The Rebecca Riots

An interesting period of Welsh history which had a major impact is the four years of the The Rebecca Riots,  when men dressed as women and attacked toll gates in many areas of West Wales in the mid-19th Century.


Rebecca Riots artists depiction Illustrated London News 1843

Turnpike Trusts, made up of groups of businessmen, had been founded to maintain road systems across the country.  In order to fund the work, all road users were charged a fee when passing toll gates, which were set up at intervals along the routes controlled by the trusts.  Of course the temptation to overcharge was irresistible and by the end of the 1830s, the trusts had proliferated and set their tolls so high that they had a stranglehold on the rural communities. For example, there were 11 turnpike trusts around the town of Carmarthen and each had several gates. Imagine how angry people became when they had to pay each time they passed through a gate!

Provocation of the Poor

Not only did the tolls create an unfair method of extracting money from rural communities, they were just the final straw in a catalogue of injustices and misfortunes of these times:

  • Poor harvests
  • Levying of high rents by largely English-speaking landlords
  • Sudden increase in the population
  • Taxes levied to pay for building of workhouses following the Poor Law of 1834
  • tithes levied by the church.

By the end of the 1830s the struggling peasant population had become overwhelmed by the expense of moving cattle or essential materials like lime and animal food to and from market.

Eventually the general feeling of discontent erupted in an angry outburst in May 1839 when a group of men attacked a toll gate in Efailwen near Clynderwen in Carmarthenshire.

In much the same way as mob hysteria provokes riots in this day and age, groups of men from all over the counties of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire began to attack turnpike toll gates.

Why the cross-dressing?

Welsh men from rural communities were accustomed to taking the law into their own hands when they punished an offender by tying him to a ladder or wooden pole and parading him through the streets. This was called the ceffyl pren – the wooden horse. In order to disguise themselves during these episodes, men had the habit of dressing as women and blackening their faces.

Why Rebecca Riots?

It is thought that the rioters may have taken their name from Rebecca in the Book of Genesis who, when sent off to marry Isaac, receives a blessing from her relatives to the effect that her offspring should “possess the gates of those that hate them. As people at this time were familiar with the stories of the Bible, this is plausible although legend has it that one of the earliest rioters, Twm Carnabwth, borrowed clothes from a woman called Rebecca, thus inspiring the alliterative name!

Four years of rioting

The riots raged on for over four years, with toll gates regularly smashed or burned. Troops were brought in to combat the rioters, who also formed a 2,000 strong mob to ransack the town workhouse in Carmarthen.

In the autumn of 1843 a particularly violent demonstration caused the death of the elderly Sarah Williams, the gatekeeper at Hendy, following which popular support for the riots began to diminish, especially as some rioters had been imprisoned and several even transported to Australia.

All not in vain

Following a visit to Wales, a sympathetic report was produced by a journalist from The Times, Thomas Foster. It appears that this was instrumental in making public the true grievances of the Welsh tenant farmers and forcing the government to call a Commission of Enquiry. As a result, all the Turnpike Trusts within each county of Wales were amalgamated in 1844 and tolls on vital commodities were reduced by half.   One of these was lime – used to fertilise fields, it was an essential part of the rural economy; indeed the earliest riots took place on the lime roads leading inland from the coast.


 Aberystwyth Southgate Tollhouse, now at Museum of Welsh Life – Published by Aberdare Blog, Author: Darren Wyn Rees

50 years later, the last turnpike toll gate in Britain was removed from the Isle of Anglesey (Ynys Mon). The railways were influential in diminishing the power of turnpike trusts and the Local Government Act of 1888 gave road maintenance responsibility to County and Borough Councils.

To find out more about Welsh history visit the Cadw website or,  if you are staying in a Ceredigion holiday cottage  you could visit the National Library of Wales.

