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The Valley of The River Towy - Afon Tywi
Wild mountains where the magnificent Red Kites soar, a beautiful lake, historic towns and villages, magnificent gardens, Roman sites, gold mines, romantic castles, a valley rich in myth, legend, history and literary associations leading to some of the world's finest beaches all in 75 miles of enchanting valley, mountain and coastal scenery.
Situated in South West Wales, the valley of the River Towy is one of the most beautiful in Britain. This is the valley of Merlin, of Saints and miracles, holy wells, a royal scandal, fairies and outlaws. No other valley can boast the range of wildlife, historical sites, world class gardens and beaches offered by the Towy and its tributaries. Recently Charles, Prince of Wales selected the valley for his residence in the Principality.
The name Towy (Welsh Tywi) is lost in time but appeared in its first written version with Ptolemy writing in 140 A.D. recording it as Tou§’os (pronounced Touiios). Only 75* miles in length, but it is the longest river flowing wholly within Wales. (*The length of the Towy is variously given as between 64 and 75 miles, but it is accepted as being the longest river flowing wholly in Wales.
The river rises in the Cambrian Mountains of Mid Wales and with its tributaries flows into Llyn Brianne a lake created in the 1960s to control the flow of the river to provide water extraction further down the valley at Nantyffin.
From the wilds of Mid Wales the Towy flows by the towns of Llandovery, Llandeilo and Carmarthen and then past Llansteffan into Carmarthen Bay and, as it enters the sea, is joined by the Rivers Gwendraeth and Taf. The village of Laugharne, with its links to Dylan Thomas, lies on the estuary of the Taf, while Kidwelly Castle is on the banks of the Gwendraeth.
The Towy below Llandeilo
Between Llandovery and Carmarthen the A40 runs along the valley, the successor to the old Roman road. Llandovery, Llandeilo and Carmarthen were all Roman settlements. The valley was inhabited long before the Romans arrived in Britain. There are numerous standing stones and burial mounds while the two Iron Age hill forts at Garn Goch, overlooking the valley near Bethlehem, are the largest in Wales. (A history of the Towy valley)
The Romans established garrisons at Llandovery, Llandeilo, Carmarthen and at Pumsaint on the River Cothi, one of the tributaries of the Towy, to protect the gold mine at Dolaucothi.
Celtic Christianity and A Land of Myths and Legends
After the Romans, the area was important in the development of Celtic Christianity and many of the towns take their names from churches dedicated to local saints. (Llan is Welsh for church). It was also a time of myths and legends and there are numerous references to Merlin and the Knights of King Arthur in the area (the name Carmarthen, according to the 12th century historian Geoffrey of Monmouth, is derived from the Welsh Caerfyrddin, meaning Merlin's Castle) as well as the Lady of the Lake and the physicians of Myddfai and the Welsh Robin Hood, Twm Sion Catti.
Llyn y Fan Fach
The Dark Ages in the Towy valley saw competing warlords and princes battling for dominance, while the Norman Conquest brought a prolonged period of strife, witnessed by the castles at Llandovery, Llangadog, Dynevor, Dryslwyn, Carmarthen, Kidwelly, Laugharne and Llansteffan as well as the Lord Rhys's stronghold at Carreg Cennen possibly the most spectacularly situated of all Welsh castles above the Cennen River a tributary of the Towy.
For a while the river marked the boundary between the County of Carmarthen, established by Edward I, and the Marcher Lordships. The towns grew up around the castles and would have been predominantly English relying on the castle garrisons with the Welsh continuing their more pastoral existence.
The Industrial Revolution largely passed the valley by, not the coal mining and iron and steel production here that changed the South Wales valleys to the East. There were troubles in the 19th century with the imposition of toll roads that lead to the Rebecca Riots with farmers disguised as women destroying toll gates and houses. The character of the countryside changed little with small towns and rural communities. The Welsh language remains strong in the valley though English is spoken everywhere.
The area is too distant to be easy commuting territory. The Heart of Wales railway runs through the valley from Llandeilo to north of Llandovery but this single track line with its numerous halts and stations belongs to a gentler era of travel.
Between Llandovery and Llandeilo the river borders the Brecon Beacons National Park with the Black Mountain dominating the view to the south east.
In many respects the valley resembles parkland rather than an intensive farming area, especially between Llandovery and Carmarthen as the Towy meanders its way through the flood plain. There are large houses and gardens such as Newton House with Dynevor Park, Aberglasney and the National Botanic Garden of Wales and Gelli Aur (Golden Grove) country park and mansion.
It is an area loved by artists, J W M Turner toured the area in 1795 and produced paintings of Llandeilo, Laugharne, Kidwelly and Carreg Cennen castles.
The Estuary at Llansteffan
The river is one of the great fishing rivers of Wales with salmon and sewin or sea trout prized. Sadly the sight of coracle fishermen at Carmarthen is far less common than it once was.
Sports and recreation are well catered for with walking, bird watching, pony trekking and hill walking among the most popular. Where the Towy enters Carmarthen Bay, there are extensive sandy beaches on either side of the estuary, with Pendine to the West and Cefn Sidan Sands to the East.
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