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Builth Wells

Builth Wells 

Don’t be deceived by the name. In common with its other neighbouring ‘Wells’ (Llandrindod, Llangammarch and Llanwrtyd), Builth’s spa days have long gone. Today, it’s a bustling country town that serves the local farming community and visitors who are surprised to discover a thriving shopping and café scene the rival of many urban areas, with the bonus of beautiful riverside walks along the banks of the Wye.

The big bronze bull at the entrance to Builth Wells’ car park serves as the perfect ambassador for the town. It’s a life-sized statue of the famous Welsh Black breed, weighing a hefty 1½ tons, by local sculptor Gavin Fifield. As a symbol of a town that’s robustly rural and a touch creative at the same time, it’s just about perfect.


Despite a relatively brief flirtation with spa tourism in the 19th century, Builth remains a town rooted in all things agricultural. It’s surrounded by farming country, holds a livestock market and – most significantly of all – is home to the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society and its huge showground where one of Europe’s most important countryside gatherings takes place each summer.


Home on the range

Land Rovers and Range Rovers are thick on the ground in these parts. But, unlike their immaculate city counterparts, they’re usually plastered in mud as they trundle through the busy High Street. They are working vehicles travelling through a working town.


That’s not to say that Builth doesn’t have its showy side. The long High Street is lined with a wide-ranging choice of shops and cafés catering for all tastes. You’ll find places selling gourmet food and fishing tackle, zero-waste organic produce and newspapers, hippie-infused fashions and bedroom furniture, pet supplies and art and craft. It’s an easy-going, unpretentious mix that reflects Builth’s personality as a practical but personable country town.


In the beginning

To trace Builth’s beginnings take a side lane off High Street and follow the narrow path upwards to the remains of Builth Castle. It’s not much visited, but well worth seeking out. Dating from Norman times to control a strategic crossing point across the River Wye, the original timber castle was rebuilt in stone in the late 13th century.


The stonework has now disappeared, possibly taken to rebuild the town after the Great Fire of Builth in 1690. Nevertheless, what’s left – a steep mound ringed by a deep ditch – is most impressive, as are the far-ranging views across the rooftops to the Royal Welsh Showground and mountains beyond.


Beside the river

Down at ground level, next to the bridge there’s Wyeside, an arts centre for film and live performances. Escape from busy Builth – it’s at the crossroads of a number of major routes through Wales – is easy. Cross the road from Wyeside Arts Centre and head for the aforementioned big bull at the entrance to a large swathe of parkland known as the Groe.


The statue stands at the start of a tranquil riverside walk on a tree-lined avenue that takes you westwards to the Wye’s confluence with the River Irfon. It’s also the best place from which to view Builth’s handsome six-arched bridge.


Back in town, the High Street starts – quite literally on a high – with a skyscraping mural that fills the side of Cribs Clothing depicting the fate of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last native prince of Wales. Further along the street there’s the little Heritage Centre packed with old photographs and local information, run by enthusiastic volunteers. Further along, the street leads to Market Street and St Mary’s Church.




  • The Wild West. No, that’s not a reference to untamed Mynydd Epynt, the ‘Mountain of the Wild Ponies’ that borders Builth. On 12 May 1904 Buffalo Bill’s famous Wild West show came to town, attracting a staggering audience of almost 10,000 who were entertained by the riding and shooting skills of Cowboys and Indians.


  • The Great Fire of Builth. Most of the town was destroyed in 1690 by a devastating fire. 13–15 High Street was the only building to survive. A plaque on the White Horse Inn on High Street states that it was the only house built with funds raised by public subscription after the fire.


  • Follow the ducks. Duck Lane, off High Street, is reputedly so-called since in the 18th and 19th centuries it was used to drive ducks from town down to the River Wye.


  • What’s in a name? Builth’s Welsh name is Llanfair-ym-Muallt, a derivation of the Welsh word buallt which roughly translates as ‘the wild ox of the wooded slope’ or ‘cow pasture’ (take your pick). Llanfair-ym-Muallt refers to the ‘Church of St Mary in Buallt’ (buallt mutating to muallt).