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Red Campion: wildflower of the West Wales hedgebanks

One of the most attractive features of West Wales is the network of lanes edged by high banks which support a wide variety of wild flowers. In recent years it has been a matter of policy on the part of some county councils to refrain from cutting the banks for as long as possible in order to preserve the wonderful displays of wild plants, many of which attract butterflies and bees to collect their nectar or birds such as the Goldfinch to feast on their seed.

For example in Pembrokeshire, a few roadside nature reserves have been identified by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales as they contain rare plants which should be allowed to seed.

Red Campion

Red Campion

Amongst these is the prolific Red Campion Silene dioica or Melandrium rubrum, which burgeons into life around April and continues to flower throughout the summer. It seems to take something of a knock by the mild winters which encourage grass to take over in its preferred habitats, but always looks beautiful in contrast with its companions, the White Stitchwort and Bluebell.

In my experience, the local strains of this plant are never red, but vary in their interpretation of pink. The flowers are about 2cm in diameter and have 5 deeply notched petals. The deep green leaves are described as opposite and decussate, and are between 3 and 8 cm long with a smooth edge.   One feature of the plant is that the stems and leaves are hairy and have a slight stickiness about them.

Ragged Robin

Ragged Robin

In the same family, Caryophyllaceae, is the rarer Ragged Robin, also known as Lychnis flos-cuculi. Its preferred habitat is wet meadows and pastures so it is flourishing in areas such as Cors Fochno in north Ceredigion. It is much like the Campion but has a very ragged appearance as if torn by the wind.

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Llyn Llech Owain Country Park near Cross Hands

Llyn Llech Owain Country Park is a 158-acre expanse of woods, heath and marsh near Cross Hands in Carmarthenshire with nature trails, wooden adventure playground, toddler playground, café and visitor centre. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and has a great wealth of interesting wildlife in its various habitats.

llyn-llech-owain-1VW-for-weThe centrepiece of the park is a large lake which was caused by falling slab according to myth. There is some dispute about which character named Owain was involved, but one version claims that it was Owain Lawgoch (Owain of the Red Hand ). He was a real-life soldier who led French mercenaries against the English in the Hundred Years’ War. For some reason, he was given the task of looking after a well on the mountain nearby. Each day, he was careful to replace the capping stone over the well after extracting water for himself and his horse but one fateful day he forgot and a torrent of water poured down the hillside, creating the lake: Llyn Lech Owain – the lake of Owain’s slab.

Thanks to Owain, there is now a wonderful peat bog around the lake with well-surfaced boardwalk paths allowing access for all to explore the area around the lake. There are rare plants such as bogbean, round leaved sundew and the royal fern. Dragonflies and Damselflies love to zoom around near the water and there are plenty of butterflies.

Birds which favour fresh water habitats are Moorhen, Mallard, Snipe, Reed Bunting, Pochard, Little Grebe, Swallow and House Martin.

The woodland consists mainly of a large area of coniferous forest planted back in the 1960s, but there is also some broadleaf woodland, so many varieties of birds are happy to make a home among the branches. Look out for Tits, Goldcrest, Treecreeper, Jay and Green Woodpecker. On the open heathland you might spot Buzzard, Kestrel or even some lizards if the weather tempts them out to bask on hot stones.

llyn-llech-owain-2VW resized

If you want a longer walk or cycle ride, there is a forest track around the park; if mountain biking is your thing, why not try the rough trail created for your benefit?

Signposted on the A476 from Crosshands to Llandeilo.  Regular bus services to Gorslas.

Llyn Llech Owain Country Park
Carmarthenshire, SA14 7NF
Phone: 01269 832229

The Llyn Llech Owain Country Park is a good place to visit when you are staying in one of our Carmarthenshire holiday cottages.


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Deck the Halls – Celyn ac Uchelwydd

Frutos del Acebo. Ilex aquifolium L.The wonderful Christmas Carol, Deck the Halls has a Welsh melody dating back to the sixteenth century from a winter carol, Nos Galan.  The English lyrics first appeared in 1862.

