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Dyfed – a Welsh county of splendid castles and modern eisteddfods

Posted in Architecture, British Countryside, British Towns, Castles, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Music on Thursday, 31 May 2012

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This edited article about Dyfed originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 715 published on 27 September 1975.

Pembroke Castle, picture, image, illustration

A picture history of Pembroke Castle by Pat Nicolle

Carmarthenshire which was formerly the largest county in Wales, has now been amalgamated with its neighbours, Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire, to form a new county called Dyfed. The rivers Towy and Taf flow through wooded valleys from the western slopes of the central Welsh moorlands, in the north-east.

The Towy flows into Carmarthen Bay, where women go out at low tide to collect cockles from the broad sands.

Carmarthen stands at the lowest bridgeable point of the river. Here history has made its mark. Roman soldiers paced the ramparts of the fort they called Maridunum, and Norman knights rode out from the castle which the Conqueror built hundreds of years later. On the upper reaches of this river, the occasional coracle can still be seen. This simple kind of boat, made of skins stretched on a light wicker frame, is light enough to be carried on a man’s back, and the design has remained unchanged for many hundreds of years.

Another relic of ancient times is the site of an Iron Age settlement at Carn Goch, and on the hills and headlands of the coast many cromlechs, or stone monuments still stand. These are relics of ancient invaders who came from the western Mediterranean more than three thousand years ago.

Welsh coal is famous throughout the world. In the days when steamships were not yet stoked with oil, the coal from the valleys of Wales found its way into the bunkers of coaling stations from Shanghai to San Francisco.

Wales is called the Land of Song, and Dyfed has its share of music. It is said that one of the first “eisteddfods” or festivals of music and poetry, was held near Carmarthen. These festivals are now held regularly at different places.

It was here at Laugharne, his boat-house home, that the modern Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas wrote much of his well-known play for voices which he called Under Milk Wood.

Pembroke has also seen its share of troubled and turbulent times. The town of Pembroke, was a Norman stronghold, and beneath the castle is a great natural cavern called the Wogan. This leads to the River Pembroke, and in Norman times, the entrance was blocked by a water gate.

Although far removed from the centre of Britain’s affairs, Dyfed has continually played an active part in the history of our land. During the Civil War, Pembroke Castle was held by the Mayor of Pembroke, John Poyer, who declared for the King.

Cromwell himself stormed into the county, laid siege to the citadel and promptly executed the Royalist Poyer.

Over a hundred years later, when Britain was at war with France, three French frigates landed an invading force of 1,400 men under the command of General Tate, an Irish-American, on the former Pembrokeshire coast.

The would-be conquerors were routed three days later by the militia. It is said that Tate surrendered when he saw what he believed to be a large body of red-coated British troops advancing in the distance. Actually they were Welsh women in red cloaks.

The former Pembrokeshire coast forms the eastern boundary of St. George’s Channel and many ships ply back and forth from Fishguard to ports in Ireland.

Cardiganshire was famous for its connections with St. David, now the patron saint of Wales who settled in the village of Llanddewi Brefi, in the heart of the county.

David was a man of peace, unlike the man who came after him, a proud warrior called Owain Glyn Dwr, known to the English as Owen Glendower. He claimed descent from the old Welsh princes and was determined to resist the domination of the hated English.

He was for a long time, a thorn in the side of the English and on three separate occasions, defeated them. In 1404, he made an offensive alliance with France against England.

He also rallied the Percy family, – the most famous of whom was the renowned warrior, Hotspur – to his cause. But Hotspur and his forces were defeated and Glendower died, believed killed in battle.

Owen Glendowner was a fierce and dedicated Welsh nationalist and even today, more Welsh is heard and more of the ancient traditions and ancient religious practices are to be found than anywhere else in Wales.

It was here in this county that the new Methodist movement flourished. It was the centre of the new religion in the eighteenth century and one of the Methodists’ great leaders, Daniel Rowlands, whose hymns are still sung in Methodist chapels was the vicar of Llangeitho.

For centuries, all goods imported into Cardiganshire had to come by sea for there was an almost complete lack of land communications. Even today, transport between the hamlets in the hills is difficult, especially in winter.

Here is where the Welsh ponies come into their own for they are noted for their hardiness, their great strength and their almost unlimited capacity for work.

In the secret places in the hills, old religious ceremonies are still performed and haunting strains of Welsh music can still be heard. Dyfed is the real Wales, the Wales of the Welsh.

Tourists from Lancashire and the English “border” counties flock in to this “land-within-a-land” to enjoy its rugged beauty and immense variety of scenery. And Dyfed welcomes these peaceful invaders.

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