Places to see near the cottage


This is a brief sample of the many delights. All suggestions for places to visit and good pubs/restaurants gratefully received. Local walks are highlighted on laminated sheets left in a folder on the window sill in the sitting room; some routes are also shown on the green or orange-covered 1:25,000 maps in the cottage. Radnor Forest and Hergest Ridge are among the favourite stamping grounds, but there are endless possibilities. The nearest serious mountain walks are the Brecon Beacons and Cadair Idris (see below).

WESTWARDS

Water-break-its-neck
Engagingly silly name for a waterfall that is wonderfully sited in a mossy precipice with trees growing out of the side. Best after rain, so that's not usually a problem: this is one of the classic cottage strolls. Drive along the A44 past the entrance to New Radnor. Abou t a mile and a half further on, you'll see a 'byway' signpost and a car park up on the right. Walk along the track, keep right at the fork, then turn left where the track crosses a stream. Walk up the stream bed - wellies are useful - this leads along the bottom of the precipice and soon the waterfall comes into view. An alternative (slightly longer) way is to fork left after leaving the car park, then take a path through the forest, around the top of the precipice, to the right of a farm, and then down to the track near where it crosses the stream flowing down from the waterfall.

Water-break-its-neck is in the upland known as Radnor Forest - mostly open moors, but with large patches of conifer plantations here and there. A vintage walk of about 5 miles is from New Radnor up to the corner of the plantations directly north of New Radnor church at 210628, detour up the Whimble and back again, then north towards the next bit of forest; a wonderful path heads south high above a deepening valley, around the base of the top part of the Whimble, then down the lane to New Radnor; it's worth wandering into the humpy remains of the castle on the way down. (There is an even better 9-mile walk which we have marked on a laminated OS map extract and put in a file of favourite walks.) There are massive views up here, and in winter it can be stupendously Arctic - there is often snow up here and virtually nowhere else.

Llandrindod Wells
Full of frilly ironwork, railway age hotels, period shop fronts, red and yellow brick and neat parks: a gem of a Victorian spa, that looks larger than it is. You can taste the nasty spa waters for free at the pump room (or sample it from a fountain nearby in Rock Park), and go boating on the lake. Nice cafe opposite the National Cycling Museum (which is inside a striking art nouveau ex-garage and has hundreds of vintage machines - not terribly well explained, but plenty to look at). For 1 you can get into the local history museum above the library.

Llandrindod still has trains: the Heart of Wales line takes you from Shrewsbury to Swansea.

Route: As a scenic alternative to the main road route (via A44 and A483) take the marvellous back road - Weythel - B4594 to Gladestry - Glascwm - Hundred House - Llansantffraed in Elwel - Howey - Llandrindod. Most of this is signed as cycle route no 25 (be warned - it's pretty demanding for cyclists). Near Howey it's worth the short diversion to Disserth Church - a wonderfully unspoilt building with whitewashed walls and box pews.

Elan Valley
Edwardian waterworks architecture on a grand scale: actually it's a wild miniature lake district, just west of Rhayader. Easy walks along former railway tracks by some reservoirs, and you can usually spot red kites (huge, with forked tails) and peregrine falcons - the red kites have their lunch at the Red Kite Feeding Centre at Gigrin Farm near Rhayader (seve ral cottage visitors have enjoyed this). Above Craig Goch Reservoir you can continue on the mountain road to Devil's Bridge, where diesel and steam trains operate on the narrow-gauge Vale of Rheidol Railway to Aberystwyth.

Gilfach Nature Reserve
The jewel in the crown of the Radnor Wildlife Trust - a farm estate with abundant bird and plant life - as well as otters and bats. There's an otter-watching hide by the stream though the animals are elusive; instead, you can try one of several paths from the visitor centre down into the valley. Best to park at the car park near Pont Marteg (A470 Rhayader-Llangurig) - either on the main road or on the signposted minor road for Gilfach - and walk about 1 mile. Pont Marteg itself is a bridge over the River Wye - a very nice place for swimming.

