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Llandeilo to Carmarthen

 

Between Llandeilo and Carmarthen the Towy meanders through the flat valley floor in scenery reminiscent of parkland, no doubt due to the large estates that dominate the area. The hills on either side of the valley have country houses castles and monuments. Golden Grove or Gelli Aur was the home of the Cawdor family (not of Macbeth fame). The grounds of Gelli Aur are now a country park featuring an arboretum, deer park and nature trails. The estate now contains Carmarthenshire's Agricultural College and the fields adjoining the river are home to the Welsh Game Fair held over two days on the second weekend in June.

 

Dominating the Southern skyline is Paxton's Tower once part of the Middleton Estate that is now the National Botanic Garden. The views from the first floor of the tower are well worth the detour.

Llanegwad and Pont ar Gothi

The ancient village of Llanegwad is situated off the A40. The church of St Egwad has its origins in the 11th century, but was rebuilt in the 19th century, with the addition of a tower and steeple. Unfortunately, the building standards were poor and the tower caused structural damage to the rest of the church, causing temporary closure in 2002. The church is in use again, though the steeple has now been removed and stands forlornly surrounded  by weeds to the west of the church. Inside there are a number of 19th century stained glass windows.

Next to the church is a house named Ty Coffi, or Coffee House. The owners were persuaded to open their home to serve coffee to the ladies of the church after services. 

The village of Pont ar Gothi or Cothi Bridge sprang up originally at a ford for crossing the River Cothi. The bridge carries the A40 across the river today and there is a modern footbridge along side. 

There are a number of inns in the village and it is best known locally for its annual show.

Country fairs and agricultural shows are a feature throughout the area with horses and ponies a major attraction. The photograph shows Pont ar Gothi Agricultural Show.

The village has a well kept secret, the beautiful church of Holy Trinity, situated about half a mile north of the Bridge. The church was built by Henry James Bath, an English businessman who made his fortune in the copper smelting industry of Swansea. He moved to the parish in 1868 upon the completion of Alltyferin House (now demolished) and wanted a place to worship in English so had the church built, though it was completed after his death. Originally planned to have a family vault for burial under the altar, the church was never licensed for burials, so the vault was never used and the church stands today in a field. The church is a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque styles designed by Benjamin Bucknall, an architect influenced by Eugene Emmanuel Viollet Le Duc the restorer of Notre Dame de Paris. The exterior is relatively plain, but the interior, recently restored is magnificent, richly decorated with scenes from the Bible and a barrel ceiling and pulpit made from Swansea marble.

Holy Trinity Church is open on Thursday afternoons during the summer and visitors are welcomed with a cup of tea and biscuits by helpful and knowledgeable parishioners.

The rich windows contain Clayton and Bell stained glass. Clayton and Bell were based in Regent Street and provided stained glass windows for Norwich Cathedral, Truro Cathedral, the West Window of King's College Cambridge, Peterborough Cathedral, and St James Cathedral Toronto as well as churches in New York and Sydney. Their windows used medieval techniques of colouring glass that gave a greater luminosity than many of their contemporaries.

Nantgaredig

Nantgaredig is a small village largely lying between the A40 and the River Towy, that grew with the railway station that served the nearby village of Llanegwad. The line, now dismantled, ran from Carmarthen to Llandeilo and crossed the Cothi and Towy by bridges south of Llanegwad that are no longer. There are two small standing stones in a field behind houses in the village indicating an earlier settlement nearby.

Bridge over the Towy at Nantgaredig

The Towy above Nantgaredig

The Towy below Nantgaredig

Llyn Llech Owain 

Lake and Nature Reserve

Situated to the south of the the Towy, Llyn Llech Owain is a beautiful country park surrounding the lake.

Legend has it that Sir Owain one of the Knights of the Round Table was charged with looking after a well on the mountain. One day, after watering his horse he forgot to replace the retaining slab and the water gushed out forming the lake; hence the name the lake of Owain's slab. The water was once used to supply Llanelli, hence the towers that you see, but today it is a peaceful spot with water lilies and wildlife and surrounded by bog with raised paths.

 

The castles of Dynevor and Dryslwyn are prominent features and both offer beautiful panoramas over the valley.

Gelli Aur Country Park

Gelli Aur (Golden Grove) offers 60 acres of peaceful park and woodland on the southern side of the Towy opposite Aberglasney. Originally the home of the Vaughan family, Golden Grove passed to the Cawdors in 1804 and they built the present mansion. Probably the largest house in the valley, it is closed to the public but the parkland is open (no entry charge but pay and display parking in operation). 

Golden Grove mansion was rebuilt by the Earl of Cawdor between 1827 and 1832, replacing the Tudor mansion of the Vaughan family. It presented superb views over the valley.

