3¼ MILES/ 5¼ KM
Leave the Bishop’s Park car park by the gateway to the left of The Lodge and turn left. Walk through the original Abergwili village, noticing just before you leave it, the Community Orchard on the right, planted with native Welsh apple varieties along with rustic benches and a totem pole(!) and the flood gates which can close the road at times of high water levels.
Continue across the floodplain and the bridge over the River Gwili, which joins the Tywi just past here, and then the road bridge over the dual carriageway.
Immediately after the dual-carriageway, turn sharp right at a footpath sign to follow a path/cycleway which leads you behind Glangwili hospital on the route of the dismantled Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway. You will notice on your left a very distinct mill leat and on your right the recently-opened new station of Abergwili Junction at the point where the lines to Aberystwyth and to Llandeilo diverged. During WWII, the hospital site was first a U.S. Army tented hospital and, later, a Prisoner of War camp.
Continue on the cycle path and then a stony path to emerge at a busy main road. Take the signposted footpath opposite, go through a kissing gate and proceed at the edge of woodland, with the leat still on your left, until you reach the restored railway line. The embankment you have been walking on must have been constructed to create the leat. Turn sharp right at the footpath sign to walk beside the railway line till you reach the crossing. Cross the line with care, passing through three gates, closing them behind you.
On reaching the River Gwili, which has become a substantial river on its short journey from Brechfa Forest, turn right to pass between a house and the river and then continue on the driveway to reach the main road.
Cross the road and drop down some steps to go left on the disused road bridge built in early 19th Century for the Carmarthen to Lampeter turnpike road. Then follow the pavement uphill for 200 metres and turn right at a footpath sign to pass through the gateway to Castell Pigyn. After 200 metres, at the Private Drive sign, leave the lane through a gate on the right and follow the field edge at the foot of the wooded slope. A gate leads you on to a minor road (Castell Pigyn Road). Turn right.
A bridge takes you over the Crychiau, a tributary of the Gwili, which once powered Crychiau Woolen Factory and the Bishop’s Corn Mill a little further along this road. On the left before that you pass ‘Glyn Aur’, where biblical scenes in topiary attracted visitors from far and wide in the earlier part of the last century. (Added by Anne Loughran). Follow the road through this newer part of the village, passing the rugby pitches of Carmarthen Quins. Continue until just past the last of the houses and then take a signed path to the right which leads you up to the pedestrian bridge over the A40. Look to the left. Up till 1963 you would have seen Abergwili Railway Station. The dual-carriageway has been built on the line of the disused railway.
Cross the bridge and continue straight ahead towards an alleyway with a barrier at either end. You will emerge on the main road through the old village again. Turn left to return to the car park. This road through the village was the A40, which followed the line of the Roman road, Via Julia, from Carmarthen to Llandovery, until the by-pass was built in 1999.
Just before you get back to The Lodge you will see on the right the new Bishop’s Palace, constructed on the site of the former stables in 1972.
The Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway had a complex history, and was built in several stages by various railway companies. It finally opened in 1867 and remained independent until taken over by the GWR in 1911. It closed to passengers in 1965 following the Beeching Report. The Gwili Railway Preservation Society has, since 1975, restored part of the line. It runs the Gwili Railway as a standard gauge steam railway over four miles of track between Danycoed Halt and its newest station at Abergwili Junction.
The 2008 Keira Knightley film, The Edge of Love, featured the Gwili railway.
The Carmarthen tin-plate works stood on the site of what is now Jewson the Builders Merchant, a few hundred metres behind you. Built in 1759, it used water flowing along this leat from the River Gwili. It produced pig iron which was dipped in molten tin to produce domestic items such as milk churns and buckets. The works finally closed in 1900. The leat itself is actually older, having been constructed originally to power a corn mill.
(The blast furnace is shown in a painting of the ironworks in Carmarthen Museum.)
Rhain “The Irishman” and the Battle of Abergwili
In the early 11th Century, there was a power vacuum in South-West Wales (Deheubarth). Maredudd, grandson of Hywel Dda, had united the kingdom but died in 999. His nephews proved to be weak and by 1022 a mysterious individual known as Rhain “The Irishman”, who claimed to be a son of Maredudd, had seized much of their territory. In response, Llywelyn ap Seisyll, a strong leader in the north of the country, brought an army south to fight this usurper.
The battle took place where the Rivers Gwili and Tywi meet. According to the Chronicles, “… after there had been great slaughter on either side equally, Rhain the Irishman, and his host were defeated … and he himself was never seen again.”
Three mansions called Castell Pigyn have stood in succession on this hill. The first, built before 1572, was lived in by Thomas Woodford, brother-in-law of Richard Davies, a Bishop of St. Davids. This house was pulled down and replaced in 1711. Jane Jones, the owner in 1786, died intestate. During the 30 years of Chancery litigation to decide on the inheritance (reminiscent of the Jarndyce v Jarndyce case in Dickens’ Bleak House), the 1711 mansion became a ruin and most of the estate had to be sold off to pay the legal bills.
A third mansion was built in 1831/2 but was gutted by fire in about 1970 and finally demolished in 1981.
Castell Pigyn. Original item in the Peter Davis Collection, ‘Parks and Gardens UK’