The coast
It's about 60 miles to the nearest bit of coast - so allow about an hour and a half. Aberystwyth is a Victorian resort with a cliff railway scaling Constitution Hill, where there's a camera obscura. There is a beach here, but we much prefer going past Borth (itself an ugly coastal village) to Ynyslas (car park near nature reserve hut close to beach) - a huge expanse of sands and dunes looking over an estuary to the southernmost part of Snowdonia National Park.

Part of the fun of getting to the coast is the drive. In particular there are two marvellous mountain roads: one goes from Rhayader to Devil's Bridge, the other from Abergwesyn to Tregaron. Or if you're following the A44 you can divert north to Nant-y-Moch Reservoir, at the foot of the mountain of Plynlimon - the road carries onto Talybont, where you can easily get to Ynyslas.

Further down the coast, Aberaeron, New Quay and above all Llangranog are appealing coastal villages, though they're some way from the cottage. If you want a night or two away, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park has really special coastal scenery - most rugged in the northern part around St David's and Fishguard.

SOUTHWARDS

Hay on Wye and the Black Mountains
Second hand bookshops are absolutely everywhere in Hay on Wye: we find it's a place for several hours browsing then several hours spent looking for the rest of the party. Even the cinema and castle are bookshops - there's a leaflet of locations at the cottage. Though it's hard to find antiquarian bargains, you can get some really good discounts on new and nearly new books. There's something open every day, including Sunday, and plenty of reasonable cafes.

The drive from the cottage via Gladestry, Newchurch and Clyro is pleasant enough, but more spectacular roads are just south of Hay on Wye. The Gospel Pass takes you up on to the Black Mountains via a hairpinning route. At the top you can walk up the summit of Hay Bluff (about 30 mins' walk): there's a huge view of Radnorshire, the Malverns and the Cotswolds.

The (narrow and extremely slow) road carries on along a deep valley past Llanthony Abbey - a ruin (free access) with a hotel built into it: the public bar is an atmospheric room in the vaulted refectory.

Parts of the Black Mountains are really remote. Patrishow Church has some surprising ancient features - a wall painting of a figure of Death and a musicians' gallery of a type that you won't find in many churches. The area just east of the mountains (into England) includes the Olchon Valley, northwest of Longtown - it reminds us of the North York Moors in the way it's tucked into the moorland. Further south are the Three Castles - Skenfrith, Grosmont and White Castle - evocative and substantial ruins (the first two are free).

Blaenavon
Further south you get into the industrial valleys of South Wales. At Blaenavon, one of the most accessible parts, the Big Pit (closed December to mid February) is a deep coal mine owned by the National Museum of Wales - so the tours are free: it's a fascinating visit - you don a miner's hat and lamp and an ex-miner takes you round. In the same town, the Blaenavon Iron Works (April to October) are the world's best preserved 18th-century ironworks; entrance is cheap (2), but it's a bit disappointing in that is rather under-funded and access is very limited - you can't go into the furnaces, and the miners' cottages are restored but mostly empty apart from a small exhibition. The whole of Blaenavon is (rather surprisingly) a World Heritage Site, so things might improve. The town has opened up about a dozen second-hand bookshops in an attempt to rival Hay on Wye, though it has some way to go in this respect judging from our last visit a few years ago. The road over from Govilon is spectacular, rising over high moorland, with big views. At Govilon, there is a small car park for the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal - there are very attractive towpath walks here, and close by there's an old railway track that is now a path - allowing you to walk the railway in one direction and return along the towpath.

