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Llanwrtyd Wells 

Llanwrtyd Wells 

Along with Builth, Llandrindod and Llangammarch, Llanwrtyd was one of the quartet of Mid Wales spa towns that flourished in the 19th century. That spa heritage shapes a town that nowadays leads a very different life as a centre for quirky activities and events, making the most of its dramatic setting where wild Mynydd Epynt meets the brooding, bare ‘roof of Wales’.

You have to know something of Llanwrtyd’s past to appreciate its present. A century or so ago, those angular, substantial gabled Victorian terraces and villas that fill the streets played a very different role. They served as boarding houses for the hordes of visitors who travelled to this secluded spot by train and charabanc from the teeming communities of the South Wales valleys on their annual escape from the coalmines and ironworks.


Llanwrtyd was, in those days, a busy inland resort where you’d not just ‘take the waters’ but enjoy the innocent pleasures of ball games in the park, croquet and bowls. A busy entertainment programme included pony and trap rides into the wild hinterland where drovers once herded livestock across the Cambrian Mountains, concerts and eisteddfodau, traditional ‘make your own fun’ gatherings of song and poetry.


All change

How things have changed. Llanwrtyd still looks, more or less, like it did in its spa heyday, the uniformity of its florid, fanciful architecture the result of it being built all in one go for a singular purpose (just like its big brother, über-Victorian Llandrindod Wells).


But nowadays Llanwrtyd has a nicely laid-back aura, despite reinventing itself as a place where you can get stuck into a bizarre range of green events and activities, including bog-snorkelling (not to be recommended for the faint-hearted, squeamish or short of breath), world-championship stone skimming, a man versus horse marathon and chariot racing. For those with more conventional tastes, ever-inventive Llanwrtyd also hosts walking, mountain biking and real ale festivals.


Centre point

Although a small town there’s plenty of interest here. The main square is dominated by a striking sculpture of a red kite, a testament to the iconic bird of prey that has survived threat of extinction and re-established itself throughout Mid Wales.


Opposite is the Neuadd Arms, a time-honoured hostelry that continues to serve the local community and its visitors well (real ale fans will be pleased to know that it has its own microbrewery). The days of the hardy – and no doubt travel-weary – drovers who made the tough journey across the Abergwesyn Pass from Tregaron to Llanwrtyd are recognised in the name of the Drovers’ Rest Riverside Restaurant and Tea Rooms, across the road from the Neuadd Arms. Another popular refreshment halt is Caffi Sosban, also in the main square.


Close by is Llanwrtyd and District Heritage and Arts Centre, located in a renovated chapel. Displays, interactive maps and recordings from residents reveal the history of the town and its surroundings, while today’s creative endeavours are showcased in exhibits by local artists and craftspeople.


Hidden depths

To pay homage to Llanwrtyd’s past as a thriving spa town head in a westerly direction from the town square along Dolecoed Road for about a quarter of a mile and pick up the riverside path in parkland beside the babbling Irfon, a river that has its source in the empty ‘green desert’ of Abergwesyn.


You’ll soon come to a collection of houses. Hiding away beside one you’ll find the original spa, where a local vicar Theophilus Evans discovered a spring bubbling to the surface in 1732. Restored yet somewhat forlorn and forgotten, it’s an evocative spot, haunted by ghosts of summer spa days past, and infused with an overpowering smell of sulphur from the mosaic-adorned well.


If you want to arrive in town in a way that mirrors those spa-seekers of old, hop on a train. Llanwrtyd is on the Swansea to Shrewsbury Heart of Wales line, one of the most scenic rail rides in Britain. Settle into Llanwrtyd’s slow rhythm (bog-snorkelling excepted) and – like many who have discovered the town and settled here in recent years – you may well not want to leave.



  • Small is beautiful. Llanwrtyd locals, never backwards in coming forwards with an attention-grabbing headline, reckon it’s the ‘smallest town in Britain’.


