Burry Port (Welsh: Porth Tywyn) is a small town five miles outside the larger centre of Llanelli in Carmarthenshire, Wales, lying on the Loughor estuary.
The town is home to a harbour and is where Amelia Earhart landed as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. The Pembrey Burrows sand dune and wetland system, home to a country park and the Cefn Sidan sands, lie nearby.
Burry Port lies at the end of the Gwendraeth valley which runs north easterly from Burry Port for about twelve miles. The land around the valley itself contains large amounts of coal as well as limestone. The Gwendraeth Fawr flows the length of the valley and joins the sea at Burry port through a large area of burrow and marshland which historically occupied many square miles of land, much of which has later been reclaimed.
The early history of the Burry Port area is one of farming and brutal exploitation of shipwrecks. Ships wrecked at Burry Port while trying to pass the Bristol Channel during storms were stripped by locals whose vicious efficiency (and tendency to save the cargo before the crew) cast fear into many a sailor.
Records indicate that coal mining was established in the valley as early as 1540 although there was little effective transport. The Gwendraeth Fawr at the time was navigable but treacherous.
Growing interest in coal, limestone and iron ore drove the growth of the coal trade. Thomas Kymer, owner of many mining and other operations in the area established several loading places and primitive trackways to load barges on the Gwendraeth Fawr. Cargo was carried down the Gwendraeth River and then up the Towy to Carmarthen. In 1768 Kymer opened a canal and quay, part of which is today restored and preserved. The canal cut through the marshes allowing boats to travel upstream far enough to reach solid ground where quays could be built. This allowed barges to operate at all times and without having to wait for tides to get inland. A canal alone was not sufficient to solve the transport problems and wagonways were built to carry traffic from the mines to the canal itself. Several of these wagon ways became plateways and then railways as technology improved.
A second canal was cut by the Earl of Ashburnham in 1798 to serve his mines nearby and this also was fed by wagon ways. The canals continued to expand and wharves and dock facilities were built. More mines continued to open further up the valley sending their coal down through the canals to the sea. The trade in coal was hindered heavily however as the shifting sands made the river treacherous and the safe paths changed year by year.
In 1832 a harbour was built at Burry Port, a few years after the nearby harbour at Pembrey opened. Fed by a series of chaotic canals and wagonways it finally offered a way to ship Gwendraeth coal out by sea. No village or town of Burry Port yet existed. By 1840 the canals feeding burry port and their tramways fed coal from the entire Gwendraeth valley down to the sea. Early records of Burry Port as a town appear around 1850, springing up around the new docks adjacent to Pembrey. The importance of the newly emerging town was plain when the railways reached Burry Port, and the station serving both Pembrey and the new town of Burry Port was built a few hundred yards down from Pembrey at Burry Port.
The canal network was now unable to handle the loads from the Gwendraeth valley mines and part of the canal network was converted into the Burry Port and Gwendraeth valley Railway by the late 1860s with the port continuing to grow in importance and shipping volumes.
The coal mines are now all closed. With the closure of the mines at Cwm Mawr the railways up the valley have been closed and the harbour has been redeveloped. The harbour is now a marina for small leisure craft. Since then the town's economy has relied on a power station and small engineering companies. The Power Station was closed in the 1980s contributing to high unemployment in the town.Pembrey and Burry Port railway station still exists and is served by regular services east via Swansea and Cardiff to London and west into Pembrokeshire.
Burry Port is a key location along the Millennium Coastal Path from Bynea near Llanelli to Pembrey Burrows. Townspeople who work locally do so largely in "metal-bashing" engineering, retail and local services. Burry Port boasts a supermarket, specialist shops, several hairdressers, a beauty and skincare salon, an array of pubs and fast food outlets, a library and a large secondary school.
The town receives its news from the Burry Port Star, an edition of the Llanelli Star. In spring 2004, controversy centred on a plan to construct a new road in the town, dubbed the "Road To Nowhere." This is now virtually completed and is proving to be a popular access route.
For more information see: http://www.burryport.org/