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The River Teifi is the second longest river that runs wholly through Wales. It runs from its source at the Teifi Pools in the Cambrian Mountains for 73 miles down to its estuary at Cardigan. Just over halfway along its course sits the town of Newcastle Emlyn. It’s a bustling, traditional town with a large market every Friday and some great independent shops.

Newcastle Emlyn is actually two communities that straddle the river, with Adpar on the northern bank in the county of Ceredigion and Newcastle Emlyn on the southern side in Carmarthenshire. Together they form a larger community that grew around the river crossing.

We asked Tudur Phillips, who is an award-winning professional clog dancer and presenter about the town which is close to his heart. Tudur was brought up in a village near the town and although he now travels all overs Wales offering clog dancing workshops, he loves to return to the area.

Who’s the king of the castle?

The Teifi’s twisting meanders created a natural defensive position, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that there’s a castle here. But what’s unique about the castle at Newcastle Emlyn is that it was originally constructed as a county seat, rather than a military one – plus it’s thought to be the only Welsh-built stone castle in this part of Wales. Founded around 1240 by the Welsh prince Maredudd ap Rhys, the castle changed hands many times during its existence. Owain Glyndŵr marched into the town in 1403 and lay siege to it, but after centuries of attacks and refurbishments the castle was finally blown apart by gunpowder in 1645 during the English Civil War.

Since 1995, a dragon has guarded the entry gate to the castle. It’s generally accepted this is a representation of Gwiber Emlyn, the last dragon in Wales, that terrorised the people of the town. The legend goes that during a town fair, the dragon flew down over the town, landed on the castle walls and promptly settled down to sleep. A brave soldier lay a red cloak on the river surface and then hid. When the dragon awoke, it saw the cloak and as it flew in to attack it, was speared to death by the soldier.

Tudur believes that the castle and the walking trail that runs along the length of a loop in the River Teifi are absolute essentials for anyone visiting the town.

The talk of the town

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the river crossing and livestock market (which continues to this day) meant Newcastle Emlyn was an important town on the drovers’ route. Hogs and Welsh Black cattle were traded here and sent all over the country. A legacy of this period is the number of public houses and inns in the town. The family-run Bunch of Grapes, on historic Bridge Street, dates back to the 17th century and is said to be built using some of the stone from the nearby castle ruins. It offers a wide choice of local beers and ales, plus an enviable collection of malt whiskies. If you’re travelling with your four-legged friend, they’re welcome here too – and unlike us humans, the bar staff will serve their ‘treats’ completely free of charge.

Tudur is keen to mention the growing range of independent shops in the town. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of family-owned arts, crafts, gift and antique shops and cafés in the town. People visit from far and wide to shop at independent stores like The Maker’s Mark (arts and crafts), Starfish (clothing, homeware and gifts), Vintique (antiques and vintage clothing), Fair and Fabulous (Fairtrade products), Scallywag (women’s fashions) and Y Goleudy (lighting), What you won’t find in Newcastle Emlyn is rows of high street brands.

Fruit of the loom

About 4 miles south-east of the town is the picturesque village of Drefach Felindre. It was once the centre of a thriving woollen industry, which earned it the name of ‘The Huddersfield of Wales’. Although there’s little left of the industry here now, the National Wool Museum, located in the former Cambrian Mills, will give you a fascinating insight into what life was like when fleeces sheared by local farmers were woven into fabric before being made into shirts, shawls, blankets and socks. Visitors young and old can have a bash at carding, spinning and sewing and the museum’s friendly staff are on hand to answer any questions and give demonstrations.

Come train or shine

The Teifi Valley Railway is a similar distance east from Newcastle Emlyn in the village of Henllan. This 2ft(610mm) narrow gauge railway has been created from a branch line of the Great Western Railway which once served the rural area of West Wales. Take a 2-mile ride aboard a train pulled by one of their steam locomotives, Alan George and Sgt Murphy, or behind the one of the diesel engines, John Henry and Sammy. Families with small children will love taking the Pixie Line to Pixie Halt aboard Toot Toot Tallulah. Little ones can then burn off some energy in the indoor and outdoor play areas, while their biggies enjoy a cup of tea and some cake in (relative) peace.

Chasing waterfalls

No visit to this corner of Carmarthenshire would be complete without a visit to the charming village of Cenarth. If you fancy getting there under your own steam, it’s a pleasant 8-mile walk there and back, following country lanes. The main draw in Cenarth since Victorian times is the cascade of waterfalls on the Teifi. In autumn, visitors travel from far and wide to witness the spectacle of leaping salmon. This natural phenomenon sees migrating salmon fighting their way up the falls to get upstream to spawn.

Cenarth is also one of the few places left in Britain where coracles are still in use. Fishermen here use these small round-bottomed boats, made of woven willow or ash and covered with a waterproof material, to drift down the river and catch salmon and sewin. Pop into the National Coracle Centre to learn more about them, then treat yourself to a well-deserved afternoon tea in Ty Te Cenarth, before heading back to Newcastle Emlyn. You’ve earned it!

We asked Tudur Phillips, who is an award-winning professional clog dancer and presenter about the town which is close to his heart. Tudur was brought up in a village near the town and although he now travels all overs Wales offering clog dancing workshops, he loves to return to the area.

Tudur’s Insider Tips

The ‘Must Do’ for Visitors – Enjoy a picnic overlooking the castle.

The Photo Stop – The River Teifi, perhaps with a coracle fisherman.

The Local Character – Keep an eye out for council worker Peter Williams, who’s out in all weathers keeping the streets of Newcastle Emlyn looking pristine.

The Surprising Fact – The dreaded medieval stocks were used in the UK for the last time here in 1872.

His Personal Favourite – Visiting Newcastle Emlyn Rugby Club – a great place to truly get to know what makes the town tick.

The Refreshment Stop – Teifi Chips at Central Café – a Newcastle Emlyn institution.

Newcastle Emlyn & the Teifi Valley

Places to stay