Kidwelly, like many Welsh towns is famous for its castle. It is a sleepy place close to the coast of Carmarthen Bay in the south west corner of Wales.
By rail, it can be reached on the West Wales line that runs through Cardigan and Pembrokeshire to the port at Fishguard where a ferry continues the service to Ireland. By road the town lies close to theA484 which stretches between Carmarthen and Swansea. Most visitors approach by car from the M4 London to Swansea motorway, exit at junction 47 and follow the road through Gorseinon, Llanelli and Bury Port.
Most of the houses in Kidwelly are traditional Welsh terrace houses coated in whitewash or pebble dash. There are a few pubs here, a few take-aways, (Indian, Chinese and pizza) and several houses offering bed and breakfast. Although a very ancient town, founded at the foot of the now ruined Kidwelly Castle in medieval times, the town has a more recent industrial heritage from which it is still trying to develop a tourist industry.
Kidwelly was once a leading centre for the production of tin plate. The first beer can was produced here. Local iron and steel was combined with Cornish tin to produce plate in the local mill which is now a museum. In 1891 the United States imposed heavy taxes on certain imports including tin plate and a major market collapsed. The Kidwelly tin plate works, which was the major employer in the town struggled on until 1941 when the supply of tin from the Far East dried up as a consequence of the second World War. The tin plate works are now an industrial museum. Part of the Kymer’s canal which transported coal from the nearby Carway coalfield has been restored.
Most of the town lies to the south of the river Gwendraeth. The Gwendraeth flows into a muddy estuary just to the west of the town. A medieval stone bridge links the southern quarters to the northern town which shelters close to the castle walls. In industrial times the river banks from the bridge to the sea were lined with wharves that exported coal from the Gwendraeth valleys and imported tin from Cornwall. All that is left to see is the historic quay at the river mouth.
The town has a Norman church whose tower is currently, as of September 2010, under repair beneath canvas and scaffolding.
Kidwelly Castle rises as an imposing ruin on a ridge above the Gwendraeth river, which flows wide and shallow across a stony bed in a flood plain one field wide. A short riverside walk takes the visitor from the medieval bridge to the castle entrance. Tickets are bought from a small port cabin then one enters through an imposing gatehouse replete with murder holes and guard towers. Once inside the castle there is a hemispherical outer defence to explore followed by an investigation of the inner courtyard. Although a ruin, there are many towers and changes of level to explore.
While not on the major Welsh tourist routes, the ruins at Kidwelly are extensive and evocative. They look out over the industrial town on the hillside south of the river, the estuary and coast to the south west and rolling countryside to the north. Many regard the castle as one of the best in Wales. The post cards showing the castle from the houses across the river are superb. The castle was built between 1200 and 1476. It successfully resisted an attack by Owen Glendower in 1403. The site is administered by Cadw whose website lists opening times and prices.
Kidwelly is an unspoilt little town with a first class castle. Part of the charm is that tourism here is very low key.