons
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 breath-taking view in every direction. The western end of the Beacons which falls within Carmarthenshire is seen by many as the real jewel in the crown and is home to many of the least explored sections of the national park.
Llandovery is a quiet, pretty market town these days, but just think of the 30,000 animals that passed through this town every year on their way to faraway markets. Much wealth was entrusted to the drovers, their helpers and their dogs. Today, you will often see a different sort of traveller – motor-cyclists flock to the town for the ice-cream at the West End café! The castle mound features a magnificent statue to the Welsh Braveheart, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan.
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; 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 Fychan, a key supporter of Owain Glyndŵr, the people’s choice as Prince of Wales in the Middle Ages.
Llandovery, takes its name from the Welsh spelling for the town Llanymddyfri; church enclosure amid the waters. A characterful market town, steeped in history; from the 15th century Owain Glyndwr revolt, to the 19th century Droving heritage, that saw thousands of animals pass through the town, on their way to markets far and wide.
Although the Drovers have long ceased their trade (along with most of the 100 or so pubs that once served this community!), agriculture has remained an important part of the fabric of our society. I was raised on a farm, some 10 miles north of Llandovery; in the foothills of the Elenydd mountain range, before spending two memorable years studying at Llandovery College; the mid-19th century boarding school that sits slap bang in the centre of town.
L-R: Rhodri with International Welsh rugby player Wyn Jones.
Having played rugby for Llandovery in my younger years, the sport took me to all four corners of the globe. But I was always a home bird, and that is why my wife and I decided to return to the Tywi Valley, some six years ago to raise our family.
It truly is a beautiful part of the World, so here’s my take on the must-dos and must-sees, during a weekend trip to Llandovery and the surrounding area!
How to spend a weekend in Llandovery - Rhodri Gomer Davies
The town’s location - nestled as it is along the banks of the river Tywi, separating the Brecon Beacons National Park and the Cambrian Mountains – make it a fantastic base for exploring the surrounding area. It’s also pretty easy to reach, being an equidistant 90 minutes from Cardiff, Fishguard, Aberystwyth and Hereford.
Arriving on Friday evening, why not check into one of several characterful B&Bs in the town, or if a hotel stay is what you’re after, look no further than the Castle Hotel. Whilst you’re checking in, let your kids’ imaginations run wild, as they explore the 13th century castle ruins next door!
Perhaps you’re looking for the privacy of self-catering accommodation, or the bustle of a camping and caravan site? Llandovery and the surrounding area has it all. A wide variety of accommodation options to suit everyone’s needs.
Whichever way you turn in Llandovery, the stunning landscape draws you in. To the south, the Brecon Beacons national park is a real tourist hotspot. A forty five minute drive will take you to the foot of Pen-y-fan, the highest peak in southern Britain. But why bother battling against the masses on Pen-y-fan, when you could visit the less well known (but far prettier) Llyn-y-Fan?! This little haven must be one of Wales’ best kept secrets. A natural lake, that lies in the dramatic shadows of Fan Brycheinog and Bannau Sir Gâr, a mere twenty minutes from Llandovery.
A forty minute walk would be more than enough to get you to the shores of the lake, where you’ll spot kestrels, red kites and buzzards flying overhead. The scenery is truly magical up there, as are many of the legends; such as that of the Lady of the Lake, who married a local farmer’s son, and whose children became the famous physicians of Myddfai.
But don’t stop at the lake! The real reward lies at the top of Fan Brycheiniog, another 40 minutes’ hike, where the 360 degree views are a wonder to behold! If you’re feeling energetic enough, why not descend and finish with a loop around Llyn y Fan Fawr (the larger of the two lakes), before returning to your car?
Seeing as you’re in the vicinity, pop in to the Red Kite feeding centre near Llanddeusant on your way back. A purpose built hide to view the daily feeding of Wales’ most famous bird of prey. The red kite fell into decline as a result of persecution and egg collecting, but was successfully reintroduced in the 1990s and is now thriving once again, especially in mid-Wales. Feeding occurs daily at 3pm during the summer, or 2pm when the clocks go back for winter.
If your energy levels are a little low, why not catch a northbound train along the Heart of Wales line towards Shrewsbury? The only railway in mid-Wales to avoid the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, it really is a feast for the eyes, with stunning views across the beautiful landscape. But it’ll be a man-made construct that’ll truly take your breath away, the Cynghordy Viaduct. A 19th century, 18 arch railway bridge, standing over 30 metres above the valley floor.
Dine like local
It would be remiss not to try out the Drover’s Lunch at the Castle Hotel upon your return. Ham hock terrine, sausage meat Scotch egg and strong Welsh Cheddar, served with a range of chutneys. Or how about the Old Printing Office across the road? A 400 year old building, housing one of the oldest printing presses in the whole of Wales, but which now serves a variety of homemade meals and cakes to everyone’s taste.
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. Time your visit to coincide with the last Saturday of the month, and get lost in the farmers’ market that takes up residence in the cobbled town centre, under the shadows of the 19th century Italian styled town hall.
Taverns have a special part to play in the history of Llandovery; in the drovers’ heyday, the town had more than a hundred! Although the vast majority have now been converted, there are still plenty of quality watering holes; such as The Bluebell Inn, The Plough Hotel and The Lord Rhys, where you can try out the finest Welsh beers, such as Gower Gold, as well as guest ales from local brewers including the Brecon Brewery and the Glamorgan Brewing Co.
Sunday - Day of Rest?....or maybe not
If cycling’s your thing (and you still have some energy left in those legs following your Saturday exertions!) then be sure to bring your bike! Llandovery is a cyclist’s dream; the perfect base for exploring the Brecon Beacons and the less well known Cambrian Mountains (or Elenydd to give their proper Welsh name). Due to its remoteness, the Elenydd is also known as the last wilderness of Wales, spread across almost 500 square miles of sparsely populated land, from Pumlumon in the west, to Radnor Forest in the east and Mynydd Mallaen to the south; it undoubtedly is a cyclist’s paradise!
Before setting off, why not reach out to the local cycling club, Clwb Seiclo Llanymddyfri, on Facebook? The knowledgeable members will be sure to point you in the right direction! My favourite route would take me towards Llangadog, then up and over the Black Mountain; one of the most popular climbs in Britain.
Or choose a more relaxing Sunday. Grab some delicious sandwiches and treats from La Patisserie, before packing the car and setting off up the Tywi Valley for a picnic overlooking Llyn Brianne; a vast reservoir completed in the early 1970s, to provide water for much of south Wales.
On your return, be sure to stop off at the RSPB’s Dinas Nature Reserve on the banks of the river Tywi. Bird-watching enthusiasts can feast their eyes on the red kites, pied flycatchers, grey wagtails and redstarts that soar overhead. From there, follow the boardwalk and climb up into the woodland, in search of Twm Sion Cati’s Cave; a 16th century Welsh folk hero (often compared with Robin Hood), who used to hide from the authorities in these idyllic hills.
No matter what, a warm Welsh croeso (welcome) awaits in Llandovery. Perhaps our town isn’t high on people’s list of places to visit, but it will be! It has everything one needs for a memorable weekend escape, and we’d be more than happy to share it with you all!
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. 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.
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.