Standing stones and tombs
Seek out Arthur’s Stone, near the village of Reynoldston – shrouded in mystery, this rock might have been carved by astronomers or, in a slightly more fanciful suggestion, singlehandedly launched across an estuary by the mighty King Arthur, lying there until it became a protected monument in the late 19th century. It's not the only place in the area laying claim to Arthurian heritage. Bedd Arthur (Arthur's Grave) is a Neolithic stone circle up in the Preseli Hills looking out over Carn Menyn / Carn Meini - the source of the Stonehenge bluestones.
Pentre Ifan, in north Pembrokeshire, is the site of the largest and most arresting set of Neolithic tombs anywhere in Wales, perched and stacked atop a grassy slope. Once the modern era had begun, it wasn’t long before battles began.
Swansea, Gower and the Mumbles
Swansea is thought to take its title from the brilliantly named Sweyne Forkbeard, a Danish King with an unmistakably Viking tendency to invade other countries. At around the same time, Roger of Montgomery – a close ally of William the Conqueror – was laying down the first building blocks at Pembroke Castle, although the glorious structure of the modern-day coastal castle where Henry VII was born owes much to its subsequent stone reworkings.
The Normans invaded Gower right at the end of the 11th century, and Swansea Castle was built shortly afterwards. The fortress was subject to numerous military struggles between the English and the Welsh, ending up in the hands of associates of Owain Glyndŵr, the last Welsh ruler to become the Prince of Wales more than 600 years ago.
Mumbles, the beautiful seaside headland in Swansea Bay, has long been a site of intense archaeological interest, with diggers finding strong evidence of long-gone Roman settlers, not to mention a menagerie of bones – you’ll be following in the footsteps of Ice Age mammals with a stroll along the beach.
Poet Dylan Thomas, who could be spotted by locals writing his masterpieces in some of the nearby pubs, was a repeated admirer of this coastline, and you can sneak inside the house where he was born at Swansea’s Dylan Thomas Birthplace.
West Wales’ maritime past
From around the end of the 18th century, the city gained a reputation for industrial enterprise and offering one of the finest tourist resorts in Europe. Head to the oldest museum in Wales, the Swansea Museum, to find out all about its maritime past.
The seafaring story of Milford Haven also gives the town – and the spectacular surrounding Pembrokeshire Coast National Park – plenty of pages in the history books. Henry II and Oliver Cromwell both launched attacks on Ireland from here, although it later became a dockyard for the Royal Navy and an important commercial port. Swansea, which once smelted the vast majority of Britain’s coal, was also its most westerly port during World War II.
And on the tracks, trains have played a monumental part of this region’s story, a trip on a preserved line, such as the Gwili Steam Railway at Bronwydd, is living history at its best.