Julia Harrison explores this delightful corner of Carmarthenshire
From its hill-top vantage point on the northern bank of the River Tywi, the small Carmarthenshire town of Llandeilo in west Wales overlooks some of the most serene views Wales has to offer. Snuggled up against the border of the Brecon Beacons National Park, it counts botanic gardens, an ancient castle and an arboretum among its neighbours, and yet it’s only a short hop off the M4 motorway.
The confection of pastel-painted Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian houses that cluster around the centre hint at Llandeilo’s illustrious past as a thriving market town, a legacy that continues today. Thanks to its friendly, entrepreneurial inhabitants, you’ll find a clutch of newly opened chic shops, as alive with interest as they are with the lilting Welsh voices of the locals.
Whichever way you approach Llandeilo, you’re presented with an excuse to unbuckle the seatbelt and get exploring. On the western outskirts of the town, the 12th-century Dinefwr Castle (01558 824512; nationaltrust.org.uk) stands proud among its 800-acre grounds. Explore the grand castle, once home to the medieval court of the Welsh prince Lord Rhys, or have a cuppa in the tearooms overlooking the deer park and Capability Brown-designed gardens. Coming off the M4 towards Llandeilo, head for the National Botanic Garden of Wales (01558 668768; gardenofwales.org.uk). The green-fingered will go weak at the knees at the sight of the breathtaking Great Glasshouse. Designed by Lord Foster, it’s the largest single-span glasshouse in the world and resembles a giant raindrop.
Within Llandeilo itself, the Llandeilo Fawr Gospels in St Teilo’s church is a must-see: this beautifully illuminated eighth-century manuscript contains one of the earliest surviving examples of written Welsh. Three miles to the west, the gloriously named Golden Grove Country Park and Arboretum (01558 668021) is prime picnicking territory. Once the home of colonial pioneer and passionate tree planter Sir William Vaughan, the park has a grand avenue of limes and a fine selection of veteran oaks, cedars and chesnut trees to admire. Amble along the nature trails, taking in meadows, woodland and ponds along the way, and see if you can spot the park’s 20 or so resident deer.
A venue has to be pretty special to host an Antiques Roadshow, and Aberglasney House and Gardens (01558 668998; aberglasney.org), with its manicured lawns (the gardens were revived 10 years ago) and elegant 15th-century house, doesn’t disappoint. A review of Aberglasney in an 1890s edition of The Gardeners’ Chronicle concluded, ‘It requires but little effort on the part of a wanderer in this charming garden of old times to people the place once more with the gentlemen and pretty ladies of Jacobean times,’ a musing that could just as easily be formed after a visit to the garden today.
ANTIQUES AND INTERIORS
Don’t let Llandeilo’s quaint looks deceive you: this is a serious shopping town. Behind the genteel fascias of the period shopfronts, shopkeepers are doing a swift trade in all things chic and collectable. As Ken Bundy – who has been running 365 Antiques & Interiors (135 Rhosmaen Street, 01558 824668) for five years with his wife Lynne – says, ‘Our core business is local people, they really support us.’ This means everything from butchers’ blocks to Georgian tables, via Price’s candles and repro console tables, are quickly snapped up, making the turn over of stock pleasingly brisk. Welsh longcase clocks are a speciality at James Ash Antiques (The Warehouse, Station Road, 01558 823726), beautifully displayed within what was once the town’s Farmer’s Cooperative building. ‘They’re all sold in working order and we can set them up in situ for you, wherever you live,’ smiles co-owner Patricia Ash. Next door is The Works (Station Road, 01558 824238; works-antiques.co.uk), a rummager’s paradise with the wares of more than 50 dealers to tempt. Scorpio (9 King Street, 01558 824462), Llandeilo’s major interiors shop, is spoken of in revered tones by the town’s cognoscenti, and rightly so. Owners Gregory and Glesni Jones have every interior trend covered in their expansive store. If the pure wool rugs and vintage fabric doorstops on the lower floor don’t get you reaching purse-wards, the collection of Melin Tregwynt fripperies by the door surely will.
Cooperatives are very on-trend in these straitened times and Llandeilo has two of the best examples. Crafts Alive (133b Rhosmaen Street, 01558 822010; crafts-alive.co.uk) is run by, and on behalf of, the town’s craft community. It stocks only the work of local artists and craftworkers, including homely patchwork quilts, handcrafted stools made from local wood and mosaics comprised of vintage ceramics, and deserves a sizeable chunk of browsing-time. The primrose yellow-painted Civic Hall (Crescent Road, 01558 824660) holds a market every Friday where all manner of crafts, plants, preserves and homemade interiors items are on offer. The market is run as part of a nationwide cooperative, enabling home producers to sell items directly to the public – and the café sells proper coffee with homemade cake for just £1. At the other end of the spectrum, Fountain Fine Art (115 Rhosmaen Street, 01558 824244) has earned a reputation for showcasing the work of some of Wales’s most important modern artists. Owner Richard Braine is just as enthusiastic today about making art accessible as he was when he founded the gallery 20 years ago, and offers interest-free loans (as part of an Arts Council of Wales scheme) to those who would like to invest in a piece.
* For a glamorous, and eco-friendly, base for your stay, book into Fronlas (7 Thomas Street, 01558 824733). The attention to detail – whether it’s the luxury organic mattresses or the locally-sourced breakfast – is uncompromising.Find out more at visitwales.co.uk
Fans of Toast’s alluring mix of elegant clothing and vintage-style homewares will be delighted to find an outlet in Llandeilo (4 King Street, 01558 824330) – one of only a handful outside London. It’s obvioulsy found favour with the locals - when we visited, the organic cotton bedlinen featuring delicate pearl stitching was flying off the shelves.
Foodies are especially well catered for in Llandeilo. Your sweet tooth will want you to call in at Heavenly (London House, Rhosmaen Street, 01558 822800), to sample the chocs and ice cream made on the premises, or just to ogle the jars upon jars of sweets from your childhood lined up behind the counter. Or try the deliciously-monickered Salvador Deli (3 Carmarthen Street, 01558 824609) – a 17th-century pub transformed by owner Sarah Shore-Taylor into a delicatessen specialising in local produce such as the creamy Perl Las blue cheese. A few doors up, cookware specialist Peppercorn (5 King Street, 01558 822410) is a treat of a shop for gourmands, with unusual treasures such as ceramic jelly moulds, witty cards and tiny tins of chocolates hidden in nooks and crannies.