This turned out to be a very pleasant ride, a gentle start to my second trip. Starting off-road through nature reserves along the River Loughor, I cycled around a very large construction which was to be a new Lifeboat Station and past the old, wooden Lifeboat Station and then along the side of the harbour of Burry Port. Some of it was being used commercially but most of it was being used as a marina.
There had been Copper Works at Burry Port which were closed in 1984 and demolished in 1992 and there was a very interesting plaque in Welsh and English giving the history of the the Works.
The route then left the river and went by the Pembrey Country Park and through woodland to arrive at Kidwelly, where I saw a fish and chip shop and ordered some cheesy chips and ate them in the warm sunshine on a seat in front of the church. Around the corner I saw a castle at the top of the hill. Unlike so many I had seen on my trip, it was relatively intact. It had been built sometime after 1106 and I would really recommend it for a visit.
From its early days, it had an unusual story of a female warrior. Henry I had died without heirs in 1135 and the next year the Welsh rose up in revolt against the Norman Invaders in South Wales. Gruffydd ap Rhys, a local prince, rode North to plead for help from the princes of Gwynedd, while his wife, Gwellian, lead a Welsh army against Kidwelly. She was defeated by English troops under Maurice de Londres and beheaded.
Further along the river was Ferryside, the ferry being used to support local and inland industry until this failed. There was then an increase in use for pleasure boats but it was finally closed in 1945. Only last week the ferry has started again.
The first Lifeboat at Ferrybridge was commissioned in 1835 when Carmarthen was a busy port and many sailing vessels navigated through the treacherous sandbanks of Carmarthen Bay and often got into difficulties. Yet, by the 1950s the bay had become silted up and the commercial traffic, including that to the Copper works at Burry Port, had ceased. However, by 1966 the rise in pleasure boating had increased and an inshore boat was commissioned by St John Ambulance and, manned by
volunteers from the village, has saved many lives since.
I stood and looked over the broad estuary of the River Towy which goes to Carmarthen where there were once many wharves servicing the County Town and its agricultural area. The tide was out and there were lines of sandbanks and it was hard to see where the river ran. Once, cockle gathering was an important industry here and most of the gatherers were woman from the neighbouring village of Llansaint. They used donkeys to transport the cockles to Ferryside Station but both prices and numbers fell and it became unprofitable. There are regulations preventing commercial cockle harvesting without a licence but allowing a small amount of gathering for personal use.
I was reading this information on a board when I then heard the nearby railway crossing gates closing so I started walking up to see what type of train it would be and found myself walking alongside a local to whom I mentioned the reference to the cockle industry on the information board. After a general discussion she told me, authoritatively, that there are still five cockle licences in existence and they have been renewed for the last 5 years.
By the level crossing there was a statue of a fisherman and the board explained that it was a Seine net fisherman. There is one of the largest rise and fall of tides in the country at Ferryside and it was a very profitable location to fish until numbers fell so much that it was not worth continuing. With Seine nets you have a long net hung vertically from a rope which is closed around and under the fish to bring them to land.
I arrived at Carmarthen late afternoon to find it bustling with people. It has a very attractive centre which nestles close the remains of the Castle of which, disappointingly there are just remains of two towers and part of the wall. The town centre is wholly pedestrianised and it seems as if the medieval layout has been preserved. It appeared very prosperous and it has all the shops you would expect in a larger town and some, like Waterstones, which have often gone. The largest shop is a Debenhams. The Drover statues were situated near the shopping centre.
I was staying at The Boars Head which seems, from its history, to have been an important centre of commerce. It has been improved and extended so often that its age has been difficult to determine but ownership can be traced back to the 17th century. I was in one of those small singles that old listed coaching inns often retain. The real ales were all from the nearby Felinfoel Brewery, the food portions were generous.