  • The frog chorus. We have the Rev Theophilus Evans, vicar of nearby Llangammarch, to thank for putting Llanwrtyd on the map. In the 1730s he reasoned that since the local frog population seemed to thrive on Llanwrtyd’s sulphurous waters, then humans would benefit too. A spa was born.


  • Horse power. Llanwrtyd’s annual Man vs Horse Marathon is a bit of a one-sided competition. Only three competitors have beaten the four-legged opposition on the 22-mile/35km race over tough terrain since the race was first held in 1980 – Huw Lobb (UK) in 2004, Florian Holzinger (Germany) in 2007, and the aptly named Ricky Lightfoot (UK) in 2022. Victory over a horse obviously isn’t the bookies’ expected result – Lobb collected a prize of £25,000 for his win, his time of 2hrs 5mins beating the fastest horse by 2mins.


  • A flying visit. There was once an airstrip at the nearby Abernant Lake Hotel (now an outdoor activity centre for young people) that received daily flights from Swansea.


  • Shop till you drop. In its heyday Llanwrtyd boasted four bakeries, three butchers, several chemists, hardware and grocery stores, a ladies’ dress shop, men’s outfitter, a shoe shop, and shops run by a cobbler, photographer, greengrocer, ironmonger, milliner, draper and tobacconist. Not forgetting a choice of tea rooms and cafés. Who needs supermarkets?


  • World champion. Current World Bog Snorkelling Champion and World Record Holder is Neil Rutter, whose best time for completing the mucky course is 1min 18.82secs. Lonely Planet describes the event as one of the top 50 ‘must do’ experiences from around the world. It has certainly caught the imagination, attracting over 160 participants from Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Eire, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden, the UK and USA, making this a truly international world championship.


  • First past the post. The popular pastime of pony trekking – now big business throughout the country – was invented in Wales here in Llanwrtyd in 1955, when Welsh hill ponies were borrowed from local farmers for a day’s trek in the remote hills.



You’ll easily while away a few hours or full day in Llanwrtyd. Here are a few things you won’t want to miss. While you don’t have to visit them in any particular order, we’ve laid them out in a way that will help you make the most of your time in town. And if you only have half a day or less to spend, simply pick the places that spark your curiosity.


Llanwrtyd and District Heritage and Arts Centre

Here’s the best place to start your visit. History and creativity come together at this welcoming centre, housed in a superbly converted and modernised 19th-century Congregational chapel. Interactive exhibits and recorded memories of local residents take you on a journey from a small settlement of ‘one-storey thatched cottages’ to a boom town with ‘the finest sulphur spring in the kingdom’.


The centre’s art gallery showcases arts and crafts inspired by the landscapes and sense of place surrounding this singular part of Mid Wales, with a programme of exhibitions throughout the year. Look out for the small concerts and recitals also held here.


‘Spirit in the Sky’ sculpture

It’s not possible to think of a more appropriate sculpture for Llanwrtyd than this dramatic representation of a red kite, the once-endangered bird of prey that has been successfully reintroduced into Mid Wales and beyond. A giant red kite, wings outstretched and straddling a branch, dominates the town square, symbolising the ‘wild Wales’ encircling the town and Llanwrtyd’s spirit of revival after its post-spa slumbers. The work of Sandy AM O’Connor, it was donated to the town in 1998.


The Stinking Well

The ‘Spirit in the Sky’ stands on the banks of the River Irfon. It’s worth following this river west into parkland (take the Dolecoed Road) where the original spa house is located. If you don’t like the smell of rotten eggs keep your distance. It’s reckoned that Llanwrtyd’s sulphur spring is the strongest in Wales. No wonder it’s known as Y Ffynnon Ddrewllyd (‘The Stinking Well’) in Welsh.


Dolwen Fields

This green space on the south-western approach to town, once used by farmers to keep their sheep, is now a pleasant recreational area with a playing fields, sensory garden and riverside pavilion. A walk beside the Irfon takes you to a Victorian single-span cast-iron railway bridge, listed for its technical engineering expertise.

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