  • Back to front. Although Llywelyn the Last, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, takes pride of place in the huge mural near Wye Bridge that depicts his final days, look out for the blacksmith, Red Madoc, who reversed the horseshoes on Llywelyn’s mount so that the prints in the snow would look as if he was travelling in the opposite direction when fleeing from his ambushers.

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You’ll easily spend a full day exploring Builth (especially if there’s an event on at the Royal Welsh Showground). Here’s a run-down of town’s highlights. You don’t have to visit them in any particular order but we’ve arranged them in a way that makes sense on the ground. If you don’t have a day at your disposal, take your pick from the places that interest you the most.


Wye Bridge

Builth owes its existence to its location as a strategic crossing point over the River Wye between North and South Wales. This picturesque six-arched stone bridge dates from 1779, a replacement for an earlier timber structure. It links the town with Llanelwedd across the river, home to the Royal Welsh Showground.


Remembering Llywelyn the Last

The course of Welsh history was decided when Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last native prince of Wales, was killed in 1282 in an ambush by English soldiers at Cilmeri, a few miles west of Builth. A memorial stone at Cilmeri is a significant shrine, still used to remember Llywelyn and the cause of Welsh independence. You don’t have to go to Cilmeri to recall Llywelyn’s fate. The tale of his final days is portrayed in a huge mural on the side of Cribs Clothing near the Wye Bridge.


Builth Castle

Hidden away on a hill opposite the Wye Bridge, this stronghold was built in Norman times to control the river crossing. The original motte and bailey fortification changed hands between English and Welsh forces before being rebuilt in stone in the late 13th century by King Edward I, the English monarch who was also responsible for the world-famous castles of North Wales.


Unlike his monumental efforts at Caernarfon and Conwy, Builth Castle eventually fell into decay, its stones probably used in the rebuilding of the town after the Great Fire of 1690. Today, it’s a wild, almost forgotten spot, accessed by a narrow, steep path off High Street. Its steep mound, ringed by a deep ditch, hints at the dominant presence the castle must have had in its prime.

High Street

The busy, beating heart of Builth is lined with a diverse range of shops, inns and cafés. You’ll find everything here from barista coffee shops to stores selling country supplies, reflecting a town that’s traditionally rural with a dash of style.


Heritage Centre

Located along High Street, this small centre is full of photographs and material from the Builth Wells of old. Helpful volunteer staff will be happy to provide more information on the town. Opening times are displayed in the window.


The Groe

This large green space, bordering the River Wye, contains many public amenities including a children’s play area, tennis courts, bowling green and BMX pump track. But its main attraction is the riverside walk. Follow the tree-lined path westwards to a lovely spot where the River Irfon flows into the Wye.


If you want to go further cross the little suspension bridge and follow the Wye Valley Walk to Pen-ddôl Rocks where the Wye twists and tumbles along a dramatic stretch of rapids and deep pools.


St Mary’s Church

As it now stands the church is mainly Victorian. However, the oval-shaped churchyard suggests that this spot may have been a place of worship in distant Celtic times.


The imposing Victorian structure mostly replaced an earlier Norman and 14th-century church, the tower from the latter era still in place. Peek inside and you’ll see a 14th-century font, impressive stained-glass east window and the effigy of John Lloyd of Towy (d.1585), a gentleman who served as a squire to Queen Elizabeth I.


Royal Welsh Showground

Just across the river, this sprawling showground – a town in itself, with an array of cavernous halls, offices and performance areas – bursts into life on many occasions during the year when it stages antique and country fairs, events, gatherings and agricultural shows.


The Big One, of course, is summer’s Royal Welsh Show, a colourful four-day country jamboree that attracts not just the farming community but an audience from far and wide. In addition to the livestock displays, competitions and performances in the main ring there’s an entire village of stalls selling food, crafts, homeware, clothes… you name it, it’s here at the Royal Welsh. Wear comfortable shoes.


Wyeside Arts Centre

Housed in an ornate 19th-century building that served as the towns Assembly Rooms, the centre presents live performances, film and community arts. The town’s white ox emblem is pictured in relief on the building’s façade.

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