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Llansteffan, Carmarthenshire. Seen from the other side of the Towy estuary, Llanstephan has a charming air of tranquillity. The whitewashed houses of the Green are mirrored in the waters at high tide. Behind the Green the narrow streets climb the hill towards the church and its tower set against tall trees. Ruined Llanstephan Castle looks everything an ancient castle should be, on a high bluff fronting the sea. It was a favourite with the Romantic painters. Llanstephan can claim to be the best-sited village in Carmarthenshire. It benefits from its isolation on a small peninsula formed by the triple estuaries of the Gwendraeths, Towy, and Taf.

The road from Carmarthen to Llanstephan passes the scanty remains of Green Castle, on a hill at a sharp bend in the highway. This particular stronghold was built by the English family of Rede. The ruins of the castle of the Welsh Princes lies 600 yds South. The road dips down to follow the widening river.

The waterfront of Llanstephan, the Green, lies separated from the rest of the village along the sands of the estuary. The main street slopes pleasantly up to the church, which possesses an imposing military-type tower and a nave mainly of the 13th century. The building was restored in 1872. Within are numerous early 19th century memorial tablets, besides the tombs, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, of the Lloyd family in the Laques Chapel. The Meares family of the local big house, the Plas, are commemorated by their elaborate hatchments. The East window has some fine stained glass.

The main street forks at the church. The left branch runs towards Llanstephan Castle, and is a dead-end for traffic, leaving a walk up to the Castle gates. On the right is the splendid 18th century mansion, the Plas, with a pillared portico. The Castle is now in the charge of the Ministry of Public Building and Works. The defensive value of the site, with its southern and eastern sides formed by abrupt slopes falling 150 ft to the low cliffs fringing the water, made it attractive to the Iron Age folk long before the coming of the Normans. The hedge of the field to the West of the Castle marks the line of the bulwarks of the Iron Age fort.

The present approach to the Castle is up a steep track, with the Castle ditch running round to the West tower from the great gatehouse. The gatehouse is an imposing structure, with its two drum-towers and some features suggesting that its builders derived their inspiration from the castle in Caerphilly by Gilbert de Clare in the mid-l3th century. The actual gate has been walled up; a new entrance was opened in the 15th century. Over the old blocked gateway is a curious chute down which boiling water could be poured on to a storming-party. The inner ward of the Castle slopes steeply uphill towards the upper ward, where the first Castle stood; it was built at the end of the 12th century. The ruins consist of the inner gate and a stretch of the original wall beyond.

The early history of the Castle is obscure. When the Normans began their penetration of South Wales in the late 11th and early 12th centuries, they soon appreciated the advantages of having firm bases on the coast from which they could support their penetration inland. They built Kidwelly Castle to control the mouth of the Gwendraeth. Lianstephan Castle performed the same function for the Towy. The exact date of construction of the first Castle is uncertain, but it was certainly captured by the Welsh princes Cadell, Maredudd, and Rhys in 1146, and thus received its first mention in history. The courage of the young Maredudd, who flung the English scaling-ladders down when repulsing an attempt to recapture the works, was long celebrated by the Welsh chroniclers. But by 1158 the English had reoccupied the Castle. The Lord Rhys, the most powerful of the Welsh Princes of South Wales, retook it when he broke with Richard I. It fell again to the Welsh under Llywelyn the Great in 1215, was recovered by the English, and again passed for a moment into Welsh hands in 1257. When the tide of Welsh independence finally ebbed, the Castle was greatly strengthened in the new style of fortification that marked the era of Edward I. The Welsh may have captured it in the Glyndwr Rising. After that its importance declined. The Crown held it for two centuries and granted it to various owners. Jasper Tudor received it from the hands of his nephew, Henry VII, and the final alterations to the structure may have been made during his tenancy. Then it sank into oblivion and picturesque decay.

Beyond the Castle is St Antony's Well, which still receives its offerings of pins as a healing well and as a wishing well for the lovelorn. The woodlands are known as the “Sticks”, a rough translation of the Welsh “coed” (wood) by the local town crier. The fine bluff of Warley Point (358 ft) separates the estuary of the Towy from that of the Taf. The coast curves round to Black Scar, where the Ordnance Survey map shows a ferry to Laugharne. About 1 mile inland, North of Llanstephan, is the hamlet of Llanybri. The houses are grouped round a church, which was designated the “Marbeli” Church in an inventory of Edward VI, but later passed into the possession of the Dissenters. The church, with its curious tower, is now in complete decay.

North of Llanybri the country is well wooded, and among the trees is Coomb House, once the home of the founder of Morris's Bank in Carmarthen in 1784. It is now a Cheshire Home. A narrow lane meanders South West to the ruined church of Llandeilo Abercowin (more correctly Abercywyn), near the banks of the Taf. The farm called the Pilgrim's Rest, near at hand, dates from the 15th century.

Nearby towns: Carmarthen, Kidwelly, Laugharne, St Clears

Nearby villages: Abergwili, Abernant, Blaenwaun, Burry Port, Derwydd, Ferryside, Gelliwen, Llanboidy, Llanddarog, Llandefaelog, Llandowror, Llanelli, Llangain, Llangendeirne, Llangunnor, Llangynin, Llansadurnen, Llansteffan, Llanwinio, Llanybri, Marros, Meidrim, Merthyr, Nantgaredig, Newchurch, Pembrey, Pendine, Pontyates, Pontyberem, Rhydargaeau, Saint Ishmael, Talog, Whitland

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