Stunning backdrops, impressive eco status, family attractions and a rich political history – there’s plenty to be seduced by when visiting the Ancient Capital of Wales.
Tucked away in the heart of mid-Wales the market town of Machynlleth provides a perfect location for anyone interested in sightseeing, adventure or relaxation. Exiting the monotony of the motorway for the lush valleys, vegetation and hills, boasting every shade of green imaginable, it is difficult not to feel mesmerised by what this picturesque part of the Dyfi Valley has to offer, especially on a clear day.
Thankfully the glorious views extend to the surroundings of our cottage, close to Machynlleth and home for the next few days. We waste no time settling in, then head out for a chat with our new neighbour, Gareth, who grew up in the area. “It’s a popular base for those who favour the outdoors, with several cycling trails and guided walks leaving Machynlleth.” he says. It is easy to see why.
Myths, Magic and Mystery
Gareth explains the glorious backdrop to our cottage is the Cada Idris (or Chair of Idris) mountain. It is only the 19th highest mountain in Wales, but the second most popular one to climb – the first being Snowdon. However, I am concerned that my daughters (aged two and six) might need more by way of entertainment than scenery, climbing and cycling so I pester Gareth about what the area offers by way of family fun and indoor activities. And it is a good job I do, as the following day a torrential downpour sees us abandoning plans to visit Aberdyfi beach and instead, on Gareth’s recommendation, heading for King Arthur’s Labyrinth to experience “myths, magic and mystery in underground caverns beneath Snowdonia.”
It is just a few minutes’ drive from Machynlleth town centre but on arrival we find the area awash with other families also searching for indoor adventures. It is approaching lunchtime by the time we finally manage to purchase the next available tickets for the 4pm boat. Keen to kill time, I ask about other available activities to occupy young minds. The cashier mentions a taster trip to the Corris Mine might be available. Keen to know more, she explains that Braich Goch, an old 19th century slate mine, closed as a working mine during the 1970s, but it is now a tourist attraction providing tours of the old working mine with experienced guides.
King Arthur’s Labyrinth is in the same complex as the Corris Craft Centre, and home to nine art studios offering chocolate making, candle dipping or pottery sessions. There is plenty of variety but it seems several other families have claimed the spots until late afternoon. My husband and I decide it is probably a good time for us to explore lunch options in Machynlleth town centre until our boat sets sail.
We arrive hungry; even the kids walk swiftly from the car across Machynlleth town centre in search of lunch. We slow down briefly to admire Machynlleth’s landmark grey stone clock before finally escaping the miserable weather outdoors for the comfort of the centuries old White Lion Pub. After a delicious lunch in the pub’s cosy and snug back room, we learn from some friendly locals that there is a lot more to Machynlleth (or Mach as it’s known locally) besides a dominant old clock on the cobblestone streets.
One barmaid mentions the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at the opposite end of the town centre. Aside from regular exhibitions, it also hosts the annual Machynlleth Festival during late August – bringing plenty of classical music events to the town with a few related exhibitions and talks thrown in. The town also plays host to a comedy festival during spring.
The patrons and staff in this pub seem genuinely proud of what their town has to offer. They are happy sharing stories and snippets of information with anyone who’s interested in Mach’s history. One local pensioner at the bar with a beautiful whisper of a Welsh accent, reveals that Machynlleth market has been held every Wednesday for over 700 years, since the Royal charter, which allowed the Lord of Powys the right to do so, was granted in 1291. This is apparently one of the earliest written historical references regarding the town.
Surrounded by so many kind folk, we are actually reluctant to leave the White Lion for King Arthur’s Labyrinth, but it is a magical experience and the kids love it. We hear a great many legendary stories while there, but by far my favourite historical tale from Machynlleth is that of Owain Glyndŵr. Re-told by the softly spoken pensioner in the White Lion, Glyndŵr, is believed to have rebelled and fought against oppressive English rule during the 15th century. Supported by an army of volunteers, he succeeded in his quest to overthrow the English and became leader of the people, becoming the last native Welsh person to hold the title of Prince of Wales.
Machynlleth’s Owain Glyndŵr Centre is built on the site of the national hero’s 1404 parliament building, earning the town unofficial title of Ancient Capital of Wales, although sadly it’s never been officially recognised as such.
For a little town, there is certainly a lot more to Machynlleth than is revealed at first glance, making it worth going in for a closer look, even when it is raining.