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Visiting Carmarthen Castle, Wales: Medieval walls overlooking the Tywi River
Walls which encompass County Hall
Overlooking the Tywi (or Towy) River, Carmarthen Castle (Welsh: Castell Caerfyrddin ) is a partly ruined structure, built on a hill in Carmarthen, in West Wales.
Carmarthen is referred to by Ptolemy; and a Roman fort and amphitheatre were built locally. The original version of the castle dates from around the end of the 11th and beginning of the 12th century; from the period when the Normans consolidated their rule, following their Conquest, William fitz Baldwin is given as the builder of a castle at Carmarthen, soon destroyed in 1215 by Prince Llewellyn the Great (Welsh: Llewellyn Fawr ). The castle was later rebuilt and the town became a walled entity, encompassed by the castle's defences.
Thus, one interesting feature of the castle is that its extensive walls encompass County Hall (Welsh: Neuadd y Sir ), a local administrative authority, an imposing building in its own right (1). There is a sense in which the castle continues a tradition of having being at the centre of things locally for hundreds of years.
In 1405, the castle and town fell to the Welsh forces of Owain Glyndwr (who corresponds to the Shakespearean character Owen Glendower). But in the previous century devastation came by means of an influence no defensive walls proved capable of resisting: by the plague known as the Black Death, thought to have arrived in Carmarthen by river-borne traffic in 1347-49.
The best preserved part of the castle is the gatehouse, which is especially photogenic when seen from Nott Square (1), in the Downtown area of Carmarthen. In 1555, in what is now Nott Square, Bishop Ferrar of St. Davids was burnt at the stake under the reign of Queen Mary I: this event by the castle gatehouse was certainly more of a religious, rather than military, controversy.
(1) The fact that, prior the building of County Hall, the site at the castle was used as a prison, has given rise to opportunities for local humourists to claim the existence of some kind of conceptual continuity between people in jail and local politicians.
(2) The square is named for Sir William Nott, a longserving military figure in British India, who had lived in Carmarthen in the late 18th century, and to whom a statue exists at the square.
Also worth seeing
In Carmarthen itself, Trinity University College, now part of the University of Wales, is housed in a fine Victorian structure.
Carreg Cennen Castle (distance: approx. 31 kilometres), near the town of Llandeilo, this ancient castle has a particularly craggy appearance.
Pembroke Castle (distance: 50 kilometres) an enormous, well preserved structure situated near the centre of the town of Pembroke.
St David's Cathedral (distance: 74 kilometres); this Medieval building is situated at the extreme west of Pembrokeshire, in West Wales.
How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport , from where car rental is available. London Heathrow is approximately 321 kilometres from Carmarthen . Rail services exists between London Paddington railroad station and Carmarthen. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
Other of my hubpages may also be of interest
- Visiting St. David's, Wales: Cathedral village on the edge
- Visiting Caerphilly, Wales: its remarkably well-preserved castle
- Visiting Brecon, Wales, with its ancient Cathedral and the nearby Brecon Beacon mountains: tranquill
- Visiting Pennard Castle, near Swansea, Wales: late 13th or early 14th century clifftop ruins
- Visiting Wales's Swansea Castle: imposing, late 13th or early 14th century ruins