The Brecon Beacons
The highest land in southern Wales: it's an hour to get to Brecon - itself not that special, but the Brecon Beacons are just to the south. The best walk up is from the north side, though the car park at Bailea isn't that easy to find or from the reservoirs to the south (the photo was taken when we walked up on a perfect September day, with views of Lundy Island and Exmoor to the south, and southern Snowdonia to the north). Or go up with everyone else from Storeys Arms on the A470. Equally dramatic is the Waterfall Country around Pont Nedd Fechan near Glyn Neath: see the OS maps for car park locations. There are three wooded gorges here, and you have to walk some way to get to the series of falls along each one: dire warning notices tell you not to get too close to the edge, though we have found walking close to the river was rather entertaining. Sgwyd yr Eira is the best waterfall - you can actually walk under the curtain of the fall without getting soaked. For easy, level strolls with views of the mountains, Mynydd Illtyd Common (by the Brecon Beacons Mountain Centre near Libanus) has free access and lots of paths.

Museum of Welsh Life, St Fagans
A two-hour drive, but an interesting one via the Brecon Beacons and the former coal-mining valleys, brings you to this excellent free open-air museum just outside Cardiff. Here buildings from all over Wales have been re-erected, showing life through the ages. You can buy items from a period store and there are crafts demonstrations. Open daily, and (amazingly) free. Close by is Caerphilly Castle, the largest medieval castle in Wales and extremely impressive despite the proximity of a hypermarket.

EASTWARDS

Presteigne
An amiably dozy border town, only 7 miles from the cottage, and an easy cycle ride. Not as good for shopping as Kington, but plenty of picturesque corners, particularly around the church, Broad Street and the half-timbered Radnorshire Arms. The Judge's Lodging is a highly worthwhile visit - the audio tour is in the form of a servant taking you round a house that was used by circuit judges up to 1971 (after which the house was locked up and all its contents gathered dust for more than 25 years) - you end up in the court room listening to a trial: it's very well put together, and a good rainy day option.

Kington
There's a surprising number of back paths and lanes hidden away behind the high street and you can find some early industrial relics, including a former mill and the course of the tramroad. The free Kington Museum has some interesting bits and pieces, including remains of a circus elephant that were dug up.

The Small Breeds Farm and Owl Centre just south of town has attracted some praise from cottage visitors with children. Hergest Croft Garden, up on the dead-end road signposted (near the church) to Ridgebourne, is a gorgeous place in early summer particularly.

The Offa's Dyke Path runs through town. It's an easy hike along Hergest Ridge back towards the cottage, although to make it a circular walk it's a good 5-6 hours (go outwards via Burlingjobb and Rushock Hill; return via Hergest Ridge). For an excellent 3-hour circular walk, take the Offa's Dyke Path north from Kington, then at Bradnor Green turn left (leaving the Offa's Dyke Path) along the bottom of the common, through a plantation and contouring just above Dunfield to reach a pass between Herrock Hill and Rushock Hill. You can then pick up the Offa's Dyke Path and follow it back to Kington. There are views the entire way, first westwards into Radnorshire, then eastwards over the Shropshire hills, the Malverns and towards the Cotswolds.

Hereford
Rather a culture shock after the idyllic peace of Weythel: though undeniably good for shopping the city centre is a bit bland, with too many chain stores, though the area around the cathedral (which has the world's oldest world map as well as a strange chained library) is briefly inviting, and there's a very pleasant riverside stroll. The Cafe@All Saints is excellent and right in the middle, in an imaginatively converted church. The covered market is fun. Plenty of rewarding places on the way east though: the signposted Black and White Villages Trail takes in Eardisland, Pembridge, Weobley and others. Leominster is much less hectic than Hereford - and an easy place to pick up anyone arriving by train. Kilpeck Church is a startling Norman building covered with sandstone carvings.

NORTHWARDS

Ludlow
The best-looking town in the Welsh borders, Ludlow is a wonderfully satisfying place for its architecture - half timbered as well as 17th century and Georgian. Broad Street is the most famous part, but there are a number of other lanes and streets worth exploring. You get free views of the castle (photographed here) from a path just outside the curtain wall, and above the river. Ludlow is a gastronome's town, so eating out is hardly a problem, though the most famous establishments have prices to match; a Ludlow institution is the venerable and nicely old-fashioned De Grey's Tea Rooms in Broad Street.

