Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

South Coast Wales
Art, History & Archaeology Sites & Museums

Wales’ South Coast region has the distinction of being home to some of the oldest evidence for human habitation anywhere in the country. Discovered in 1823, the Red Lady of Paviland was the body of a man buried in a cave during the Upper Palaeolithic period. Later Neolithic inhabitants of this region built the tombs at Parc le Breos, Pentre Ifan, and Carreg Coetan Arthur, while an insight into Iron Age life here is today offered at the Castell Henllys reconstructed village. Although the South Coast does not possess as many grand medieval castles as some other parts of Wales, it does have impressive examples like Cilgerran and Carreg Cennen, as well as the ruins of various medieval monasteries, including Strata Florida, Saint Dogmael’s Abbey, and the Haverfordwest Priory. The South Coast is also home to Wales’ second-largest city, Swansea, a port which became a key hub in the copper-smelting industry during the Industrial Revolution. The counties included in the South Coast region are Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Swansea.

Archaeology & History Sites in the South Coast

Carreg Coetan Arthur Burial Chamber

Its name a reference to the legendary King Arthur, who plays an important role in traditional Welsh folklore, Carreg Coetan Arthur is part of a Neolithic burial chamber constructed around 3000 BC. Today it survives as a dolmen, although it is likely that the structure was inside a mound made of earth and perhaps also stone. Archaeologists excavated the site during the 1960s and 1970s, revealing cremated human bone as well as fragments of both Grooved Ware and Beaker Ware prehistoric pottery.

Castell Henllys Iron Age Village

Following over two decades of extensive archaeological excavation, an Iron Age hillfort has been re-constructed as the Castell Henllys Iron Age Village. Drawing on the results of this research, a number of roundhouses and a granary have been built on the foundations of the original Iron Age buildings. Re-enactors presenting themselves as members of the Demetae people help to bring this period of later prehistory to life. The settlement stands on a hill amid the attractive rural environment of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.

Haverfordwest Priory

Haverfordwest Priory was an Augustinian monastery probably established in the late 12th or early 13th century. It saw further development in the 15th century before the dissolution of the monasteries, at which it entered private hands. Archaeologists oversaw a project of excavation at the monastery during the 1980s and 1990s. Various artefacts they recovered are on display at the Haverfordwest Town Museum. Excavation also revealed more about the medieval garden that once grew here, allowing a modern approximation to be created at the site.

Parc le Breos Burial Chamber

The Early Neolithic burial chamber at Parc le Breos is part of the larger ‘Cotswold-Severn’ tomb tradition found in this area of Britain. The trapezoidal burial mound features a central chamber with four smaller chambers branching off from it. If there were capstones sealing the chamber, as is common at similar monuments, they were never found here. The remains of at least 40 separate individuals were interred inside the tomb. Workers discovered Parc le Breos while digging for road stone in 1869, after which the site was excavated.

Pentre Ifan Burial Chamber

Pentre Ifan is the largest and best preserved of Wales’ Neolithic portal tombs. The dolmen dates to about 3,500 years BC and stands at a height of 2.4 metres above ground. Delicately supported by the narrow tips of three upright megaliths, the large capstone is thought to weight about 16 tonnes. While a number of original megaliths lay scattered about, seven are in their correct position. It is possibly that the dolmen once formed a chamber inside a larger mound or tumulus made from rocks and earth.

Priory Church of Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Teulyddog

The Priory Church of Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Teulyddog started life in the early medieval period. By the end of the 11th century, it was operating under the control of Battle Abbey in Sussex. Around 1125 the Bishops of Saint Davids assumed ownership, at which point Augustinian canons replaced the earlier inhabitants. The Black Book of Carmarthen, the earliest surviving Welsh-only manuscript, was probably written here in the 13th century. Today, only a small section of wall survives, located in Parc Hinds.

St Davids Bishop's Palace

The palace ruins of St Davids were once home to a bishop, a senior figure in the Church hierarchy. A monastery existed here from the Early Middle Ages, gradually becoming a popular destination for pilgrims with the erection of St Davids Cathedral. In the 14th century, Bishop Henry de Gower oversaw massive expansion of the adjacent bishop’s palace in order to reflect the wealth and influence of his position. Following the Reformation, the palace gradually fell into a state of ruin, which Cadw now manage.

St Dogmaels Abbey and Coach House

Standing on the banks of the River Teifi, St Dogmaels Abbey was established around 1120 on the probable site of an earlier ecclesiastical site. It was the Norman lord Robert FitzMartin who oversaw its construction, bringing over monks from the Tironensian Order in Normandy. The surviving ruins reflect several phases of construction, from the 12th century to the Tudor period, not long before it fell to the dissolution of the monasteries. There is also a Coach House on the site, now housing a museum.

St Non's Chapel

According to Welsh legend, it was at this spot along the Pembrokeshire coastline that David, the patron saint of Wales, was born. Today, the site bears the name of David’s mother, Saint Non, a nun who became pregnant after being assaulted by Prince Sant of Ceredigion. This spot has been a pilgrimage site since the Middle Ages, although the date of the surviving chapel walls are unclear. The site also features a nearby holy well and an engraved cross stone, believed to date from the early medieval period.

Strata Florida Abbey

Its name deriving from the Latin for ‘Vale of Flowers,’ Strata Florida Abbey was established by a Cambro-Norman lord, Robert FitzStephen, in 1201. Although only one of many Cistercian monasteries opened across Wales in this period, it subsequently became a major site under the patronage of Rhys ap Gruffydd, ruler of the kingdom of Deheubarth. As well as being the resting place of many Welsh princes, it was also here that Llywelyn ap Iorwerth summoned the Welsh princes to swear allegiance to his son, Dafydd, in 1238.

Museums & Art Galleries in the South Coast

Egypt Centre

The Egypt Centre is a university museum with over 4,500 artefacts, the majority are Egyptian but also a few Classical pieces. Most of these come from the immense collection of objects amassed by the pharmacist Sir Henry Wellcome. Artefacts range from carved stone fragments to painted linen shrouds. Among the many highlights are over 200 objects from the city of Amarna, and two pieces of a stone sarcophagus which belonged to Amenhotep.