About Llanwrtyd Wells
The Man Versus Horse Marathon, for instance, has been an annual fixture since 1980. A horse, you won’t be surprised to learn, normally wins – although in 2007 two human competi-tors beat the first horse home by a full 11 minutes.
Llanwrtyd Wells is also proud home of the World Bog Snorkelling Championship. If you’ve ever wanted to swim two 60-yard lengths of a muddy peat bog by flipper power alone, this is the event for you.
Keep your eyes open too for the Welsh Open Stone Skimming Championship, the SaturnaliaWinter Warmer Beer Festival and the infamous Real Ale Wobble for mountain bikers (despite the name, beer tokens are only available at the finish).
In 2012 the event organisers of Llanwrtyd couldn’t help noticing that the London Olympics was, in comparison, a little mundane. So they arranged the World Alternative Games or WAG for short. Russian Egg Roulette, Gravy Wrestling (yes, that’s wrestling in a pool full of gravy), Worm Charming, Backward Running, Stiletto Racing and Hay Bale Throwing seemed some-how much more Llanwrtyd Wells.
They may perhaps have gone too far with Wife Carrying. The prize for the fastest couple to complete the 225-metre course was the wife’s weight in beer.
But what else can you expect from a town that found fame in 1732 thanks to an especially ec-centric vicar? In those days it was just a tiny hamlet on the River Irfon that went by the name of Pont-rhyd-y-Fferau, or “Bridge over the Ankle-deep Ford”.
Then the Rev Theophilus Evans spotted a frog swimming happily in foul-smelling Ffynnon Ddrewllyd spring and wondered if the water might have some healing properties. Well, it cer-tainly cleared up his scurvy. And the rest is history.
Llanwrtyd Wells as it was soon christened became a booming spa town based on no fewer thanfour groups of wells. By the 19th and early 20th century, thousands were flocking to “take the waters” and the Abernant Lake Hotel was one of those built to cater for them.
There was no lake to start with so they simply made a five-acre one by damming an ox-bow in the River Irfon. The lake and grounds are still used for adventure activities such as canoe-ing, kayaking, archery, climbing and abseiling. Not to mention the world’s only mountain bike chariot race.
Things are a little more conventional at nearby Coed Trallwm Mountain Bike Trails, although the swooping singletrack on the black trail is quite enough to be going on with. Just remem-ber to wipe the flies from your teeth after the schuss – and don’t forget to avoid the Giant Oak Tree.
The drovers’ walks that criss-cross the stunning scenery around Llanwrtyd Wells might be a safer bet. There’s a choice of 10, 15 or 25-mile waymarked routes all starting from the town square.
In the old days drovers would fit their black cattle with curved iron shoes to protect their feet on the long walk to market. Their pigs had little woollen boots with leather soles. And the ducks and geese had their feet dipped in tar and covered with sand. It’s OK, though, if you just want to wear walking boots.
You could always do a little driving of your own. Normally we’d prefer you to stick to more environmentally friendly modes of transport but we’ll let you into a little secret – the Aberg-wesyn Pass is one of the most scenic roads in Britain.
This old drover’s track stretches 20 miles from Abergwesyn to Tregaron. After a seemingly endless series of hairpin bends up a one-in-four-gradient (no wonder they call it the Devil’s Staircase), the road opens out into a spectacular moorland landscape of vast skies and empti-ness.
By the time you get back to Llanwrtyd you may have to peel your hands from the steering wheel. Fortunately you can settle your nerves in some of the best restaurants in Wales.
The Carlton Riverside Restaurant with Rooms, for example, is in Hardens Restaurant Guide, Time Out, the Guardian Best B&B Guide and the Good Hotel Guide. It’s been named one of the top 100 restaurants in the UK. And chef Mary Ann Gilchrist has been awarded a Michelin star.
Other stellar local chefs include Peter James at the Drover’s Rest and Roger Stevens, who wastop man in the kitchens of London’s Waldorf Hotel – until he decided to relocate to somewheremore eccentric.
The town is also home to Cambrian Woollen Mill. Not content with being one of only threeworking mills in the whole of Wales, it’s also a tea rooms, museum and heritage shop, giftshop, craft room and art gallery.
So you can’t just buy the 100% pure Welsh woollen tweeds – you can see how they’re made too. You’re taken through every stage from dyeing and blending to willeying, carding, spinning, warping and weaving. And this being Llanwrtyd Wells, it all starts with an animatronic shep-herd called Ieuan.