POWYS

Powys landscape flickr zingyyellow

The mountainous region of Powys includes the historic counties of Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire. Machynlleth is the 'ancient capital of Wales' and was once the site of Owain Glyndŵr's Welsh parliament. Glyndŵr was the last native Prince of Wales and was dedicated to the cause of Welsh nationalism.  The town is also known for its dedication to alternative ways of living. The Centre for Alternative Technology explores sustainable living. Welshpool is full of stately Georgian architecture. Just outside the town is Powis Castle, a striking red brick building that is best known for its extensive collection of items relating to Clive of India.   

The region also has a few spa towns that date back to the 18th century: Llandrindod Wells, the very Victorian spa town where visitors can cure their ills in the traditional 18th and 19th century fashion. The town also hold a yearly Victorian festival. Llanwrtyd Wells attracts visitors through its crazy charm – once a spa town, Llanwrtyd Wells now holds bog snorkelling events and other unusual sports.

 


Owain Prince of Wales www.canolfanglyndwr.orgThe 'ancient capital of Wales', Machynlleth (pop.2,150) was the site of Owain Glyndŵr's Welsh parliament in 1404. Rebellious Owain was the last native Prince of Wales and he is still held up today as a symbol for Welsh nationalism, a proud icon for the little town. Machynlleth has kept up that reputation for going against the grain by becoming a hub for green thinking and, some have suggested, 'ageing hippies'. The Centre for Alternative Technology is dedicated to sustainable development and its establishment has breathed new life into a proud region of ancient pedigree.

Sights
Owain Glyndŵr's Parliament House [Heol Maengwyn, +44 1654 702932, Adults £2] remains a potent symbol of Welsh national pride both for the Mchynlleth locals and the Welsh people. The present building was probably built just after 1460. However, original elements of Glyndŵr's Parliament House, at which he was crowned Prince of Wales in1404, may remain. Preservtion of the building really began in the 19th century with local MP David Davis, whose face was made to stand in for Owain's in the large mural dpeicting the 1402 Battle of Hyddgen.

The Museum of Modern Art for Wales [The Tabernacle, Heol Penrallt, +44 1654 703355, free entry] has built up a stunning collection of works with an emphasis upon Welsh artists. It was built to support the Tabernacle, a former Welseyean Chapel that has been converted into a performing arts centre. The Tabernacle's auditorium possesses fantastic acoustics. The Machynlleth Festival is held there every year in August.  

To pick up the pace on your visit, try out Machynlleth's mountain biking trails. Rated in order of difficulty, the big three are Mach 1, Mach 2, and Mach 3. Visit here for more information. It's also a good idea to head along to The Holey Trail [31 Maengwyn Street, +44 1654 700411, www.theholeytrail.co.uk] bike shop in the town centre to buy gear and pick up up to date information about local bike routes.

 

 


Wind turbine SXC SteveFEThe Centre for Alternative Technology [Machynlleth, +44 1654 705590, Adults £6.50 winter, £8.50 summer – discount for use of public transport] is an education and visitor centre dedicated to sustainable development and green living. Permanent exhibitions of 'green' homes  demonstrate enviromental solutions such as saving water, installing insulation, energy efficiency and organic gardening.

In fact, the gardens are one of the most impressive features of CAT: plants have been specially selected to provide natural pest control by creating an ecosystem that supports healthy plant growth with a population of 'good' insects; displays teach visitors about soil and compost; the vegetable patches provide ingredients for dishes in the CAT restaurant. And if you fancy turning green thumb yourself, you can take one of CAT's short courses to get tips on developing an organic garden to fit the space you have available.

The centre was founded by Gerard Morgan-Grenville in 1973 on the site of the former Llwyngwern slate quarry. It was originally simply a community of like minded people who were working towards solutions to environmental problems and the site acted as a testing ground for new technologies and ideas. Soon, the visitor centre was added in order to generate public interest in the project and help raise funding for CAT's activities. To add to the atmosphere of constant innovation, the centre is now also home to the Graduate School of the Environment, which began remotely in 1994 as a joint project with the University of East London.

