Travelling doesn’t have to mean paying extortionate amounts in plane tickets and struggling with exchange rates. The UK is bursting with beautiful towns, tranquil countryside and rugged coasts and can be just as exciting to explore as foreign shores. In the “Hometown” series some of the Wessex Scene travel writers show us the places they grew up in and tell us why they’re worth a visit!
Sparsely populated with no city to boast, Mid Wales is an area that time forgot. The Welsh Midlands roughly spans the three counties of Powys, Gwynedd and Ceredigion; home to untouched wilderness, adventure sports and the traditional Welsh rarebit. Bike it, walk it, drive it or horse ride it, I’m about to take you from the English border to the Irish Sea in three routes of Mid Welsh delights.
The best place to start this journey is from the town I call home, Montgomery. En route of the 2012 Tour of Britain, location of A Child’s Christmas in Wales and voted ‘Happiest town in Britain’, Montgomery is a secret celebrity disguised as a sleepy Welsh toy-town. It’s full of old-worldy pubs, handmade-homebaked-everything café’s, medieval churches, and streets laden in the summer with bikers, hikers, farmers and the cheery locals emerging in and out of the little trinket shops. To complete its Welsh town stereotype it’s surrounded by a spread of rolling, green hills dotted with sheep. The town lies one mile from the English border neighbouring Shropshire and Tolkien’s Middle Earth inspiration. But for this postcard we’re heading away from England’s folk-lore and into the heart of Wales.
1. The scenic northern route…
After Montgomery, Welshpool is the first stop of our journey. Whilst famous for being the first area of Warfarin resistant rats and currently housing one of Europe’s largest livestock markets, the town does manage to boast the impressive Powis Castle and its beautiful estate and gardens. Take a peak at the family’s Far East collection of weapons, artwork and gold or wonder through the castle’s Renaissance garden.
Our next stop, Lake Vyrnwy, is a Victorian stone-built dam and reservoir set in the Berwyn Mountains. It’s ideal for cyclists and walkers looking for a chance to explore or race around but if you’re in need of a more relaxing break then the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel & Spa will let you view the stunning scenery from the seat of your jacuzzi.
For the more adventurous, head further north towards Bala Lake where you’ll find a number of watersport centers offering canoeing, windsurfing, sailing or kayaking on the great lake that lies amongst beautiful Snowdonia surroundings.
The final stop on our northern route is the coastal town of Barmouth. This beach town lies on Cardigan Bay and has both yellow sands and picturesque harbor. Pick up an ice cream, book yourself into a family-run B&B and head to the pub for the perfect end of the northern journey through Mid-Wales.
2. The middle road of past and present…
From Montgomery, head along the winding country roads over marshlands all the way to the market town, Machynlleth. In this area is King Arthur’s Labyrinth, a cave experience for those fascinated by the mythical and magical Arthurian tales. If you prefer science over myth then the CAT (Centre for Alternative Technology) is a place that captures the Welsh promotion of green energy and sustainability and offers seven acres of interactive displays.
To end this shorter journey, head for Aberdovey, Tywyn or Borth and set up camp on one of their beaches barbequing local pork sausages under the stars.
3. The southern culture trip…
Head south-west of Montgomery and you’ll find yourself in and around the Cambrian Mountains, an area better known as the ‘The Green Desert of Wales’ for its sheer vastness of moorland with few roads or houses within it. Lose yourself in the dominating landscape (just not too lost because Google maps isn’t going to work in the Welsh wilderness) and be at one with Wales’ natural drama.
Next stop, Builth Wells; this town is grounds to the famous Royal Welsh Agricultural Show which ever year attracts the entire Welsh population to its showground. Not there in July? Then explore the traditional crafty shops on the high street or take a dip in the river.
On from here, Llanwrtyd Wells plays host to the weird and wonderful of Wales. On May 24th you can enter yourself in the Welsh Open Stoneskimming Championships, or get down and dirty on 29th August for the annual Bogsnorkelling Triathlon (an 8 mile run, 2 lengths of the 60 yard bog trench and then a 12 mile mountain bike ride)! The following day is specially set aside for the World Bogsnorkelling Championships which attracts competitors from far and wide to race through the bog, in the hope of being crowned ‘World Bogsnorkelling Champion’.
After the oddities in Llanwrtyd Wells, Aberystwyth is the final stop for the southern Mid Wales’ route. Whilst fish and chips on the pebbly beach, walks along the rugged coastlines and the promise of a degree at the university are what draw many of Aberystwyth’s visitors, the pocket-sized city also contains a few gems waiting to be discovered within its seaside buildings. Live music in one of the 50-odd pubs, a traditional pier, table tennis in the restaurant Wiff Waff, and the National Library of Wales for all your Celtic needs are some of Aberystwyth’s prized possessions that contribute to the easy-going vibes of Mid Wales.
Perfect for an adventurous day out or laid-back minibreak, however you explore it, I hope you find that there’s more to Mid Wales than our sheep, unpronounceable signs and Lembit Öpik.