The Merlin Files 7 – A Walk up Merlin’s Hill

Looking across to the Black Mountains from Merlin’s Hill ©Nigel Summerley

Our series THE MERLIN FILES started before the lockdown… so there has been a bit of a hiatus before we were able to bring you the final two episodes. If you want to catch up on the previous six, you can see them here.

All the mysteries of Merlin are still very much alive – and so is the ancient wizard himself, if one believes the legends that surround Merlin’s Hill, just to the north-east of Carmarthen.

Merlin was said to have been put under a spell by a jealous lover who left him chained up in a cave here, and it’s claimed that sometimes you can still hear him wailing and clanking his chains in his misery.

But Sharon Richards, whose family owns Merlin’s Hill, isn’t so sure that the cave is still there. “Merlin was born in Carmarthen,” she told me. “And he had a cave somewhere up on the hill, but we don’t know its location. In the 1800s there were a few small earthquakes and there were falls in the strata. So the cave could possibly still be there, but we wouldn’t know exactly where.”

The Richards family farms 220 acres and also runs the Merlin’s Hill Centre which lets visitors use its private access to the hill itself.

“But this is very much a working farm,” said Sharon – as evidenced by the sizeable dairy shed and the large flock of Jacob sheep grazing on the hill.

Jacob sheep on Merlin’s Hill ©Nigel Summerley

In normal times, tourists from as far away as the US come here, many drawn not only by the myths and legends, but also by the bestsellers written by Mary Stewart – The Hollow Hills, The Crystal Cave and The Last Enchantment. “Some people definitely come because of the books,” said Sharon.

Interest in Merlin can become obsessive. (I should know, since this is the seventh article that I’ve done about him for Pembrokeshire.Online, and there’s still one more to go!) Sharon has even had a group of visitors turn up actually dressed as Merlin. (I haven’t gone quite that far yet.)

Merlin’s Hill is scheduled as a site of historic interest, not for its connection with the mythical magician, but because at the summit you can still walk on the banks and ditches that once were part of an Iron Age hill fort – one of the largest in Wales.

Dating from approximately 400BC, this fort would have been a significant centre of power. When the Romans arrived here centuries later, they established next-door their own base, called Moridunum, which later became Carmarthen.

It was around 800 years later that young Merlin was said, by Geoffrey of Monmouth, to have spent his boyhood in Carmarthen.

The climb up to the summit of Merlin’s Hill really is one that can take the breath away, and the views up there from on high can certainly be described as breathtaking. Across the stunning green landscape unfolding in every direction, you can see the Black Mountains far to the east and the waters of Cardigan Bay to the south.

Above all, this is a place of stillness, space and beauty – and more than a little mystery. As Sharon said: “Up there, you really are somewhere else. There is an aura about it that you can’t explain.”

Visitors can experience that aura and they can also travel back in time in the Merlin’s Hill Centre to learn something of the history of the area – and about the life and labours of the farmworkers of old.

There is also literally a spin-off from the farm’s Jacob sheep: the Merlin’s Hill Wool Collection offers stylish blankets, throws and cushions made from the attractive monochrome shades of the sheep’s wool.

And the farm also offers B&B – full details on its website.

Do visit, but remember: the path from the farm up Merlin’s Hill is not a right of way. You need to check in at the farm – and be aware that you may be walking near livestock and that no dogs are allowed.

Merlin’s Hill Centre is usually open daily except Christmas Day; April-October,10am to 7pm; November-March: 10am to 5pm. Adults £3, children £1.50, concessions £2, family ticket £9.

Merlin’s Hill/Bryn Myrddin, Alltyfyrddin Farm, Abergwili, Carmarthen SA32 7ER; 07866 880594 or 07866 880641; www.merlinshill.com.

Merlin’s Hill Wool Collection; 07717 520926 or 01267 237808; carys_richards@yahoo.co.uk; www.merlinshillwool.com.

Walking in the footsteps of Merlin… Nigel Summerley

Next week: the final episode of The Merlin Files… and a visit to the wizard’s birthplace

Nigel Summerley

Nigel Summerley

Nigel Summerley retired from The Oldie magazine to return to freelance journalism. He previously held executive staff jobs at the London Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Express before freelancing for 20 years for newspapers including The Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Guardian and the ‘i’ paper, plus a wide range of magazines. He continues to write about music, travel and health, and blogs at www.nigel-summerley.blogspot.com.

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