Cefn Sidan is the final resting place to a number of shipwrecks dating back to 1668. Evidence of the vast volume of sea traffic which passed along our shores can be seen protruding from its sands towards the northern end of the beach. A walk of around 10 miles would have to be undertaken to see them all. Anchors displayed at the main beach entrance are medallions of Cefn Sidan’s maritime history. Leaflets are available at our visitor centre.
These anchors were found near the low water mark on Cefn Sidan Beach within 200 metres of each other. Their chains were found to be running at 45° to the shore, so we can assume they are heavyweight or 'Bower' anchors of a vessel which had been in extreme difficulty, their weight signifying a craft of at least 1,000 tons.
"Cefn Sidan is the final resting place to a number of shipwrecks"
Shipping, which for many years was the most efficient method of transportation, was the key influence in the development of coastal areas such as Kidwelly, Pembrey and Llanelli. We know the sea was vital for supply and communication with the Roman forts of Carmarthen and Loughor. Following the Norman invasion, Carmarthen again became an important "shipping place". Documents of 1287 show the passage of goods to and from landing stages in Laugharne, St. Clears, Llanelli, Penclawdd and Loughor. In the early 13th century, a licence was granted to "Robert of Kidwelly", a shipmaster, to trade with Gascony. A snippet from 1644 tells of a vessel conveying ammunition to Tenby during the Civil War - "beleagured by the Parliamentarians, she was chased by a frigate, but escaped to a creek at Llanelly".
The quays and landing stages of the "North Gower Pills" such as Penclawdd and Llanmadoc are well recorded for the supply of limestones, but it was coal, the "Black Gold" of South Wales, which played a major part in the development of the areas shipping. Lelands "Itinerary" of 1540 explains, "At Llanelthle, a village of Kidwelli Lordship, the inhabitants dig coles".
"At 'Llanelthle', a village of Kidwelli Lordship, the inhabitants dig coles"
Over the years, Cefn Sidan has had various names for different sections of its shoreline, as well as changing its contours dramatically, but whatever its name or shape, this 8 mile section of beach certainly has a long and rich maritime history. Facing out into Carmarthen Bay, Cefn Sidan has been associated with a group of people known as "Gwyr y Bwelli Bach" - People of the Little Hatchets. This title refers to people of the surrounding hamlets, who carried about their person uniquely designed tomahawk type hatchets, ideal for the plundering of shipwrecks. During their heyday, between the years of 1770 and 1870, they are accredited with luring ship after ship to grief in order to plunder their cargo and rob their crews.
The method was simple. During storm conditions and under cover of darkness, they are said to have lit beacon type bonfires on Pembrey mountain. These lights, seen by a ship’s lookout or skipper, would trick them into thinking they were approaching a safe haven such as a local port or harbour. Like moths to a light, ships would be drawn inshore and once in the shallows would be pounded onto the beach by the huge Atlantic storm waves. In reality, if these lights were seen by a skipper, his ship was probably already in a desperate plight amongst the sandbanks and shallows. In times of storm with rain, wind, or fog, it is doubtful if bonfires on Pembrey mountain would be seen from any great distance.
The "Paul", sailed from Halifax in Nova Scotia to St. Anne’s Head. Unfortunately, for the last 9 days of her 27 day journey, she had sail after sail torn to shreds by gale force winds. On 30th October, 1925, she drifted helplessly into Carmarthen Bay in thick mist and darkness, settling on her final resting place, now known as Towyn Point. It has been said that many houses in Llansaint and Kidwelly have fine foreign timber within their structure!
Today, the wrecks that remain on Cefn Sidan are difficult to reach. Mostly situated at the northern end of the beach, a walk of around 10 miles would have to be undertaken to see them. Also, the northern end of the beach is closed Monday - Friday, due to the R.A.F. bombing range being in operation. Add to that the treacherous gullies and sandbanks with a tide that can come in quicker than walking pace, it is not advisable to undertake a sight visit.
One wreck, although year by year less of it remains, is just over a mile up the beach from entrance B. It can be seen as long as the tide is over a third of the way out, situated near a stone groin. The anchors on display at the main beach access were found at the extreme low water mark in front of this wreck but there is no proof of any association between them.
"Cefn Sidan has been associated with a group of people known as 'Gwyr y Bwelli Bach' - 'People of the Little Hatchets'
Pembrey has a Bermuda Triangle type reputation with vessels bound from France ending up on its shores - the famous Le Jeune Emma wrecked there in 1828 was bound from Martinique to Le Havre carrying rum sugar and coffee. Thirteen lives were lost including Lt Col Coquelin and his daughter Adeline, niece to Josephine, consort of Napoleon Bonaparte. A memorial stone to her loss and burial site in the 1066 Norman towered St Illtyd’s Parish Church attracts tourists from round the world.