It is easy to see why there is a song to celebrate the ancient tradition of decorating the house with piles of Holly (Celyn) and Mistletoe (Uchelwydd).   Mistletoe is believed to be a sacred plant of the ancient Druids and protects the family from evil, while Holly is a symbol of eternal life.

In Norse mythology Mistletoe was a sign of love and friendship which may be where the custom of kissing under the Mistletoe comes from.  The name comes from the words mistel (meaning dung) and tan (twig or stick), basically ‘poo on a stick’ – very romantic indeed!

Dollarphotoclub_69454618---The Druids wore Holly in their hair, believing it to be a sacred plant and it has been used in teas to help cure measles and whooping-cough.  It is said that a sprig of Holly should be kept in a pocket all the time for protection against evil spirits.

In Wales the gruesome sounding custom of ‘holly-beating’ or ‘holming’ involved beating the arms or legs of young ladies until they bled.  In some places the tradition was for the last person out of bed in the morning to be beaten with holly sprigs.  Fortunately these customs died out long ago and we can simply enjoy the scent and beauty of Holly and Mistletoe in our houses over the festive season.

Dollarphotoclub_74604741---Happy Christmas and warm wishes for the New Year from all the team at West Wales Holiday Cottages – Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda




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Pubs around the end of the M4 and A48

OK so you’ve made it nearly as far as Pont Abraham and everyone is hungry but Motorway Services food just doesn’t appeal. Here is a list of pubs and cafés which are close to your route so you only have to make a slight detour to get a bite to eat.  They are listed in order so that the final pub listed is nearest to Carmarthen.

Places close by are Llanelli, Pontarddulais, Cross Hands.

All feature basic veggie dishes on the menu unless otherwise stated.

Please note that we take no responsibility for the quality of food served at these pubs and recommend that you phone in advance to reserve tables and check opening times etc.


End of M4

Pubs are listed in order as they occur from south to north.

If you are on your way towards Llandeilo via the A483 then there are a couple of options if you come off the M4 at Junction 48.

Location: Fforest near Pontarddulais; latlong 51.722776, -4.057111
Name: The Bird in Hand does not have its own website.   Tel:  01792 886651

Location:  Llanedi;   latlong 51.744248, -4.049132
Website:     Tel:  01792 883318
Name:  Tafarn y Deri
Detail:  has a good menu with several original-looking veggie options. They cater for special diets on request.


The road starts off running from south to north until it reaches Cross Hands, where it starts to curve round to the north west.

Pubs to north or east are:

Location: Gorslas to north east of Cross Hands  latlong  51.804357, -4.074917
Website:   Tel: 01269 844438
Name:     Tafarn-y-Phoenix
Detail:     Brains Brewery pub. Has large beer garden and grass for kids to play on. Food served all day Mon to Sat; Sunday 12 to 8pm.   They have a few veggie options including dish of the day. Sunday roast available.

Location: Just off A476 to northeast of Cross Hands;  latlong 51.808717, -4.078443
Name:   Llyn Llech Owain Country Park
Detail:   Café open April – September 10am – 6pm daily. Free entry to the park but it’s £1.50 for parking.

Location: Carmel village on A476 to northeast of Cross Hands;  latlong 51.820034, -4.048802
Website:   Tel:  01269 844000
Name: Stag and Pheasant
Detail: Does not seem to have veggie options. Open daily and serves Sunday lunch.

Pubs to the south or west are:

Location: Foelgastell just northwest of Cross Hands   latlong 51.811791, -4.108778
Website:  Tel: 01269 842 213
Name:     The Smiths Arms
Details:   Food served lunchtime and evening. Not good for veggies unless you want lasagne or tagine… or a cheese sandwich for lunch.

Location: Banc-y-Mansel on B4310 between Drefach and Porthyrhyd;  latlong 51.8104387,-4.1421373
Name:  Mansel Arms   Tel: 01267 275305
Detail: Listed as one of Camra pubs of Year but has no website of its own.

