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Memories of Mid Wales

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

I fell in love with a place call Talywern, a hillside hamlet six miles east of the market town of Machynlleth in the county of Powys, Mid Wales. There are only six houses in Talywern, plus a disused chapel. One of these houses is called Cil Haul and I lived there for a few months. Idyllic is the only way to describe Talywern. The road from Machynlleth is narrow, winding and hemmed in by hedgerows, and a stream runs under the road leading into Talywern, which is pretty and peaceful. All you can hear is a crowing cockerel, bleating sheep, the barking of a farm dog, a passing tractor, the occasional incongruous roar of a jet from RAF Valley on Anglesey and the braying of next door’s donkey. She’s called Willow and she is beautiful. Her owner has a huge collection of rescued animals in the field by her house: as well as Willow, there are chickens, ducks, sheep and goats. There’s also Alfie the collie and several cats, including Simba, the ginger Tom who comes into Cil Haul for a daily nap. The resident cats, Holly and Gerri, don’t take much notice of him: they probably spend time napping at his place. There are no streetlamps in Talywern so if you go out at night, you take a torch. You realise how dark the darkness really is and when you look up, you can see millions of stars. It really is magical.

Machynlleth is a market town, once considered to be the capital of Wales because Owain Glyndwr had his Welsh Parliament here in 1404. It’s the kind of place where old hippies live out their days. I saw a few of them, wearing multi-coloured patchwork jackets with cut off jeans and sandals even in the winter. There are lots of fine old buildings, some of local stone and slate, others half-timbered with leaded lights; there’s the Victorian Gothic clock tower at the centre of town; and the imposing Tabernacle sits next to MOMA Machynlleth, which has contemporary exhibition space behind an unassuming façade. There’s one main street, lined with a few shops selling anything from antiques to walking boots and wicker baskets to silver jewellery; there’s a greasy-spoon café, a SPAR, a Co-op, four pubs and a hotel. I lived in a flat behind the White Horse pub and Dick’s Diner, and the view from upstairs took in the town’s main car park, with the rugby club and pitch beyond, the community gardens beyond them and hills in the distance. From my window, I could usually see a few jackdaws hanging around on top of the tower of the chapel a few doors down, and every evening at dusk they congregated to roost in a big tree on the edge of the car park, flying by my window on their way to the tree, first in ones and twos, then more and more, until the whole tree was alive with squawking roosting jackdaws. At some point they stopped their racket and went to sleep for the night.

The train from Machynlleth to Aberystwyth, about 30 miles away, takes you on the Cambrian Line through a stunning landscape, close to the Dyfi River as it makes its way to the wide estuary at Aberdyfi. Nearing the Ynyslas National Nature Reserve, the train veers southward, passing through Borth (a real one-horse town), through the fields by the donkey sanctuary and on to Aberystwyth and the coast of Cardigan Bay.

Like all UK seaside towns, Aberystwyth has a bustling, holiday feel, with lots of people (most of them students from the nearby university), seagulls and traffic. The seafront is a short walk from the station and there are plenty of places on the way where you can pick up an ice cream or stop for a cuppa or a pint. The beach is covered in tiny stones, there’s not much in the way of sand, and when the tide is out, you can see nothing but black jagged rocks. There is a pier but it’s not up to much – very short and very ugly, and the only thing on it is a down-market bar with massive TV screens. To the north of the beach, there’s a high headland called Constitution Hill with a cliff railway that takes you up to a camera obscura right on the top. To the south of the beach, you’ll find Aberystwyth Castle, a magnificent medieval fortress built by Edward I in 1282, and knocked about through succeeding centuries until only a couple of gatehouses remain standing among the ruins. Further on from the castle grounds is the harbour and marina at the mouth of the river Rheidol. I took a trip on the Vale of Rheidol narrow-gauge steam railway one sunny afternoon, travelling along the high hillside to Devil’s Bridge, where the river meets its tributaries to form spectacular waterfalls. The noise is amazing, the air is filled with spray and looking down on the gushing waters from up on the road made my stomach lurch (in a good way).

I made a visit to Castell y Bere, which was built in the 1220s by Llywelyn the Great in a place near Llanfihangel-y-Pennant. The castle is ruined now, and it has a wonderfully romantic feel, with views over the Dysynni Valley to the south and, to the north, Cadair Idris, one of the highest mountains in Snowdonia. This view encapsulates what I love most about Mid Wales: miles and miles of wild and rugged landscape, ancient and sublime.

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