Locals call it Llani for short. Folk from a little farther afield refer to it as “Planet Idloes” because of its alternative vibe. Even in Mid Wales, which has more than its fair share of original thinkers, Llanidloes is a one-off.
As Wikipedia rather unkindly points out, this liberal, counterculture atmosphere has made it a popular home for ageing hippies. But beads and kaftans remain optional in the busy whole-food shop, volunteer-run organic shop and famous Great Oak café.
Llanidloes has been a Fairtrade Town since 2006 – and every year its Green Fair combines talks by environmental experts with stalls offering a less energy-expensive way of life.
But then this has always been a place that knows its own mind. It won its first charter from Edward I in 1280 and was made a self-governing borough in 1344 – a status it lost only in 1974 (but don’t tell the locals).
The four wide streets at the heart of the town date from this time and the timber-framed Old Market Hall at the crossroads – the iconic building of Llanidloes and the only one of its kind left in Wales – was built in the early 1600s.
It wasn’t just a market hall. It was also law court, lock-up and religious meeting place. In 1749 preacher John Wesley addressed a large congregation from the “Wesley Stone” which now sits outside the northwest corner. No surprise that Llanidloes was packed full of nonconformists.
Equally predictable is that the single most dramatic incident in the town’s long history was an act of rebellion.
In April 1839, as part of a widespread Chartist revolt, Llanidloes rioted in protest at the collapse of the local textile industry. Troops were sent in, the town was occupied for a whole year and more than a hundred people were locked up or transported.
Llanidloes still does nothing by halves. With no fewer than nine watering holes, it has a higher pub-to-person ratio than Glasgow – a legacy of a mid-19th century lead smelting boom in which the town’s population swelled to twice its current 2,500.
No wonder the town hall started life as a temperance house. Now this Grade II listed building houses a museum of local history and industry. Its most famous exhibit? A two-headed sheep. Very Planet Idloes.
There’s also a definitive collection of antique Welsh quilts at the Minerva Art Centre in the High Street, home of the Quilt Association with a popular summer exhibition running from mid-July to mid-September. Look out for the snail’s trails, Prince of Wales feathers, hearts and laurel leaves that make up a quintessential Welsh quilt.
Other remarkable buildings include the Church of St Idloes with its 15th-century hammer-beam roof and carved angels and a rather grand railway station. Built in 1864 by the Llanidloes and Newtown Railway, the station was designed to look like a Georgian gentleman’s country residence. Its proportions are perfect – if the gentleman in question was 10 feet tall.
These days the railway line is closed and the station is a business centre. So you’ll need to find a different way to explore the mountains, forests and lakes that surround Llanidloes.
Fortunately there are more than 30 waymarked walking routes through the town, linking Llanidloes with other villages of the ancient medieval kingdom of Arwystli such as Llangurig, Llandinam and Trefeglwys.
They include Glyndwr’s Way National Trail, the Severn Way and perhaps the most romantic of them all – Sarn Sabrina. Based on the Celtic myth of Sabrina, a water nymph said to inhabit the waters of the Severn, this 25-mile circular route takes you from the town high into the mountains to the very source of the river.
If you fancy company, a one-day walking challenge takes place on the last Saturday in May
– but you can walk the route any time you please. And if 25 miles is just a bit too far, the Semi-Sabrina is, as you might expect, half the distance. Not that 12 miles is exactly a stroll in the park.
There are walks along the lakeshore of Llyn Clywedog, through the Hafren Forest (look out for the red kites and in November the hurtling cars of the Wales Rally GB) and across the Plynli-mon massif, the highest mountain in Mid Wales.
Llanidloes is the perfect base for cycling. It has everything from short, relatively traffic-free loops to all-day cross-country epics suitable only for weekend warriors and adrenalin junkies.
Long-distance Sustrans routes 8 (Lôn Las Cymru) and 81 (Lôn Cambria) pass right through the town. You can even hire a bike if you haven’t got one with you.
And if after a mud-spattered ride along our forest trails you’re still hearing the call of the wild, try Red Dragon Bushcraft. They offer courses in primitive skills – creating fire by friction, carving tools and foraging for wild foods.
They call it “walking a little lighter on Mother Nature’s carpet”. In other words, it’s just another day on Planet Idloes.