Lapping the western headland of the Gower Peninsula is Carmarthen Bay. Many times larger than nearby Swansea Bay, it enjoys enormous stretches of sandy beaches and is part of the Millennium Coastal Park. Perhaps the outstanding feature in this astonishing arc of golden beaches, ancient castles, secluded villages and shimmering blue sea is Pembrey Country Park, set in 500 acres of landscaped woods and parkland. Pembrey's strange forest beside the sea, planted to help stabilise the dunes, is a fascinating mixture of pine forest, sand dune and wide expanse of beautiful beach. Undoubtedly the focal point of the park is the 8-mile stretch of sand at dune-edged Cefn Sidan beach. The park also offers the attractions of a narrow gauge railway, dry ski slope, the largest toboggan run in Wales, nature trails, cycle paths, children's play areas and umpteen picnic sites. Located on the edge of the park a disused airfield has been developed into the Welsh Motor Sports Centre, Wales' premier venue for 2 and 4-wheeled racing - the circuit is also used by Formula One teams for test and development work.
At the eastern extremity of Pembrey sits the charming little harbour of Burry Port, put on the map by Amelia Earhart on 18 th June 1928, when she splashed into the harbour in her plane Friendship . After a gruelling 23-hour flight she landed at Burry Port in the mistaken belief that she had arrived in Ireland - an exhibition marks the harbour's good fortune. Standing guard over Carmarthen Bay, at the estuary where three rivers converge, are the imposing castles of Kidwelly, Llansteffan and Laugharne. Kidwelly, the most impressive of the three, is a remarkably well preserved 13 th century fortress boasting a formidable twin-towered gatehouse.
Situated on a high ridge, Kidwelly Castle dominates the region about and appears just as a medieval castle should; it has been much in demand with film-makers attempting to recreate the period. The original earth and timber stronghold constructed by the Normans in 1106 was replaced in the 1270's by the massive stone fortress visitors see today. Close about the castle is the historic town of Kidwelly, whose charter was granted by Henry I early in the 12 th century. The town has a 14 th century urybridge spanning the River Gwendraeth, and a Gothic church dating from the 13 th century, which once served a Benedictine monastery. Llansteffan is a picturesque uncommercialised coastal village lying near the River Towy and in the shadow of its magnificently ruined Norman Castle. Less well preserved than neighbouring Kidwelly, but everybit as imposing, the ragged outer walls of the castle rear up from the headland above village and estuary, built on the site of an Iron Age defensive earthwork. The castle's principal feature is its intimidating gatehouse dating from 1280. Situated to the south-west of the castle is a wishing well, St Anthony's Well, said to have medicinal properties. Llansteffan village, together with its delightful neighbour across the estuary, the small town of Ferryside, provides the ideal centre from which walkers and boat owners may explore the surrounding delights. The waymarked walks take in some truly breathtaking coastal scenery with captivating views across sparkling Carmarthen Bay.
Laugharne (pronounced ‘Larne') is a coastal town situated on the estuary of the River Taf. Here, Georgian houses tumble down the hillside to the shore, where the third sentinel stands guard. Laugharne Castle is a romantic 13 th century ruin its rambling notched walls clad in ivy, a haunting silhouette once captured for posterity, during a storm, by Turner. This tranquil town with its rich farmlands inspired Dylan Thomas to some of his most evocative writing. Here, in The Boat House, he lived for the last four years of his life and produced his best-known work Under Milk Wood. The Boat House is now a museum dedicated to his short life and to his work, containing original furnishings, memorabilia, audio-visual presentations, a themed bookshop and the ubiquitous tea-room. Dead at the age of 39 after one of his many destructive drinking bouts (he actually died in a New York bar), his final resting place, along with his wife Caitlin, is in Laugharne's churchyard. A plain white cross marks their grave and the church contains a plaque dedicated to the poet, a replica of the one located in Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey.
South of Laugharne is the vast sweep of Pendine Sands, a wide flat 6-mile expanse of hard sand upon which many land-speed record attempts were made in the 1920's. In 1924 Sir Malcolm Campbell pushed the land-speed record to 146.16 mph; unfortunately, tragedy struck soon afterwards when Welshman J G Parry Thomas died in his bid to beat the new record. Campbell went on to record 174.88 mph in 1927. Thomas' car Babs was dug out of the sand in 1969, completely restored, and displayed in the Museum of Speed at Pendine, where the ‘Sands of Speed' story is told.
Historic Tenby marks the most westerly margins of Carmarthen Bay, a charming medieval town with its 13 th century walls still mostly intact, retaining many of the original towers as well as a superb 14 th century arched gateway. The walls encircle narrow, crooked labyrinthine lanes so typical of the medieval period. Frog Street is the most famous with its indoor market, adjoining cobbled mews, pottery shops, tea rooms and craft stalls. The mullioned windows of the gabled 15 th century Tudor Merchant's House project into the narrowest of alleys at Quay Hill. Housed next to the remains of medieval Tenby Castle is the museum and art gallery while nearby St Mary's Church dates back in part to the 13 th century.
Barely three miles offshore from Tenby lies Caldey Island, home to a thriving Cistercian monastery where monks make their famous perfumes, as well as a delicious range of creams and honeys. This is the worldly means by which an unworldly community makes ends meet - visitors can sail to Caldey in the summer season, visit the 13 th century church, as well as several priory buildings, and make their purchases from the monks. Like many of the small islands off the coast of Britain, Caldey has long been inhabited by monks, the first is said to have been a hermit called Pyro, who lived a solitary life in a simple cell 1300 years ago. The island also contains an Ogham Stone, Ogham being a form of script employed by Irish Celts dating from 6 th century AD.