White Mill and Merlin’s Hill walk – 4 miles/6.5 km
Leave the Bishop’s Park by the main entrance and turn right to walk through the car park of the new cycleway. Follow the path as it skirts the boundary wall of the Park. The bare rock on the opposite side of the A40 is the point where an 85 metre railway tunnel was demolished to make room for the modern road.
Continue along the cycleway noticing the black boxes on the concrete retaining wall which were installed to re-house the bats which had lived in the railway tunnel. To your right is the Bishop’s Pond, an ox-bow lake which formed when the River Towy changed its course during an exceptional flood in 1802. This wetland is now an SSSI.
The new cycleway ends at a pair of new gates. Go straight ahead on to a minor road. Follow this past a few scattered houses and farms until you reach the A40. Follow the pavement for a few yards and then carefully cross the A40 on to a tarmac path which leads into White Mill.
Notice to the right of the road, the outdoor workshop of talented wood carver, Jack Morris, with some of his work on display. Also on the right is the White Mill corn mill which, despite the advert on its wall, no longer produces flour. The waterwheel is still in place on the right-hand end of the mill.
Take the road left and pass the former school and then turn off left up a lane just before a white house, Maesawelon. Follow this byway between the buildings of Merlin’s Grove Farm and continue up hill. You may need to open and close a couple of gates. Just before one of them, on the left, is the entrance to a former small lead mine, now blocked off with a rusty gate.
As you approach the top of this lane you will probably begin to see Jacob sheep and, in May and June, the flanks of Merlin’s Hill awash with native bluebells.
Turn left on to the road. The first time we walked along here, a Swansea metal-detector club were searching the fields to the right. They showed us the morning’s finds – an Elizabeth I silver penny and sixpence and a George I penny.
Continue past Alltyfyrddin Farm, the Merlin’s Hill Centre.
Turn left, up and through a kissing gate opposite the house called Porth-Myrddin. Go straight ahead, across the field to a gate. Then follow the level path along the edge of woodland. The large grey house down to your right is Bryn Myrddin. Follow the path as it steepens, cross a forestry track and continue up hill. At a particularly steep section, a rope has been installed as a “handrail” to help negotiate worn-away steps.
Continue upwards, passing a circular stone water trough fed by a spring. A gate leads you into a field. Continue to the right and then strike steeply uphill around the last of the gorse bushes. You will arrive at the Merlin’s Hill viewpoint and interpretation board. From here you can see well into the Brecon Beacons, the sea in Carmarthen Bay and you may be able to pick out Paxton’s Tower.
Return the way you came, back to Porth-Myrddin, taking great care “abseiling” down the roped section. Turn left on to the road. Gaps in the hedge will offer you splendid views of the Towy valley and the remains of the walled garden of Bryn Myrddin.
Follow the road down hill and make use of the pavement for the last few hundred yards. At the bottom, take care crossing the A40 and follow the Museum signs back into the Bishop’s Park.
The private footpath
You can take an easier route to the top of Merlin’s Hill if you pay to park at Alltyfyrddin Farm, the Merlin’s Hill Centre.
Go through the gate opposite the farm and walk steeply up hill. When you reach a gate, go left on a more gently rising path. At the next gate, turn right on to a wide farm track which brings you to the corner of the hill fort. Continue upwards to reach the viewpoint. Return the same way or via the public footpath described above, returning on the road to Alltyfyrddin Farm.
1. The “Vale of Towy” line
The railway between Carmarthen and Llandeilo had various names and owners but it was opened by the Llanelly Railway and Dock Company in 1865 and was known as the “Vale of Towy” Line, linking with the Carmarthen and Cardigan Railway at Abergwili Junction. The two lines were built to different gauges so the section from the junction into Carmarthen town had to have a third rail laid to make it dual purpose.
This country line was never busy or profitable so it is perhaps surprising that it was still open at the time of the Beeching Report which sealed its fate, closing it down in 1963.
The route of the line will be used as far as possible in creating the 16-mile Towy Valley Path.
2. White Mill Water Mill
White Mill is a late 18th or early 19th century corn mill. Its overshot waterwheel of cast iron with wrought iron buckets is still in place and the internal mill machinery including three pairs of stones was used up till the 1970s.
The mill’s power was provided by water from the Annell stream, brought along a leat which flowed under the road. A wooden trough, called a launder, then carried the water to the wheel. If you stand on the footbridge you will appreciate how modest a stream could power a corn mill.
You can see some detailed drawings and 3D images of the machinery at:
3. Towy Valley lead mines
For a 50-year period starting in the 1850s, local mines produced considerable quantities of lead, plus some silver and zinc, just south of Abergwili at Llangunnor. The high price of lead and the recent legal change permitting the setting up of limited liability companies, encouraged the formation of small mining companies. One gloried in the name “Grand Duchess Silver-Lead & Barytes Mining Company”. At their peak they employed 150 men and sunk shafts as deep as the 225m Clay’s shaft.
Their most productive years were at the turn of the 20th century but the workings were abandoned in 1902. Little remains now of this industrial landscape and the Llangunnor mine has been built-over by the Towy View chalet park. The ivy-clad ruins of the massive Clay’s engine house are now gone as well.
4. Merlin’s Hill fort
The top of Merlin’s Hill is a large Iron Age hillfort, a rough triangular layout measuring about 300m east to west, dating from about 400 BCE. But if you like a little myth mixed in with your history …
Merlin crops up in many guises beginning in the 10th century, in the Book of Taliesin, and in the Black Book of Carmarthen which was written in about 1250. He figures in various tales of Arthur and the Round Table written in England, Wales and France through to the modern day.
Merlin, it is said, fell in love with Vivian who set about learning his magic craft. When she tired of him, she turned a spell against him and sealed him up for ever in a crystal cave which is, of course, beneath Merlin’s Hill.
So, if you can find a place where the cave is near the surface you may hear him bewailing his foolishness in allowing his lover to learn his spells.