Location: Porthyrhyd on B4310;   latlong 51.822459, -4.149601
Website: Tel: 01267 275090
Name: Abadam Arms
Detail: Not open at lunchtime on weekdays. Eve 5-11pm. Weekends 12-11pm.

Location: Llanddarog on B4310;  latlong 51.828916, -4.174307
Website:    Tel:  01267 275330
Name:  Butcher’s Arms
Details: Closed Sunday and Monday. Open lunchtime and evenings other days. They apparently have a veggie menu of the day but there is no sample displayed on their website.

To ascertain whether pub is dog-friendly, please contact the owners or licensees.


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The Three Sarnau

Sarn Gynfelyn, Sarn-y-Bwlch and Sarn Badrig

If you’re walking the Wales Coast Path, look out for these interesting geographical phenomena.

Described as shallow sub-tidal reefs, the three Sarns (sarnau is the plural in Welsh) extend as long, narrow strips west into Cardigan Bay and can be seen at very low tide – for example in March or September during the periods of extreme *spring tides around the spring and autumn equinoxes. They now form part of the Pen Llŷn a’r Sarnau marine Special Area of Conservation.

Sarn Gynfelyn - just visible at high tide

Sarn Gynfelyn – just visible at high tide

The sarnau are relics of moraine from the last Ice Age when glaciers moving across the area occasionally deposited loads of rock as they melted. These lines of moraine preserved in Cardigan Bay consist of boulders mixed with cobbles, pebbles and various grades of sediment, with sediment plains each side.

From south to north, the sarnau are:

Sarn Cynfelin starts just south of the farmhouse at Wallog, between Borth and Clarach and extends around 14km out to sea.
Sarn y Bwlch is near Tywyn.  It extends about 6km from Pen Bwlch Point in a south-westerly direction.
Sarn Badrig  (St Patrick’s Causeway) runs out to sea for about 20km from Mochras Point, just south of Harlech (directly west of inland village of Llanbedr).

In mythology, these sarnau are made out to be remains of ancient dams which protected the kingdom of Cantref y Gwaelod.

Around the sarnau a great diversity of algae and sea weeds thrive as well as creatures such as crustaceans, jelly fish and sea anemones.

The Sarnau seem to support good populations of pollock, bass, black bream and grey mullet which provide prey for bottlenose dolphins, porpoise and grey seal in summer, and also attract an exciting variety of seabirds all year. These include Common Scoter, Great Crested Grebe and Red Throated Diver, which all winter in the Bay.

*The word ‘spring’ in this context does not refer to the season, but rather to the action of ‘bursting out’ which results from the position of both the moon and sun in relation to that of the earth.

If you’re interested in observing some of the outstanding features of our West Wales coast, see our holiday cottages in Cardigan Bay.

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Dowrog Common, St Davids

Dowrog Common is a large lowland heath 3km north east of St Davids with a wealth of wildflowers, birds and insects.  

It is traversed by a narrow lane (not many passing places so you need to be good at reversing!).  Access is a short distance off the A487 just west of the River Alun, where you can pull in next to the cattle grid.

It has been a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) since 1954 and it is also part of the north-west Pembrokeshire Commons Special Area for conservation (SAC). The land is leased from the National Trust by the Wildlife Trust, who are dedicated to its conservation.


Pembrokeshire heaths tend to form an intricate mosaic of dry and wet heath mixed with acid grassland and fen as well as pools.

spring-flowers-violets-5CUThese diverse habitats attract a huge variety of plant and animal life including over 350 species of flowers. Several rarities are Yellow Centaury, Pale Dog-violet, Wavy St. John’s Wort, Lesser Butterfly Orchid, Three-lobed Crowfoot and Pilwort.   Some of these are very tiny and may take some scrupulous searching, but the array of more common wild flowers in mid-summer is wonderful.