The centre is easily visited from Machynlleth. Simply head to the clock tower in the centre of town or to the train station and take bus 30, 32, X32 (Arriva) or 34 (Lloyds Coaches) to the centre.




Powis CastleCharming Welshpool (pop. 6,300) or 'y Trallwm' is near the border with England. Situated on the River Severn and with the picturesque Long Mountain of the Montgomery range as a constant backdrop, the town came into existence in the 12th and 13th centuries as an agricultural and market centre. Indeed, its sheep and cattle markets are still amongst the largest in the country and in Europe too. However, the town itself shows more of its 18th century heritage and there is still a lot of stately Georgian architecture for the visitor to admire. There are also some not so stately relics from the era: preserved on New Street from the 18th century is an original and unaltered cockpit, a six sided brick enclosure which was used for cockfighting.

Just to the north of Welshpool is the 13th century Powis Castle [Welshpool, +44 1938 551944, Castle and garden adults £12.40]. Its distinctive red walls house some interesting treasures – the Clive Museum possesses a number of beautiful artefacts including textiles and silver pieces, which Robert Clive, better known to the world as Clive of India, brought back from his exploits. In the Long Gallery you can also find a unique Roman sculpture from Clive's collection, a marble representation of a cat killing a snake. Clive's collection made its way to the castle through the marriage of his eldest son to one of the daughters of the Powis family, Henrietta Herbert. Outside too there is much of beauty: the castle's terraced gardens, laid out in the 17th and early 18th centuries, are deservedly renowned.



Offa'sDyke trail Ian Bapty talking with Julia Bradbury on the monument at Rushock Hill www.nationaltrail.co_.ukNot quite England, not quite Wales, Knighton [pop. 2,750] lies directly on the border between the two countries. Its Welsh name, Tref y Clawdd, means 'Town on the Dyke', referring to the fact that Knighton is also situated directly on Offa's Dyke, the famous earth work completed in the 8th century by King Offa to separate the kingdom of Powys from his kingdom of Mercia. Offa's Dyke Path extends 285 km from Sedbury Cliffs at the Severn Estuary to Prestatyn. You can find out more on the National Trail website, or by visiting the Offa's Dyke Vistor Centre [West Street, +44 1547 528753] in Knighton.

 



UK Wales Llanwrtyd Wells www.llanwrtyd.org.ukLlanwrtyd Wells [pop.600] is a wacky little town. In fact, it claims to be the smallest town in Britain (though whether this is true or not is up for debate). It was once a luxurious spa town and the healing powers of its waters were first noticed in the early 18th century. However, the wells quickly attracted the name of 'Ffynnon Ddrewllyd', meaning 'Stinking Well' as the hydrogen sulphide in the water had a very strong smell. These days, the town is known for some very unusual sports: Green Events [+44 1591 610666] runs a long list of activities including the bizarre bog snorkelling (carrying the town's proud tradition of jumping into smelly waters), man vs horse marathons, and alcoholic cycling trips (a wheel powered pub crawl called the Real Ale Wobble).

 


Llandrindod Wells [pop.5,030], known as 'Llandod' to the locals, found its fame in the 19th century as a spa town. The healing powers of the waters were first noticed in the 18th century but it wasn't until the introduction of the Heart of Wales railway line that visitors began to flood in. The town still capitalises upon its Victorian heritage. In late August every year the town holds the Llandrindod Wells Victorian Festival for 9 days. Events include traditional Welsh Penny Fathing 1890 www.cyclemuseum.org.ukmales voice choirs, a literary ball, lectures, a costume parade, and a murder mystery evening.

 Alongside its Penny Farthings, the National Cycle Museum [The Automobile Palace, Temple Street, +44 1597  825531, £3.50] has some other early and intriguingly named bicycles such as Hobby Horses and Boneshakers.

