Home > Historic Landscape Characterisation >

Taf and Tywi Estuary (by character area)

Llanybri and Llansteffan strip fields Laques Mynydd Pembre Wood Pinged Marsh Penybedd Wood Meusydd Pembrey & Burry Port Pembrey Country Park Pembrey Airfield Brooklands Mynydd Penbre Enclosure Waun Baglan Llandyry and Pinged Strip fields Pinged Marsh Morfa  Bach Pembrey Forest Pembrey Burrows Pembrey Saltmarsh Kidwelly Burrows Holloway former strip fields Kidwelly Allt Hilltop Kidwelly and Llansaint strip fields St Ishmaels Ferryside Laugharne and Pendine Marsh St Johns Hill Marros Mill Coygan Pendine and Llanmiloe Morfa Bychan Marros Marros Mountain Westmead Wood Llansteffan Black Scar Laugharne Town and Broadway The Hugden Laugharne Salt Marsh Delacourse Llandeilo Abercowin Taf Valley Reclaimed Marsh Whitehill Moor Laugharne parish, Pendine and Llanddowror Treventy Llanybri and Llansteffan Strip Fields

Taf and Tywi Estuary (Landscape description)

This littoral area of estuaries, coastal lowlands, sand dunes and intertidal sand bars lies across the north east side of Carmarthen Bay, on the South Wales coast. Behind the long expanses of sand dunes on the north east side of Carmarthen Bay, on the east and west sides of the estuary mouths of the Rivers Taf, Tywi and Gwendraeth, lie large areas of low lying marsh land. The whole area contains diverse evidence of activity from the prehistoric to the recent past and includes the Hugden medieval open field system on the low coastal ridge west of Laugharne.

The present coastline is a changing one, owing to continuing sand movement, but sea walls and drains, fronted  by tidally inundated morfeydd or salt marshes, safeguard the reclaimed land. Archaeological evidence, the study of relict and active features in the present landscape, and the use of aerial photographs, cartographic and documentary sources, have been successfully combined to reconstruct the evolution of this largely man-made landscape.

The geological inheritance of a line of former sea cliffs with a raised beach at their base form the northern boundary of the western, or Laugharne Marsh and the Gwendraeth estuary. Although now quarried away, caves in the limestone of Coygan Bluff on this former coastline have produced Upper Palaeolithic material, and excavation of the hillfort there prior to quarrying yielded a long occupation sequence from the Neolithic to the early medieval. More research is required to establish the position of the coastline in the Roman and medieval periods, but there is no doubt that the castle towns of Kidwelly and Laugharne were much more open to the sea than at present.

Many of the finds of prehistoric and medieval date from Laugharne Burrows cannot now be provenanced, but the position of shell middens within both dune systems, which  have produced medieval pottery is crucial to the chronology  of coastal change and enclosure. They would benefit from modern excavation.

The former Witchett Brook divided Laugharne Marsh into East and West Marsh, the latter used as saltmarsh pasture in the Middle Ages before any sea walls were built, and there may also have been medieval settlement on the slightly raised sites of some of the present day farms on East Marsh. Although partly within the present Ministry of Defence range at Pendine, traces of 17th century sea walls survive and the successive enclosures of the early 19th century are well preserved. Access from Coygan quarry to the river at Laugharne was provided  by a tramway and small creek, Railsgate Pill, still well-preserved, evidence for the now vanished era of coastal trade which persisted in the small estuary ports until the Second World War.

The enclosure of Pembrey Marsh was, like Laugharne, made possible by the development of sheltering seaward sand dunes. Its industrial history and legacy is more complex with   a remarkable series of early canals leading to shipping places and quays. These were developed to export the anthracite coal of the South Carmarthenshire coalfield, from the early 18th century onwards. They led across lands enclosed from the sea inland of Pembrey Burrows by the late 17th century, if not earlier. Earthwork traces of cultivation and drainage techniques in both Marshes are evident both from the air and on the ground on farmlands seen by improvers, such as Charles Hassall in the early 19th century, as test beds for modern agricultural techniques. This contrasts with the remarkable survival, in the Hugden belonging to Laugharne Corporation, of a medieval open field system, still communally apportioned and unenclosed, which has been included within the boundaries of this area.