Taking a trip along the lane on Google Earth, I can see clumps of orchids on the verge and gorgeous Palamino ponies grazing in the distance. You can wander the lane for real and see the best of the species without tramping about on the heath.


A network of small freshwater pools – some of which have been excavated manually – are ideal breeding sites for insects and on summer afternoons more than 10 species of dragonfly and damselfly (both belonging to the Order of Odonata) flit around the area including Emperor and Golden Ringed dragonflies.

Golden Ringed Dragonfly

Golden Ringed Dragonfly

Devil’s Bit Scabious is the only food which proves palatable for the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly caterpillars which find a niche here.  The young butterflies are brightly coloured but fade to brownish tones after a few days.  Another scarce butterfly is the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary.


Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

Female Hen Harrier

Winter is the best time to see birds of prey  here. Over most recent years there has been a roost of Hen Harriers. Although they take care to settle in a boggy and inaccessible part of the reserve, you can spot them through binoculars during late afternoon in mid winter.  You might also catch sight of a Barn Owl or Short-eared Owl and the small hawk, Merlin often puts in an appearance.

Dowrog Pool supports populations of Bewick’s and Whooper Swans, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and Mallard in winter, and other freshwater-loving birds such as Snipe, Water Rail, Coot and Moorhen thrive here. Grasshopper Warbler, Reed Bunting and Sedge Warbler also nest in the vegetation on the wetland areas. See our sections on Inland and Fresh Water birds.





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The River Taf

Many visitors to Wales will have heard of the River Taff, which rises in the Brecon Beacons and flows south through Merthyr Tydfil to Cardiff; but whilst visiting West Wales, you will discover that there is another river with a similar name, the waters and banks of which provide much to enjoy.

The River Taf (often spelt Tâf with a circumflex on the a) rises in the Preseli Hills, near Crymych in north Pembrokeshire, where it makes a dramatic change of course – hence the translation of the village name: twisted stream.

taf-estuary-1VWFlowing more or less south, it passes the village of Llanfyrnach, then turns southwest through Glandŵr and Llanglydwen; it runs south past Login to Llanfallteg, where it takes another sharp turn to the south east, continuing with many little twists and turns to Whitland. Sticking to a mainly easterly course, it passes St Clears before turning southward past Laugharne to join with its neighbours, the Towy and Gwendraeth on the last stage of their journey to Carmarthen Bay.

Along the 30 miles of its course the Taf is augmented by many minor tributaries, widening out dramatically by the time it joins with the River Cywyn, and the last 9 miles or so are tidal, creating an estuary environment which is attractive to wildfowl and waders as well as seafaring humans.

There are interesting walks in the area of the river valley including the Landsker Borderlands trail which crosses it at Login.



Have a pint of real ale or a meal at the Plash Inn in Llanfallteg (01437 563 472) which reputedly has a range of gluten free options on its menu.


The Cardi Bach Railway
Dismantled in 1963, the railway which was originally started in 1870 at Whitland to connect with Glogue slate quarries and Llanfyrnach silver lead mines, reached Crymych in 1874, and extended to Cardigan in 1886. It follows the river valley for much of its route.

There is a great stretch of river starting at Login. You can paddle as far as Whitland (14km) or all the way to Laugharne (32km), enjoying the peace of the river and the scenery along its banks. See the website for details.

The River Taf is an excellent choice for worming, spinning and flyfishing for seatrout (sewin) and brown trout.  You can find out more on the website.  Of course it is necessary to obtain a rod licence – available from the Environment Agency and most post offices.

If you’d like to explore the Taf and its surrounding area, see our holiday cottages in Carmarthenshire for a great choice of self catering accommodation.

