Britain at its best: Inside Machynlleth, the former capital of Wales


Britain at its best: Inside Machynlleth, the former capital of Wales, a historic town that makes for a great base for hikes (and serves epic roasts to reward the effort)

  • The Daily Mail’s Harriet Sime visits Machynlleth and finds it’s a pleasant town that ‘fizzes with old stories’
  • She heads to Dolgellau in Snowdonia National Park to tackle the circular Torrent Walk
  • The Black Lion on the outskirts of Machynlleth is the place to go for a proper roast dinner, she says 

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You may not have heard of it. You’re probably unable to pronounce it. But Machynlleth was once the capital of Wales.

Owain Glyndwr, a rebel against the English crown, gave the tiny town the (unofficial) title after becoming the Prince of Wales and setting up parliament here in 1404.

Cardiff may have risen to ascendency in the years since, but now Machynlleth is showing signs of fighting back — if not quite to wrench back political power, but by becoming a capital of culture and sustainability. 

Green dream: Machynlleth has an eco-friendly vibe and is home to the most influential sustainability research base in Europe

Green dream: Machynlleth has an eco-friendly vibe and is home to the most influential sustainability research base in Europe

The town’s 'stern-looking' clock tower

The town’s ‘stern-looking’ clock tower

Stroll around the mid-Wales town — pronounced ‘muh-kuhnth-leth’ but often referred to as just ‘Mach’ — and you’ll soon come across posters advertising comedy and music festivals, markets selling arts and crafts, and cosy cafes offering vegan fare and good ‘paned’ (Welsh for cuppas).

Much of this is down to New Agers who drifted into the town (population 2,200) in the 1960s, followed by the current Prince of Wales’s visit to the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in 1978.

CAT has since become the most influential sustainability research base in Europe, with organic gardens, experimental green buildings and woodland habitats.

It’s a pleasant town for a stroll around the two main colourful streets which lead to the stern-looking clock tower at its centre. 

We pop into one modest-looking store, now an art materials shop, and discover it was where the designer Laura Ashley opened her first outlet in 1961.

Apparently, in the early days of her business she camped nearby on the banks of Mawddach Estuary with her three children — all under six — for half a year just to make ends meet.

Mach fizzes with old stories. And the locals, who almost sound as though they’re singing when they speak, are proud of its history, both ancient and recent.

A brilliant base for an overnight stay is The Royston, a seven-bedroom guesthouse 15 minutes out of town, with original stained-glass windows and glorious views over the rugged Cambrian mountains. 

Pictured is one the rooms at The Royston, a seven-bedroom guesthouse 15 minutes out of town

Pictured is one the rooms at The Royston, a seven-bedroom guesthouse 15 minutes out of town

Despite opening in April 2019, the hotel has already been named Welsh Hotel of the Year and built up a loyal following. The day we leave a couple is checking in for the seventh time. 

Rooms are kitted out with bright artwork, vintage furniture, sheepskin rugs, floorboards and original fireplaces. Fresh flowers from the garden are everywhere.

Hiking boots are essential in this corner of Wales. One morning, we head to Dolgellau in Snowdonia National Park to tackle the circular Torrent Walk that follows the thunderous River Clywedog through its striking gorge. We stride through moody thickets of forest and lichen-covered stone before coming to a collection of pretty rose-covered cottages by an old bridge. The deafening sound of the river follows us throughout the hour-long hike.

'Hiking boots are essential in this corner of Wales,' writes the Daily Mail's Harriet Sime. Pictured is Snowdonia National Park

‘Hiking boots are essential in this corner of Wales,’ writes the Daily Mail’s Harriet Sime. Pictured is Snowdonia National Park

Nothing beats a Sunday roast after a bracing walk. And, if you want to experience a proper Mamgu (that’s Welsh for ‘Grandma’) roast, The Black Lion on the outskirts of Machynlleth is the place to go. 

Locals gather in the front room of this tiny 500-year-old inn, sipping ales and tucking into plates overflowing with vegetables, meat and gigantic Yorkshire puddings.

We perch in a corner by the roaring wood burner, where the floor is slightly lower than elsewhere in the room. Nigel, who runs the pub with his partner Dafydd, tells us this space had to be ‘shaved down’ a couple of hundred years ago to make space for the tall chef who once rustled up the roasts. It’s the perfect spot to toast this historic town.  

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