The weekend weather was glorious, a cloudless sky, temperatures in the mid 20s. What else could we do except spend the day at the seaside? And there are fewer beaches better than that at Llansteffan. And there’s a castle, what else could we need? There have been people living at LLansteffan for 1000s of years. The present castle, well what’s left of it at least, was built on the the site of a bivallate Iron Age promontory fort towering over the River Tywi. The original castle made use of the older earthwork ditches. In many ways this is a perfect place for a castle, with an approach only possible from the landward side, there other three sides protected. by steep slopes and cliffs.
The first Norman castle was built sometime in the 1100s. The date is uncertain as there are no written records that detail it’s construction. The secluded beach soon became a shipping haven and a borough grew up in the shadow of the castle. It was captured in 1146 by the grandsons of Rhys ap Tewdwr (d1093), the last prince of South West Wales. They managed to defend it from an attempt by the Normans to recapture it, but then abandoned the castle. The castle was then granted to the de Camille family, but was again attacked and taken by Lord Rhys in 1189 (one of the earlier successful attackers in 1146). Then again in 1215 Llewelyn Fawr attacked. Each time the castle was restored to the de Camille family who repaired and improved the castle. But obviously not well enough, as in 1257 Rhys Fechan, Lord Rhys’s grandson, attacked the castle. It seems to be a family tradition.
The castle was attacked for the last time in 1405-6 by Owain Glyndwr. It eventually reverted back to the crown, and was possessed for a while by Jasper Tudor, Henry IV’s uncle. But over the years the castle was neglected and fell into ruin. By the 18th century, the structure had survived as a part of a private farm. But don’t let the fact that it is a ruin put you off from climbing up the steep hill to visit. The nearest carpark is either on the sea shore or in the town itself, but the 3/4 mile walk is worth it. And because it requires a little effort you are likely to find the place deserted and all to yourself.
For a while Llansteffan remained a small village, dependent upon fishing and cockles, but the the advent of Romanticism in the early 18th century, the village had a new lease of life. With a fantasic scenery, a ruined castle, and easy access by ferry, Llansteffan began to attract antiquaries and artists. Turner may be one of the most prominent.
As fashion for sea-bathing spread throughout Wales along with the advent of trains to Ferryside on the opposite bank of the Tawe, the number of visitors increased. Ferry boats would meet the trains at Ferryside, bringing them across the river to the wide sandy beach. Summer visitors increased further with miners holidays in August. Entertainment was provided by concerts, eisteddfodau and dances. The highlight of the holiday was the Mock Mayor ceremony, held in the woodland known as the Sticks, where a platform was erected and basic seating provided.
The village is charming, though the shops have almost all gone now, not surprising today. The village Pound, once used to house stray animals is now a gallery, there’s still a village store that doubles as the post office and restaurant. But if you fancy lunch you could follow us into the ‘Inn at the Sticks”, go on you know you’re hungry.