Twentieth century changes are more evident on Pembrey Burrows, now covered in a forestry plantation of the 1920s. A variety of industrial uses in the early 20th century culminated in a wartime airfield and a Royal Ordnance Works, one of whose surviving structures is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Sport and leisure activities are, and have been, an important feature of 20th century uses of the area, from the land-speed record attempts by the Campbells, and Parry Thomas in 'Babs' in the 1920s along Pendine Sands, to the creation of a Country Park in Pembrey Burrows in the 1980s. Carmarthen Bar was notorious for its shipwrecks, a number of which are prominently visible and accessible at low tide, while others are revealed periodically by the ever-shifting sands. Finally, Laugharne must not be forgotten for its literary associations with the poet Dylan Thomas and his insights of life in a small Welsh community during the mid-20th century.


This is a summary, for further information click on the photograph

Base maps reproduced from the OS map with the permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of The Controller of Her Majesty's Stationery Office, © Crown Copyright 2001. All rights reserved. Unauthorised reproduction infringes Crown Copyright and may lead to prosecution or civil proceedings. Licence Number: GD272221


Morfa Bychan character area consists of moorland on steep, sometimes craggy, coastal slopes, sea cliffs, deciduous woodland in sheltered valley sides and a conifer plantation on valley sides at Teagues Wood.

Marros Mill character area comprises of small irregular fields, some of which are now abandoned and reverting to scrub, on a sloping shelf backed by a steep bracken-covered slope. Only two dwellings are now occupied; there are several ruined farms.

Marros Mountain character area formerly consisted entirely of open moorland, but a small conifer plantation has been established at the western end, and on east-facing slopes land improvement has lead to the creation of several new agricultural small-holdings.

Laugharne Saltmarsh character area essentially consists of recently formed land which is subjected to frequent tidal flooding outside seawalls and below the castle and town of Laugharne.

Marros character area is centred on the Medieval Church of St Lawrence around which a loose cluster of dwellings has developed. The essential components of this landscape consist of dispersed stone-built farms set in irregular fields of pasture which are defined by hedges on earth banks.

Sir John's Hill character area consists of a former sea-cliff line, now separated from the sea by reclaimed marsh. The cliff is now covered with deciduous woodland. Apart from a walk established in the 19th century and some ruined 19th century cottages, there are no historic landscape components in this area.

Pendine and Llanmiloe character area consists mostly of 19th century residential development, post World War 2 housing and late 20th century tourist and leisure complexes.

Westmead Wood character area lies above and inland from Pendine and Llanmiloe villages. It lies on a steep south-facing slope. Apart from a few small stands, the woodland is not ancient and consists of 19th- and 20th-century deciduous and conifer plantation.

Llansteffan character area is centred on the medieval church and a single street of 18th- and 19th-century houses,  with a secondary centre of 19th- and 20th-century dwellings on the estuary, and 20th century housing between the two. The village lies in the shadow of a medieval castle.

Black Scar character area consists of cliffs and steep coastal slopes overlooking the Taf and Tywi estuaries. The steep slopes are covered with deciduous woods, bracken and rough grazing. Old limestone quarries are present.

Laugharne and Pendine Marsh character area consists of sea walls behind which lies rich farmland with evidence of ridge and furrow cultivation and dispersed farms. A post World War 2 Ministry of Defence establishment lies across part of the area.

Laugharne and Pendine Burrows character area consists of a long band of wind blown sand. A post World War 2 Ministry of Defence establishment has been constructed in the dunes. There are no other historic landscape components present.

Whitehill Moor character area is a single large field with no buildings which is farmed using open field methods. Many shares or strips run across the field, separated by low earth baulks. The field is now meadow, and is no longer ploughed

Taf Valley Reclaimed Marsh character area comprises former salt- and tidal-marsh that was enclosed by banks and drained in the 17th century. The area is divided by ditches, straggling hedges and wire fences and mainly used for rough summer grazing.

Laugharne Parish, Pendine and Llanddowror is a large character area consisting of rolling hills of dispersed farms, enclosed improved pasture, small villages centred on medieval churches, and small stands of deciduous woodland.

The Hugden character area is the main open field system of the town of Laugharne. The numerous strips on the Hugden are farmed by individual farmers. Low earth baulks and lynchets separate the strips.

Laugharne Town and Broadway character area is centred on the medieval castle, 18th century town hall, and many fine 18th- and 19th-century houses. 20th century housing development lies mainly on the outskirts of the town.

Delacorse character area consists of enclosed strips of a former open field system. Boundaries are of earth banks and hedges. Farm buildings are of 19th century date, though the sites of the farms of more ancient.

Coygan character area is a outlying limestone hill that has been subjected to quarrying over more than two centuries. The Iron Age hillfort that lay on top of the hill and a cave which contained prehistoric remains have been completely destroyed.

Laques character area consists of rolling pasture divided into regular medium-sized fields and dispersed large farms of minor gentry families.

