Day out: Bethlehem, Carmarthenshire
Unearth the story behind the curious naming of a tiny farming settlement on the edge of the Brecon Beacons
When seen from Garn Goch – a coarse sandstone hill mantled with glacial till and topped with an Iron Age hillfort – the small village of Bethlehem appears as a huddle of shining buildings in the gloriously sprawling Tywi Valley.
If you have a romantic bent, I find that squinting gives the tawny hills a desert-like patina, making Bethlehem’s simple white buildings reminiscent of Palestinian homes.
How did Wales' Bethlehem get its name?
Mary and Joseph travelled to the original Bethlehem because Caesar had commanded a census to be made of the entire Roman Empire. Their journey was made on a donkey and Mary gave birth in a cattle shed, there being no room at the inn.
The Carmarthenshire Bethlehem was first known as Dyffryn Ceidrich, but when the name Bethlehem was given to the Independent chapel in 1800, soon after, in the wave of religious enthusiasm that swept nonconformist Wales, the village, too, acquired the name.
Visit Bethlehem village in Wales
This Bethlehem has a population approaching 200, which may have increased come the next census judging by a modest proliferation of new-builds. It is no stranger to cattle sheds, Tywi Valley being renowned for its dairy pasture, or stars in the bright sky, bordering the Brecon Beacons National Park (now an International Dark Sky Reserve) as it does. Silent nights are a speciality; the quiet here is as thick and dense as the species-rich hedgerows, prolific in holly and ivy.
But donkeys are thin on the ground and most people drive here these days. I have heard, however, that the walk from Llangadog is wonderful, and I can recommend alighting from the Carmarthen bus in Manordeilo, crossing the Tywi and advancing along green lanes and farmland, where you will find that the cattle are lowing.
Walks near Bethlehem
The Welsh Bethlehem has warmly embraced the Christmas tradition, but 2020 has been an odd year.
There will be no Bethlehem Christmas card-stamping service, refreshments or carol singing in the village hall this December. Best to stick to the hills – Garn Goch (and perhaps even further along the Brecon Beacons Way to Trichrug), from where you will indeed see how still this small village lies.
Julie Brominicks is a landscape and travel writer who lives off-grid in a caravan in a mossy Welsh valley.