This region of mountains, moorland and steep river valleys is home to about two per cent of the British population of peregrine falcons – and lots of other rare birds and animals. But not too many people.
There are two small but interesting towns: Llanfyllin with its Victorian workhouse and prestigious classical music festival and Llanfair Caereinion at the western end of the steam-powered Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway.
Apart from that it’s mostly scattered villages clinging to the hillsides or beside the cascading clear streams of the Vyrnwy, Tanat and Banwy. And mile after mile of stupendous views.
The Berwyn Mountains are certainly quite a sight. Cadair Berwyn, at 830 metres above sea level, is the tallest peak in Wales outside a National Park.
Walkers on 135-mile-long Glyndwr’s Way National Trail and horse riders on the Rainbow Trails of Dyfnant Forest can enjoy equally wild and spectacular landscapes.
But it’s not quite all as nature intended. Despite its reputation as the most beautiful lake in Wales, Lake Vyrnwy is entirely mad-made.
Back in the 1880s the world’s first large stone-built dam flooded the head of the Vyrnwy valley, submerged a village and created a body of water 11 miles round.
Lake Vyrnwy is now the heart of a 24,000-acre nature reserve teeming with wildlife. It attracts thousands of bird-watchers, walkers, anglers and cyclists every year.
And most of them start in Llanwddyn village – reborn a couple of miles from its original location as the home of the RSPB’s visitor centre, the start of a sculpture trail and a great place to eat or buy local crafts.
A Day’s Itinerary
Best of the Berwyns and Lake Vyrnwy
Lake Vyrnwy and the Berwyn Mountains in Mid Wales are one of the most stunning areas to visit. This beautiful landscape is perfect for lovers of the outdoors, whether you’re bursting to pull on your walking boots, get on your bike, or kick back in a tea room and enjoy the scenery. There are plenty of stunning and unique places to visit making this one of the most enjoyable parts of Mid Wales.
The Berwyn Mountains welcome fearless adventurers young and old. Be careful as deep in these valleys there are secrets of dragons, giants, serpents and much more besides…
No visit to this stunning part of Mid Wales is complete without visiting the stunning Lake Vyrnwy.
The Victorian reservoir of Lake Vyrnwy is a fabulous spot for lovers of art, nature and history. This area is incredibly well suited to those who like adventure, with plenty of opportunities to get active cycling, walking, climbing or enjoying water-sports. It’s also a fantastic spot for a more relaxed visit, with a comfortable tea room and visitor centre, craft shops, bird hides and more accessible walks for families or those with limited mobility.
You can hire a bike, including tandems and bikes with special trailers for children, on which you can enjoy a scenic 12 mile ride around the lake. Cycles can be hired from the Old Barn Café or Artisans, both located at the lake, or bring your own along. A beautifully scenic, flat ride around the lake will usually take 1-2 hours.
After working up an appetite you can re-charge your batteries and re-fill your stomachs when you drop off your bikes and enjoy a well-earned rest in one of the RSPB bird hides.
The RSPB have a centre here with a number of bird hides and nature trails to enjoy. Every season of the year there are new feathered visitors to the lake and you’ll be in the company of peregrine, pied flycatchers, redstarts, wood warblers, goshawks, sparrow hawks and kingfishers.
Birds are not the only wildlife to thrive here. There is plenty to see and do here before heading off to your next stop on your adventure.
Next why don’t you head to Pennant Melangell – home to the pilgrims’ church of St Melangell, which welcomes visitors from all over the world. Here you can lose yourself deep in the Berwyn Mountains in the peaceful Pennant Valley. This special place has been a focus of pilgrimage for over a thousand years and still gives a warm welcome to visitors who make a trip here.
Sited at the head of the Tanat valley, St Melangell’s church is beautifully positioned at a location where, according to local legend, a nunnery was founded in the late 8th Century.
The church is home to the restored shrine to St Melangell which is believed to be the earliest surviving Romanesque shrine in Northern Europe. There are also beautiful carvings of the saint on a 15th century rood screen, which is among many treasures to be seen at the church.
