Walk: Carreg Cennen Castle, Carmarthenshire
Journey on foot through chestnut valleys and gilded woods to a dramatic castle ruin in Wales
One of the defining images of the impact historical Britons had on the landscape is that of the castle on a hill. Early Iron and Bronze Age hillforts can still be seen in the land, though the structures have gone, such as Dunadd hillfort, where early Scottish kings are said to have been crowned.
Later defences were made of stone, leaving a more imposing physical legacy. Near Llandeilo, there are a number of castles that had key roles in attempts to re-establish the southern Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth in the 12th century, having been conquered by the Normans. The jewel in the crown among them, though, and indeed of all castle ruins in the country, may just be Carreg Cennen.
History of Carreg Cennen Castle
Though the romantic ruins commanding the limestone crag today date to the late-13th century, Roman coins and prehistoric skeletons have been found here. The castle was utilised in skirmishes between the English and Welsh, as well as in the War of the Roses, which saw it demolished in the 1460s. Despite this, the remains of the fortress are substantial and their former strength obvious.
A journey on foot to the castle is perhaps the most rewarding way to experience it. Once inside, the north-east tower gives spectacular views to Black Mountain on a clear day – a natural monolith framed by arrow slits.
Carreg Cennen Castle walk
6.6 miles/10.7km | 4 hours | moderate
1. Out of the trapps
From the village of Trapp, head east on the lane signposted to the castle. Turn right after 100m on to a footpath and follow the stream. At a track turn right, then left across fields.
2. Conquer the Castle
At a lane turn left and then right following a footpath to the entrance of Carreg Cennen. Crossing the field, you may notice the ash die-back affecting the trees beneath the castle. At the entrance to the castle is a pleasant tearoom with views down the valley. Follow the path to the castle.
3. Birds of the forest
Take the Beacons Way downhill beneath the golden canopy of Coed y Castell. This Site of Special Scientific Interest is on a geological fault line involving two rock types. Limestone is favoured by ash while the sandstone is preferred by sessile oaks. Ignore the footbridge and walk downstream. Listen for woodpeckers drilling and look for nuthatches flitting among the branches.
4. Lanes and fields
Take the lane uphill, then turn left across fields. Stick to the left-hand path, then cross a bridge and ascend the valley. At the cottage, turn right and follow the track to a farmhouse.
5. Medieval chapel
Take an immediate left along the driveway, then the footpath opposite a bungalow to reach a hillock among trees, on which the footings of a medieval chapel remain. The only tower standing here now is a tall water butt. Go through the wide gate beneath tall trees and follow the path to the right of the house. Reaching the lane, turn left.
6. Castle views
Shortly, turn right on to Carreg Ridge. Follow the track up and along the hill. There are fantastic views back to the castle from here. Take the footpath that drops through a hollow and passes a large house. Stay on its driveway to Llandyfan.
7. Legendary well
Llandyfan farmstead with its former lime kiln is incredibly idyllic. The churchyard contains a holy well from which many local legends have flowed. Turn right and follow the road. Take the next right. Turn left on to a bridleway just after crossroads.
8. Stream return
Look for herons as you cross the stream with its hue of burnt sienna. Turn right and follow a path parallel to the stream. Enjoy one final view of the castle framed by trees as you emerge into Trapp.
Carreg Cennen Castle map
Visiting Carreg Cennen Castle
The gift shop and café are housed in lovingly converted farm buildings. The farm is still active and includes a herd of longhorn cattle. Open 9.30am–4.30pm, November to March (closed Christmas Day); £5.50 for adults. carregcennencastle.com
Christopher Ridout is a walker and writer with a keen interest in history and mythology.