 


UK Wales powys gospel pass the black mountains, powys The Brecon Beacons, a mountain range south of the town of Brecon, overlooks stunning sweeps of countryside. These are mountains that reportedly enabled countless beacon fires to be seen across the land to warn of approaching English troops. However the mountains have provided protection and strategic possibilities for groups of people since the neolithic era – the remains of Iron Age hillforts, Roman forts, and Welsh and English castles can be found throughout this area.   

The Parc Cenedlaethol Bannau Brycheiniog or Brecon Beacons National Park was established in 1957 to protect not only this rich human history but the incredible biodiversity of the area – its landscapes roll from grassy meadows and farmland, wide expanses of heather moorland and bogs to cool, shady woodlands and wetlands, rivers, and steams with many waterfalls, and even caves. This diverse scenery has made the area popular with adventure sport enthusiasts and it is now possible to try an array of outdoor sports here including cycling, hiking, climbing, horse riding, fishing, canoeing, and caving.

Covering a total area of 1344 km sq., the park can be understood as having four main sections – Black Mountain in the west, the Fforest Fawr and the Brecon Beacons in the middle, and the Black Mountains in the east. In terms of towns, the park is bordered to the west by Llandeilo, to the north by Brecon, to the south by Pontsticill and Merthyr Tydfil, and to the east by Abergavenny.

The Brecon Beacons National Park website run a transport microsite which can help you not only with booking transport to the park but with finding out how to get around once there. Click on 'Enjoying the Park' and then 'Transport' to find out details. Not only are there local buses and train services but there is also the Brecon Mountain Railway and the Beacons Bus, which have routes specially designed for tourists. Using these services can also translate into discounts with local businesses and attractions.  
 
Sights
Pen-y-fan Flickr miwalkerPen y Fan is the highest mountain in the park at 886m above sea level. Pen y Fan and Corn Du were in the past together referred to as 'Cadair Arthur' or 'Arthur's Seat'. On the mountain's flanks you can find the touching Tommy Jones' Obelisk, a memorial for a young boy who lost his way and died on that spot in 1900. The steep sides of the mountain's red sandstone fall within the Fforest Fawr Geopark.

The 763 km. sq. of Fforest Fawr Geopark [www.fforestfawrgeopark.org.uk] actually make up most of the western half of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The geopark, one of many throughout Europe, encompasses and area of significant geological heritage. Visitors can admire and learn about a landscape that was shaped 2.6 million years ago then wrought still further by a changing climate and sea levels and the shifts of techtonic plates.  The impact of man is also explored through informative guided or self guided tours called Geotrails. Waterfall Walks follow a range of routes to include some breathtaking waterfalls in the region. The Mellte, Hepste, Pyrddin, and Nedd Fechan rivers in particular form some fine waterfalls. Information books are available from the Tourist Information Centre at Aberdulais and the Waterfalls Centre at Pontneddfechan. You can also check out the Caving UK website or the Walk Scene website [Look under Brecon Beacons in the A-Z list of walks here] for more specific details about routes and difficulty levels.

Within the borders of the Fforest Fawr Geopark is Y Garn Goch, a hill near the village of Bethlehem that has two hillforts called Y Gaer Fawr [Big Fort] and Y Gaer Fach [Little Fort]. Evidence of human occupation has been found dating back to the Bronze Age and stretching right into the Medieval period too.

Cefn Coed ViaductTaff Trail is an 88km course that stretches from Cardiff Bay to Brecon, thus traversing the national park. There are both beautiful towns and natural scenery along the way and the track is available for walkers, cyclists, and even horseriders (in some parts). Along the way you might take a ride on the Brecon Mountain Railway [see below] or visit the spectacular Cefn Coed Viaduct.