The legend of St Melangell tells the tale of the saint who was said to have been a hermit, living in the valley at the time of the 7th century. Legend describes how she was given the Pennant Valley as a place of sanctuary by Prince Brochwel Ysgithrog who was impressed by her bravery and sanctity. The Prince, who was hunting in the valley, was in pursuit of a tiny hare that took refuge under Melangell’s skirts. While the Prince’s hounds were fearful and fled, she bravely protected the hare – and has since become the patron saint of these creatures.
Other treasures at the church include a series of stone carvings of the hare by the sculptor Meical Watts. These form a frieze of carvings detailing the earliest representation of the legend of St Melangell and Prince Brochwel.
St Melangell’s church can be found close to the nearby village of Llangynog, on the B4391. There are toilets and drinks available at the nearby Melangell Centre, with parking, shop and an exhibition to visit at the church.
You’ll also see a large bone on display at the church which you will find mounted on the wall of the nave of the church. The bone is known as both Asen y Gawres (Giant’s rib) and Asen Melangell (Melangell’s rib). This perhaps links to the local myths and legends of giants living in the Berwyn Mountains.
Next on your day’s exploration of the Berwyn Mountains why not head off to another special place for some more memorable moments.
Why not end your day at one of the most magical places in Mid Wales, Pistyll Rhaeadr. Close to the village of Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant, this is a place you can’t afford to miss. After visiting this beautiful waterfall you’ll be sure to find yourself welcomed in one of Llanrhaeadr’s pubs for a restorative pint and an evening meal.
Pistyll Rhaeadr is a spectacular place to spend some time. Its name, meaning ‘Spring of the waterfall’ hints at what you should expect on your visit to its 240ft falls from a sheer cliff-face into the Afon Rhaeadr below.
Discovering this beautiful spot for yourself is a thrilling experience, especially after any amount of rain when you’ll hear the sound of the waterfall as a steady thundering noise that fills the gorge.
You certainly won’t be the first to have visited here and come away with a lasting impression. George Borrow, the 19th century author famous for his travelogues, described the waterfall in his book ‘Wild Wales’. He explained that he had “…never seen water falling so gracefully, so much like thin, beautiful threads as here…”
It’s no wonder that Pistyll Rhaeadr has also been known as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of North Wales’ and inspired an 18th century poem by an anonymous poet!
‘Pistyll Rhaeadr, and Wrexham Steeple,
Snowdon’s mountains without its people,
Overton’s yew trees, Gresford bells,
Llangollen bridge and St Winifrid’s Well’.
Local folklore talks of the giant, Cawr Berwyn, who is associated with the valleys of Cwm Blowty and Cwm Pennant. Legend tells how three large boulders at the foot of the famous waterfall, Pistyll Rhaeadr, were said to have been thrown there by the giant, his wife and his maid as they were crossing the waterfall on the route to Pennant Melangell nearby.
These boulders, known as Baich y Cawr (Giant’s Burden), Baich y Gawres (Giantess’ Burden) and Ffedogaid y Forwyn (Maid’s Apronful) stir up their own mythical stories in our imaginations. Perhaps you’ll be able to see them if you visit the waterfall!
This enchanting location has proven popular with visitors for centuries and it’s no surprise why. You’ll be greeted by truly picturesque scenes, with spray hanging in the air creating a unique eco-system, a home to rare and unusual plants.
There are public toilets and a small tea room at the foot of the waterfall from where you might like to start one of the many walks and adventures to be had from this spot in the Berwyn Mountains.
Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant
Close by, in the village of Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant, there are plenty of places to stop for a delicious meal, a restorative pint and a little sit down after an exciting day. This charming village is a lovely spot to settle down for some culinary treats and sample some of the local fare. You’ll be following in the footsteps of some of Hollywood’s finest! Movie fans may well recognise the village from the 1995 film – ‘The Englishman who went up a hill but came down a mountain’ – starring Hugh Grant. Opposite the village pub, The Plough, you’ll find a plaque and statue to commemorate the film.