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Llandovery, Carmarthenshire, called in Welsh Llanymddyfri, is an attractive little market town in the upper valley of the Towy. The hills are all around, and the valley dairy farms flourish. Llandovery exudes an air of quiet satisfaction with life. On summer weekends it can get crowded with the mechanized migrants from England, on their way down the A40 to the western coastline. Normally it gets on with its business of being a very Welsh market town serving an unspoilt countryside. It has a castle. Only the ruins of the shattered keep remain, perched on the motte overlooking the cattle market and the little Afon Bran. The Castle Inn is nearby, with a modest square before it. Here George Borrow stayed, and he was loud in his praise of Llandovery as the “pleasantest little town in which I have halted in the course of my wanderings”. The main street is indeed an attractive mixture of unpretentious Georgian and Victorian shops and houses. In the centre is the Market Hall, with blocked-up arches beneath. Next to it is a delightful cream-and-white building completed with pepper-pot cupola and clock. Small public houses are scattered with Irish profusion through Llandovery. Historians point out that this arose from a charter of Richard III, which gave the town the sole right of keeping taverns throughout the area. A busy market day will convince the visitor that all are still needed. A modern bank occupying a pleasant Georgian house in the main street is the successor of the famous Bank of the Black Ox, founded by David Jones in 1799. Llandovery was then a great centre of the cattle trade. Drovers set out from the town with their great herds of black cattle, driving them over the mountains to the English markets. The trade flourished until the coming of the railways.

Three of the chapels in the town have architectural merit, including the well-proportioned Baptist Chapel of Ebenezer in Queen Street. Curiously enough, an English chapel the Methodist chapel in the High Street is the one that commemorates the greatest of hymn-writers in Welsh, William Williams of Pantycelyn. Pantycelyn is the farm in which he lived after his marriage. It lies in a secluded valley of the Mynydd Epynt range about 5 miles from Llandovery, and can be easily reached by turning off the main Llandovery - Brecon road at the hamlet of Ty-gwyn. The farm is still occupied, although it has become almost a place of pilgrimage for Welshmen. Williams was converted by Howell Harris after a sermon in Talgarth churchyard. He eventually joined the Calvinistic branch of the Methodists and travelled through Wales as an itinerant preacher from 1743 to his death in 1791. Williams was a literary artist, and his hymns have a lyrical power that made them irresistible. They played a vital part in “encrating the wave of religious enthusiasm that swept over Wales in the 18th century. The two English hymns by which he is best known to the world outside are “Guide Me, 0 Thou Great Jehovah” and “O'er the Gloomy Hill of Darkness”. His hymns still retain their power. As proof of this, the Memorial Chapel contains an oak communion table and chairs presented by the people of the Khassi Hills in Assam, who were converted by Welsh missionaries and who still sing the hymns of Pantycelyn in a far-off land.

Llandovery College stands among trees on the road out of town to the West it is one of the two recognized public schools in Wales. The other is Christ's College, Brecon, and great is the rivalry on the rugby field between them. Llandovery owes its foundation to the deep interest in Welsh affairs shown by Thomas Phillips, a doctor who returned from india with a fortune in 1817. When he died, he left £11,000 to provide the Church boys of Carmarthenshire with a public school in which the Welsh language was to be the principal medium of instruction. The school was duly built in the Gothic style then fashionable. The first Warden was Archdeacon John Williams, a remarkable teacher, who had made his reputation as Rector of Edinburgh Academy, where he had “achieved a success, in many respects even more remarkable than that of Arnold at Rugby”. After the departure of Archdeacon Williams, the original intention of the founder was modified, and Llandovery became an English-type public school, in our own day, Welsh has been restored to a more prominent place in the scheme of teaching. The college possesses two important paintings, a St Peter by Guercino in the hall, and a Crucifixion by Graham Sutherland in the chapel.

About 2 miles North East of Llandovery at the house called Ystradwalter, one of the oldest Nonconformist academies in Wales, contemporary with the foundation at Brynllywarch, was conducted by Rees Prytherch from 1658 to 1698. During the period of persecution he held his ministrations in a cave called Cerrig-y-Wyddon, but was later able to buy Ystradwalter, and have there, and at Abercrychan nearby, a successful educational establishment.

The two principal churches of Llandovery are both on the outskirts of the town. To the South is the parish church of Llandingat, in the meadows along the Towy. Llandingat was somewhat ruthlessly restored by W. D. Caröe in 1906. There is much Munich glass in the windows. The modern glass is by Leslie Walker. A vast Gothic font has been constructed around the original simple Norman one. The grave of Vicar Rhys Prichard is somewhere in the churchyard, although some accounts declared that it had been washed away by floods. Rhys Prichard was Vicar of Llandovery between 1594 and 1616. He died in 1644. His fame rests on a book of popular verse, published after his death, entitled Canwyll y Cymry, in which religious exhortation was combined with homely wisdom. Canwyll y Cymry had much the same influence in Wales as The Pilgrim's Progress in England. Popular legend declares that the Vicar wrote from his own experience. He led a dissolute life as Vicar, before a sudden conversion set him rhyming to admonish himself and his countrymen. The old house in which the Vicar lived was demolished by the Council in recent years.

Llandovery's second church stands on a small hill 2 miles to the North of the town: hence its name of Llanfair-ar-y-bryn (St Mary's Church on the hill). Llanfair also was restored by W. D. Caröe. The church has been compared to a large tithe barn. The nave is covered by a fine tie-beam roof, and the whole interior gives an impression of antiquity. Some fragments of thin red brick in the external wall below the East window may be Roman; they have caused speculation on whether a pagan Roman temple might have occupied the site. The Roman camp was certainly here on the hill at Llanfair. At the West end of the church are the hatchments of the Gwynne family. Williams of Pantycelyn is buried in the churchyard, on the site marked by an unhappy monument.

The village of Llanfair-ar-y-bryn lies further up in the narrowing Bran valley, which continues the line of the main Towy valley north-eastwards into the hills. The village itself is unremarkable. but the ruins of a large mansion stand on the valley-floor. This is Glanbran, which was accidentally destroyed by fire some time ago. In the late 18th century it was occupied by a branch of the well-known Gwynne family, whose most interesting descendant was the feckless but attractive Sackville Gwynne (175194). He eloped to Dublin with the daughter of one of his father's tenants and was disinherited. He returned as a somewhat prodigal son and subsequently remarned. He is remembered as a passionate devotee of the harp. He himself was a skilful player, and he made Glanbran a centre and a place of patronage for the harpists of the day. He was one of the men who kept alive the long tradition of Welsh harp-playing through difficult times.

The valley ends dramatically beyond Cynghordy (the Meeting House), where the railway tunnels through the hills and the road zigzags around a little pointed peak called the Sugar Loaf. The Forestry Commission have planted large tracts all around, but there are still narrow, lonely little side valleys left to explore in the tangled country to the East where the Mynydd Epynt ends.

Nearby towns: Brecon, Lampeter, Llandeilo, Llandrindod Wells, Llanwrtyd Wells

Nearby villages: Abergorlech, Cilycwm, Cray, Cynghordy, Defynnog, Ffairfach, Ffaldybrenin, Halfway, Llanddeusant, Llandeilo r-Fan, Llangadog, Llansadwrn, Llansawel, Llanwrda, Llanwrtyd, Llanycrwys, Llywel, Myddfai, Pentre Bach, Porthyrhyd, Pumsaint, Rhandirmwyn, Sennybridge, Talley, Trecastle, Twyn Llanan, Ystradffin

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