The Vaughan family was in Welsh named Fychan. Gruffydd Fychan was married to Katherine, daughter of Maredudd ap Tudor. Their son Hugh Fychan moved to Carmarthenshire in 1485 and married Jane, daughter of Morris ab Owain, Steward of the Lordship of Kidwelly and Receiver of the Commotes of Iscennen and Carnwyllion. Hugh Fychan was appointed Forester of Kidwelly and by 1492 was Gentleman Usher at the court of Henry VII his cousin. In 1532 Hugh Fychan, or Vaughan as he was now known, was appointed Keeper and Receiver of lands in Kidwelly confiscated by Henry VIII from Rhys ap Gruffydd of Dynevor. The family home was Cwrt Bryn y Beirdd a 14th century unfortified mansion opposite Carreg Cennen Castle in the Commote of Iscennen. Hugh and Jane had one son, John Vaughan. 

John Vaughan of Kidwelly moved to Gelli Aur in the 16th century. His son Walter married twice, first into the Dinevor family and then to Letitia, daughter of Sir John Perrot of Laugharne. Walter's eldest son John (1572-1634) was twice Member of Parliament for Carmarthen Borough. He served under the Earl of Essex in Ireland and subsequently was appointed to the household of Prince Charles. He was created Baron Mulingar in 1621 and Earl of Carbery in 1628.

His son Richard succeeded him as 2nd Earl of Carbery and became Lord President of the Marches of Wales and was created Baron Vaughan of Emlyn (a British rather than an Irish peerage) A royalist in the early years of the Civil War he took no part in hostilities after 1644. A refugee at Golden Grove during that war was Jeremy Taylor whose religious writings include "Golden Grove; or a Manuall of daily prayers and letanies". At the time of his death Richard Vaughan owned 50,000 acres as well as land in Ireland.

The 3rd and last Earl of Carbery was Richard's son John (1640-1713). Like his father and grandfather he was Member of Parliament for Carmarthen Borough but was also appointed Governor of Jamaica 1674-78 where his deputy was the notorious Sir Henry Morgan. He returned to London and became President of the Royal Society 1686-89. He was described by Samuel Pepys as "one of the lewdest fellows of the age". His only daughter married Lord Bolton but died without issue and the estate passed to a cousin, yet another John Vaughan (1693-1765). He built a new Golden Grove mansion alongside the original that had been destroyed by fire in 1729. His grandson, John Vaughan (1757-1804) died without issue and left the estate to his friend John Campbell, Lord Cawdor. The Campbell family already owned land in Pembrokeshire as well as Cawdor Castle in Scotland. John Campbell's son, John Frederick Campbell, second Baron Cawdor was created Earl of Cawdor in 1827. It was he who built the present Golden Grove mansion. John Duncan Vaughan Campbell, 5th Earl of Cawdor (1900-1970) spent most of his time in Scotland and leased Golden Grove mansion and the surrounding land to Carmarthenshire County Council. The bulk of the estate is used as an agricultural college. 

The Cawdor name is continued in the area in the Cawdor, a leading hotel in Llandeilo. Formerly the Cawdor Hotel was the Bear Inn, described by Sir Richard Hoare in the 1790s as the "worst in South Wales" and by a Miss Spence as "very uncomfortable and exorbitant", but was commended by The Cambrian Travellers' Guide and Handbook of 1808.

 

 

  

The Arboretum at Gelli Aur has a selection of specimen trees from around the world. It was planted in the 1860s in parkland that already contained a range of mature oaks and sweet chestnuts. The Llandeilo website contains a full description

  

The Deer Park at Gelli Aur has some 20 Fallow deer in its 20 acres. The original Deer Park was some twenty times larger with a herd of up to 600 deer. Today the deer can be seen from the terrace of the cafe. There appears to be a resident peacock on the terrace.

 

Paxton's Tower

The Middleton family built a mansion in the parish of Llanarthne in the early 1600s In 1789 William Paxton purchased the estate and built a new hall regarded as one of the most splendid mansions in South Wales. Paxton had started his career in the Navy but moved to India and turned to banking, eventually establishing a Merchant Bank. A friend of Nelson, he had Nelson's Tower otherwise known as Paxton's Tower built in his memory. Originally a track led from the Hall to the Tower and carriages would transport guests to the tower where the first floor was a dining room with magnificent views over the Towy valley. The Tower is now in the hands of the National Trust. Access is via narrow lanes. There is a car park and a short walk through a field and there is no admission charge.

 

 

Looking towards Llandeilo from Paxton's Tower

The view from Paxton's Tower with the Black Mountain in the distance

Grongar Hill celebrated by the poet John Dyer. Dryslwyn Castle is in the foreground, bottom left while Hill and the Iron Age hill fort of Grongaer is at the centre of the picture. Aberglasney Gardens are situated behind the hill.

Grongar Hill

Hills Above the Cothi Valley

The very rural Towy Valley

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Site and Photographs Geoffrey Davies 2008-10  Contact info@enchantedtowy.co.uk