Majestic Llawhaden Castle, perched on its high bluff overlooking the Eastern Cleddau, is clearly visible from afar, and gives the appearance of being a frontier fortress on the national Landsker Line separating Welsh North Pembrokeshire from the Anglicized south.
It is certainly well fortified, complete with a moat, but it is in fact a Bishop’s Palace, strategically sited between the Palace at Carmarthen and those at Lamphey and St Davids, for the medieval Bishops were Princes of the Church who did not like to travel more than a day’s journey between residences when crossing the Diocese of St Davids.
In fact the Bishops were so important that Bishop Thomas Bek was granted a Royal Licence in the 13th century, bestowing the privileges of Borough status on the village including the right to run its own weekly markets and annual fairs. This was only a century after the castle construction began and by 1326, the 174 tenement plots in the village were occupied making Llawhaden the richest estate of the St Davids Diocese. Giraldus Cambrensis, the Welsh priest and scribe, mentions Llawhaden in 1175, in the account of his “Itinerary Through Wales” with Archbishop Baldwin, who was recruiting for the Crusades. This was only 17 years before its capture by the Welsh, who enjoyed a short-lived occupation.
The castle has an oval animal pound near the impressive gatehouse, for the Bishops loved to banquet and stock was kept to provision their extensive kitchens. They had no need of that other obligatory provision supplier - a fishpond - as the salmon and sewin fishing was so good in the Eastern Cleddau below the lofty battlements.
Llawhaden was acquired by the Ministry of Works, Ancient Monuments section, in 1931 and has since been under the care and maintenace of CADW. It is a popular visitor attraction, and the children particularly love to explore the spiral stairs and passages, hopefully under parental supervision for the deep garderobes could be a health and safety hazard for the unwary or too adventurous.
Below the castle moat on the banks of the river is St Aiden’s Church with its extraordinary 15th century tower incorporating a smaller, much earlier one which looks like a buttress. Its monuments include tombs to the local gentry, the Skyrmes of Llawhaden House and the Foleys of Ridgeway, Nearby is the medieval mill, now a house, and the stout stone hump-backed Gelli Bridge. Half a mile from the castle is Holgan Camp, an Iron Age promontory fort, and adjacent to the Village Hall is the ruin of a 13th century hospice founded by Bishop Bek in 1287, for Llawhaden was on the pilgrim route to St Davids and this was a stopping off place for the travellers who had come via the hospice at Tavernspite, near Whitland, and were heading for the next one at Spittal. It is a tall, rectangular structure with a barrel-vaulted roof and a piscina-like recess which suggests it was later added as a chapel.