Llanybri and Llansteffan strip fields comprise part of the former open fields of these two settlements. Many of the strips have been reorganised into more regular fields, but enough long narrow fields survive to demonstrate that this was once an extensive system. The hamlet of Llanybri also lies in this area.

Llandeilo Abercowin character area contains the ruined medieval church of St Teilo set in a landscape of dispersed farms and medium-sized regular fields bounded by earth banks with hedges.

Treventy character area consists of dispersed farms set in a landscape of very large regular divisions that have been subdivided into smaller irregular fields. Included in the area is a motte and bailey castle and the ruined medieval pilgrims church of Llanfihangel Abercywyn.

Pinged Marsh character area owes its modern origin to drainage schemes begun in the 17th century. It consists of pasture separated by ditches and various infrastructure elements - canals, roads and railways of  the 18th  to the 20th century.

Pembrey Airfield character area lies across land that was first drained in the 17th century. Remains of a World War 2 airfield, a motor racing circuit, modern airfield and RAF establishment dominate the historic landscape.

Pembrey and Burry Port is an urban character area. It consists of mostly 19th- and 20th-century residential development and related services. Apart from two harbours, little trace remains of the once thriving heavy industries of this area.

Kidwelly is an urban character area. The old walled town outside the medieval castle was superseded by a more recent centre, which though medieval in origin  is characterised by 18th- 19th- and 20th-century buildings.

Brooklands character area owes its modern origin to drainage schemes begun in the 17th century. The area is divided by ditches into large fields of pasture with only one dwelling present.

Penybedd Wood character area consists of a small 20th century conifer plantation which has been established on wind-blown sand.

Pembrey Forest character area comprises a very extensive post World War 2 conifer plantation  established over sand dunes which have formed since the Medieval Period. Within the forestry are the remains of a munitions factory.

Meusydd character area owes its origins to drainage of marshland in the 18th century. It is divided up into small fields of pasture by ditches and fences. Widely dispersed farms are located on it.

Mynydd Pembre Wood character area lies on a steep scarp slope. Some of the woodland might be ancient, but much is recent generation, and a 20th century conifer plantation has been established across part of the area.

Llandyry and Pinged Strip Fields character area consists of small irregular fields which have evolved from a strip- or open-field system. The fields are enclosed by banks with hedges. The settlement pattern is one of dispersed farms and cottages.

Waun Baglan character area is characterised by a regular field pattern enclosed by overgrown hedges. Small stands of deciduous woodland together with the hedges lend a wooded aspect to the landscape. The settlement pattern is one of dispersed farms the buildings of which are mainly 18th- and 19th-century in date.

Pembrey Country Park character area contains historic landscape features that are mainly modern, including: a sky slope, golf course and other leisure facilities, the remains of a munitions factory, an industrial estate and part of a conifer plantation.

Pembrey Burrows character area consists entirely of a range of sand dunes. The dunes probably started to form in the 17th century.

Kidwelly and Llansaint Strip Fields character area encompasses the historic village of Llansaint, but mainly consists of former strips of an open field system which have been enclosed into fields defined by hedges. On steep slopes former strips are defined by lynchets.

Holloway Former Strip Fields character area lies close to Kidwelly and formed part of the town's open field system. This system has been enclosed and is now much fragmented and is becoming neglected.

Kidwelly Burrows character area consists mostly of reclaimed marsh land that has been used for industry and infrastructure. The industry has now gone, but the mainline railway is still in use. Small fields within this area are neglected.

Ferryside character area is quite an ancient settlement founded as its name indicates on a crossing point of the River Tywi. It owes its modern origin to the establishment of a mainline railway in 1852.

St Ishmael character area consists of rolling hills of improved pasture divided into medium sized fields by earth banks and hedges, with a settlement pattern of dispersed farms.

Morfa Bach character area consists of improved pasture divided into rectilinear fields which may date to the late Medieval Period. Stands of deciduous woodland maybe of a similar date. The settlement pattern is of dispersed farms.

Allt Hilltop character area is entirely enclosed into fairly large fields which are bounded by earth banks and hedges - system perhaps established in the 16th century out of common land - with a settlement pattern of dispersed farms.

Mynydd Penbre Enclosure character area was open common land throughout the Medieval period down to the 19th century when it was enclosed and the present regular field system and dispersed farms established.

Pinged Marsh - Unenclosed Outlier character area is a small area of marsh separated from reclaimed land by roads, canals and railways. There is no settlement, and the land appears unused.

Pembrey Saltmarsh character area consists of saltmarsh which has accumulated outside sea walls over the past few hundred years.

Project contact: Ken Murphy