Llandovery (Llanymddyfri) is a pretty market town in Carmarthenshire on the western edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Llanymddyfri means "church among the waters" – the town is surrounded by three rivers, the Towy, the Bran and the Gwydderig and sits at the junction of three old droving routes. Llandovery was an important assembly point for the drovers before they continued on to the border and London.
The town retains much of its historic charm and contains a beautiful cobbled market square and clock tower, a host of brightly coloured buildings, cafes, craft centres and gift shops, an independent theatre and wholefood shops all evocative of a bygone era. This pretty Welsh market town has been a popular site for the filming of period dramas and offers a plentiful choice of historic rural cottages and holiday homes, character B&Bs and CAMRA award-winning inns with rooms.
Llandovery Castle & History
On a grass covered rocky hillock overlooking the main car park are the remains of the 12th century Norman Llandovery Castle which offers magnificent views of the town and surrounding countryside. A more recent addition is the striking stainless steel sculpture of local Lord Llywelyn ap Gruffydd-Fychan. He became a martyr for his country’s freedom when he was publicly executed in Llandovery in front of the English king Henry IV in 1401 for supporting the rebel prince Owain Glyndwr and Wales’ struggle for independence.
Find out more about the castle and history at Llandovery Tourist information and Heritage Centre located within a car park on the edge of the town. The centre is also a major Gateway information point for the Brecon Beacons National Park. Exhibits inside feature information on local notables such as the infamous Highwayman Twm Sion Cati (Thomas Jones, 1530-1609) and the Welsh hymn-writer William Williams (1717-91).
Llandovery is also the place where one of the first independent Welsh banks, The Black Ox, was established by a wealthy drover (later to become part of Lloyds TSB bank). The building adjoining the King’s Head was the former home of The Bank of the Black Ox.
Dolaucothi Gold Mines
The Dolaucothi Gold Mines are located just north west of Llandovery at Pumsaint and are cared for by the National Trust. This is the only place in Britain where it is certain that the Romans mined gold almost 2,000 years ago. The true age of the working weren’t realised until the 1930s when wooden tools discovered while extraction was still going on were compared to finds from archaeological sites in Spain and Eastern Europe.
It was confirmed in the 1960s that they were indeed of Roman origin when a section of a water-lifting wheel was dated. Further archaeological surveys have taken place from the late 1960s and similarities have been discovered in French mines. It is the discovery of the water-based technologies used that point to Roman expertise, although there is still some debate as to whether this was what the Romans would have used at Dolaucothi.
Today you can take an underground guided tour (stout footwear recommended) of the Roman gold mine and view what is left of the workings. There are also examples of later machinery used when mining resumed in the 19th century and through into the 20th century. A self-guided onsite Miners’ Trail weaves around the major features of interest and takes about 45 minutes to walk round. There is also an exhibition about the history of gold and gold mining. You can then have a go at gold panning yourself!
The mines are set in wooded hillsides overlooking the beautiful Cothi Valley. There are several waymarked walks through the estate and if you’re lucky you might even see a red kite flying overhead. Fishing is also available on the estate.
The Physicians of Myddfai Legend
Don’t miss a visit to the nearby village of Myddfai 8 miles (12km) south of Llandovery. The village is famed for a local legend centred around nearby Llyn y Fan Fach – in Welsh meaning a lake of a small hill. A beautiful fairy maiden is said to have risen from the lake’s waters and as the son of a local farmer watched her comb her hair he immediately fell in love with her. He tried to tempt her to come to him with bread, twice she refused but the third time she accepted.
The father came out of lake and granted the boy permission to marry his daughter on the condition that should the farmer strike his daughter three times she would return to the lake forever. He also promised them a herd of cattle as a wedding present. They lived happily for many years having three sons, but eventually he strikes her gently three times for different reasons and she and her cattle are returned to the lake. Although she is lost to her husband forever, she leaves the legacy to her sons and their descendants of the healing powers of her people which leads to a dynasty of doctors from Myddfai.
Although a legend, there are records of Rhiwallon and his three sons who were well-known 13th century physicians and whose descendants continued the tradition of practising medicine. The "Physicians Valley" (Pan-y-Meddygon) is still rich in bog plants, herbs and lichens and is well worth visiting for its scenery.