There are a few candidates in the national park area for the name of Black Mountain or Black Mountains but the eastern ranges of that name are the ones you really should check out. Offa's Dyke passes through the range and the dramatic landscape here plays host to a variety of sports including climbing, horse riding, paragliding, and hang gliding. However, there are also some pretty villages to explore such as Llanfihangal Crucorney, which is reportedly home to Wales' oldest pub, the Skirrid Mountain Inn. It is mentioned in records from 1100 AD and Owain Glyndwr apparantly rallied forces there ahead of a revolt against local supporters of Henry IV.  The Black Mountains shelter a rich seam of heritage: in the Vale of Ewyas there is a haunting ruined Augustinian priory, Llanthony Priory, that was begun by the Norman William De Lacy in around 1100 AD; a number of peaks bear the remains of Iron Age hillforts, for instance Table Mountain or Crug Hywel; and the 11th century Castell Dinas, towering at 450m above sea level between Talgarth and Crickhowell. Beneath its now ruined walls are the outlines of the Iron Age hillfort that preceded it.

Wales Carreg Cennen Castle Flickr nicksarebiCarreg Cennen Castle [Trap, Llandeilo, +44 1558 822291, Adults £4] sits high above a hilltop overlooking the picturesque farmlands surrounding it. Credit for the castle that we see today largely rests with John Giffard, to whom Edward I granted the castle in 1283, as well as with the Earl Cawdor, who renovated the ruins during the 19th century.  However, even the 13th castle hides structures which were built by the Welsh Princes of Deheubarth of a century before, and earlier still Roman and Iron Age buildings. Perched spectacularly above limestone cliffs, it was subject to attack and siege by the rebel Welsh patriot Owain Glynwr, who did not succeed in taking the castle. If you hire a flashlight, you can explore the cave below the inner ward. The result of a natural fissure in the stone, the caverns and passageways were reinforced by the hand of man. Parts of it have dovecotes for pigeons.

Brecon Mountain Railway
[Pant Station, Pontsticill, +44 1685 722988, Adults £10.50] runs along the length of Pontsticill Resevoir in the Brecon Beacons National Park. It utilises the abandoned Brecon and Merthyr Railway line which closed down in 1964 after almost a hundred years of operation. The Brecon Mountain Railway passes attractive scenery and it is a leisurely and more environmentally friendly way to enter the national park.

The National Showcaves Centre for Wales
[+44 1639 730284, £13.50] has a number of attractions: the 17 km cave system known as Dan-yr-Ogof, where the bones of 42 people were found, a Dinosaur Park, Mr Morgan's Farmyard, an 'Iron Age Village', and the Shire Horse Centre. The centre is good value for money if you're travelling with kids but aside from that, the breathtaking caves are indeed worth a visit.  

Tour Operators

Walkabout Wales [+44 7775444176] can organise sea kayaking, mountain biking, gorge walking, abseiling, and pony trekking. They can also help to organise transport, meals, and accomodation.

Off Road Skills [+44 208 6073917] run regular adventure trips for mountain bikers eager to explore the trails of the Brecon Beacons. They can arrange the bike, the routes, and the accomodation.

Dragonfly Cruises [Aberhonddu, +44 1874 685222, Adult £6] offer 2.5 hour canal boat trips.

Bikes & Hikes [1 Warle Cottage, near Llandew, +44 1874 610071] hire out bikes and offer guided tours as well as courses in mountain biking, rock climbing, and navigation.

Mountain and Water [+44 1873 831825] has a wide range of programmes and tours to appeal to all ages: choose from kayaking, climbing, orienteering, and caving besides a lot more.




Hay on Wye Flickr whiskymacEver since bookseller Robert Booth declared Hay-on-Wye [pop.1,850] to be an independent kingdom and himself its king, the world's first offical 'Town of Books' has drawn in scores of literarily-minded tourists. With over 30 secondhand and antiquarian bookshops, some specialising in particular genres, others stocking a wide range of titles, you're sure to find a good book to read.