Just north, near the railway town of Craven Arms, is Stokesay Castle (English Heritage), one of the best examples of a fortified medieval manor house in the country - open daily.

From there you can carry on north to Church Stretton, at the bottom of the bilberry-clad heights of the Long Mynd: some superb walking here (walk map kept at cottage), notably through Ashes Hollow. Caer Caradoc (near Hope Bowdler), topped by a hillfort, is the best viewpoint in the area.

Powis Castle
On the outskirts of Welshpool, Powis Castle is owned by the National Trust and best-known for its superb terraced gardens. It's quite a trek out here, so worth combining with other sights en route: Montgomery and Clun are sweet little towns both with fragmentary castles (free access).

Ironbridge Gorge Museum
A World Heritage Site - this is where the Industrial Revolution started, in a furnace where Abraham Darby first smelted iron using coke instead of charcoal. The entire valley is filled with historic sites which are all covered by one Passport ticket (which lasts indefinitely, though you can only visit each site once) - Blists Hill Victorian Village (the biggest attraction), Coalport China Works, Maw's Tile Factory, the Tar Tunnel, Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron etc, etc. Extremely atmospheric (particularly around Ironbridge itself) and with some interesting paths and lanes joining the sites. It takes about 90 minutes to drive from Weythel, so it's a feasible day trip: Much Wenlock is a pretty town close by with a ruined priory.

Snowdonia National Park
Apart from the extreme southern portion around Dolgellau, this is the highest and most spectacular part of Wales, but mostly a bit far from the cottage to make a day trip. However, we have got up early and reached the foot of Cadair Idris, the main mountain in the south part of the park, by 9am - taking a bit less than 2 hours to reach: the walk along the ridge from the summit is vintage quality.

If you want to see more, stay over. Harlech and Beddgellert are good bases; Betws y Coed is a tourist trap. Conwy (a walled town with a huge castle) and the seaside town of Llandudno would be good bases for the north.

LOCAL PUBS

Old Radnor: Harp. Getting very good reports on food from cottage visitors, and doing well in Good Pub Guide too; children and dogs welcome. Beautiful position over Radnor Forest; a great place to sit; serves food, but booking strongly recommended on 01544 350655; closed lunchtimes on weekdays. Old Radnor Church is a gem, with a medieval oak screen and roof, plus Britain's oldest organ case.

Gladestry: Royal Oak. On Offa's Dyke Path at the end of Hergest Ridge, so a favourite destination from the cottage. Unpretentious village local, and useful for a drink if you can find it open, though the food is nothing special.

Kington: Tavern, Victoria Road. Not obviously a pub until you get close up to it - it's near the Presteigne roundabout on the east side of town. Amazingly old-fashioned; nothing seems to have changed much since about 1890; looks like an old sepia photo. Strictly an alehouse: no food (apart from a very separate evening bistro annexed), or anything much apart from beer.

Titley: Stag. Very famous foodie pub - one cottage visitor anonymously inspecting for the Good Food Guide found it absolutely divine. But it's hardly a pub - more a restaurant that happens to have a pub sign outside, and a small bar-like area. Not cheap for dinner, but the lunches are reasonable. Booking essential: 01544 230221; children and dogs welcome. Good Pub Guide main entry for many years.

Walterstone: Carpenters Arms. Good Pub Guide entry for many years, this unpretentious village local is said to be really unchanged and friendly, though we have not managed to visit yet. The current landlady has been here some 70 years, and took over from her mother. Tel 01873 890353. Open all day.

Other useful pubs in attractive rural spots include the Roast Ox at Painscastle, the Seven Stars at Aberedw and the Riverside Inn right by the River Lugg at Aymestrey in Herefordshire.

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