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Christmas Markets in West Wales

Christmas backgroundThe opportunity to visit some magnificent and historic properties, sort out the Christmas shopping and enjoy delicious local food and drink all at the same time, is one of the many reasons we love Wales.  The following Christmas markets, craft and food fairs will make finding the perfect present a pleasure.  Enjoy music and magical lighting, browse, meet friends and share some warm Welsh festive spirit.

bellPicton Castle annual Christmas Market is on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd November from 10.30am – £6.60 per person, under 15′s £4.00, under 5’s free.

With a fantastic range of stalls in the castle this is a magical way to start the season. The castle will be dressed for a Victorian Christmas, plus Santa’s Grotto, Maria’s Mediterranean Restaurant and lots more. Entry includes  a free glass of mulled wine.


Picton Castle

Our next destination will be Pembroke Castle where the doors are open into the evenings: 28th November, 10.00am – 8.00pm, 29th November 10.0am – 7.00pm and 30th November 10.00am – 4.00pm.  The castle will be decorated and lit to provide a magical atmosphere.  Entrance is free and the charge of £1 per child for Santa’s Grotto will be donated to the Paul Sartori Foundation.

-Llanerchaeron is hosting their Christmas Food and Craft Fair on 6th and 7th December, 11.00am – 4.00pm.  £4 per adult; NT members and children free.

This is the perfect way to get into the festive spirit with a visit to this wonderful Christmas Fair.  Choose a unique gift from over 70 stalls selling the very best of local food and crafts. The house will be decorated for Christmas, there will be a visit from Father Christmas and a treasure hunt for children.  ‘Out of town’ shopping at it’s very best!

Aberglasney is holding a Traditional Winter Fair on 30th November and 1st December, 9.30am – 3.30pm.  Wander through the mansion and grounds with stalls offering gifts, crafts, decorations, Welsh food and drink and lots, lots more.  Have your photo taken with Father Christmas and his reindeer!  It promises to be a wonderful weekend.  Normal admission rates apply.  Croeso Cynnes i Pawb/A Warm Welcome to you all.

Aberglasny gardens in the snow

Aberglasney Gardens

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Gwynfryn – Renovating a West Wales house

In this post, Norma and James, the owners of Gwynfryn in New Quay, Ceredigion, share their inspiring story of saving a traditional West Wales house from dereliction, bringing it back to life and carefully maintaining its original character.
front viewWe purchased Gwynfryn in New Quay in 2003.  I think the only reason we were able to buy it was because very few people were quite as foolhardy (or naive!).  The property was in a very sad state, having been uninhabited for at least 35 years.  The council had issued the owners with a notice to renovate the property or sell as it was a serious eye-sore and becoming a danger to the neighbouring properties.

We spent 12 months renovating it, doing everything other than the electrics and plumbing ourselves.

Back gardenIt took us 3 weeks to just clear a path to the back wall of the garden.  After all that work, it was nice to see that we had quite a good sea view from there.  James repaired or re-made every single window in the house; they were in a dreadful state.  The front bay windows had become detached from the house and were moving towards the road!  James spent approximately 3 months on the windows – although UPVC replacements would have taken 3 days, we still have no regrets, the soul of the house would have been gone forever.

James workingAnother nice surprise was finding a hand-painted original (1880) border under 13 layers of wallpaper.

Beds and piles of stuffWe used as many traditional materials throughout as we could and re-used as much as possible.  It made our day to find things like the right size window panel – in the attic!  We decorated the house using lime based paints, mixing each colour by hand ourselves.  It is much easier these days to buy these traditional paints in a range of colours, but 12 years ago this was the only option available to us.  Ty Mawr lime were a great help, they even featured our bathroom in their 2005 calendar.

Featured ImageAlthough we enjoyed the project, we were very glad to finish.  It gives us great pleasure now to be able to offer other people the chance to see all of the original features and to experience the very traditional character of the house.


For more information, photos, prices and availability take a look at Gwynfryn on our website.

There is plenty to do in New Quay and the surrounding area if you stay at Gwynfryn or any of our holiday cottages in New Quay, take a look at Things to in Cardigan Bay.


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