There's Murder and Mayhem [5 Lion Street, +44 1497 821613], the Children's Bookshop [Pontvaen, +44 1497 821083], Rose's Books [14 Broad Street, +44 1291 689755], which specialises in rare and out of print children's and illustrated books, and then there's Richard Booth's Bookshop in Hay Castle [44 Lion Street, +44 1497 821314] which has a range of different genres. Of course, if you're not a big reader, there are also opportunities for outdoor sports, making the most of the town's beautiful situation. Hay-on-Wye is a small town on the River Wye, nestled snug against the border with England and inside the north-eastern tip of the Brecon Beacons National Park. You can easily get around by foot or by bus.

Activities
Hay on Wye Flickr Indigo GoatThe Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival [+44 1497 822620] has been running since 1988 and has brought writers, thinkers and performers as diverse as VS Naipaul, Terry Jones, AC Grayling, Wendy Cope, Germain Greer, Alexander McCall Smith, Niall Ferguson, Bettany Hughes, Stephen Fry, and Bill Bryson to the town to speak. The festival runs every year around the beginning of June.

Hay-on-Wye has two Norman castles: the first lies near St Mary's Church and was once a motte and bailey structure; the second, better preserved, is a stone castle with possibly dates to the end of the 11th century. This battle-hardened castle withstood the onslaughts of Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth in 1231 and Owain Glyndwr, the rebel Welsh patriot, in 1401. A mansion was added to the north side of the castle in the 1660s by James Boyle of Hereford. It is now used as Hay Castle Bookshop.

Outdoors at Hay [Tylau Cottage, Llanigon, +44 1497 820426] can organise archery, canoeing, bushcraft, raft building, gorge walking, and mountain biking among other activities.

Paddles and Pedals [15 Castle Street, +44 1497 820604, from £17.50 per person] hire out kayaks and canoes.

 


Brecon streetscape Flickr Indigo Goat Brecon [pop.7,900] is a large market town situated on the confluence of the rivers Usk and Honddu, giving rise to its Welsh name of Aberhonddu. The town grew in earnest around the Norman castle which was built by Bernard de Neufmarche in the 11th century. However, this strategically felicitous area was earlier settled by the Romans, who built a cavalry base here called Y Gaer or Cicucium, now situated just to the west of Brecon.

Brecon is an attractive town with charming Georgian architecture and it's also known for its cathedral and annual Jazz Festival. Brecon is often used as a base for exploring the Brecon Beacons National Park but the town itself is worth a visit.

Sights
Brecon Castle [Castle Square, +44 1874 624611] once a formidable fortress of strategic importance militarily and administratively. Built by the Normans as a defence against the unruly locals, the castle saw battle a number of times before its eventual decline. It has been a hotel since the early 19th century.

Brecon Cathedral [Cathedral Close, +44 1874 623857, free entry] is a charming  building. Bernard de Neufmarche ordered a Benedictine priory to be built after he captured the area in 1093. After Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the priory became a parish church. It wasn't until the 1920s that the church became a cathedral.  

The Brecon Jazz Festival takes place every year in early August. Past performers have included Cleo Laine, Humphrey Lyttleton, Van Morrison, and Amy Winehouse. The Brecon Fringe Festival [www.breconfringe.co.uk] has grown up around the main jazz festival and its programme usually includes rock, R&B, blues, comedy, dance, and some jazz too.

The northern terminus of the Taff Trail is in Brecon, down by the canal basin. The 88km course stretches across the national park down to Cardiff Bay. Walkers, cyclists, and horseriders too can use the trail.

Dragonfly Cruises [+44 1874 685222, Adult £6] offer 2.5 hour canal boat trips along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.

 


Crickhowell Flickr nicksarebi Crickhowell [pop.2,800] is named after the nearby Iron Age hillfort of Crug Hywel. A pretty heritage town, it is situated on the River Usk between the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons. It is known for its 17th century stone bridge, which spans the river in a distinctive series of arches. There is also a 14th century parish church and the remains of a castle which started life as a motte and bailey structure in 1121. It was greatly increased in 1242 and fortified with stone. Its second refortification came under Henry IV in 1400 in preparation for the revolt by Owain Glyndwr. However, the added strength was no match for Glyndwr’s incandescent forces and much of the castle was destroyed in this time.