Fascinating history? Check. Montgomery is the oldest borough in Wales with a charter granted in 1227. It was originally a walled town with four gates – and they all had names: Arthur, Ceri, Cedewain and Chirbury.
Today’s streets still follow the original medieval pattern although only scattered bits of the gates remain.
Many of the town’s handsome buildings reflect its years of prosperity in the Georgian and Victorian era as a thriving market hub and the county town of Montgomery- shire.
But some are much older. The ruins of the 13th century Norman castle, now in the care of Cadw, still stand sentinel on a rocky crag overlooking the town and a once vital ford on the River Severn.
And St Nicholas Parish Church, also built in the 13th century but altered several times over the centuries, has a magnificent interior which includes the elaborate canopied tomb of Sir Richard Herbert (father of the religious poet George Herbert).
Outside is the “Robber’s Grave” of highwayman John Davies. He went to the gallows in 1821 praying that God would not let grass grow on his grave for 100 years to show his innocence. Sure enough it lay bare for a century.
You can find out more at the Old Bell Museum run by Montgomery Civic Society – who also install plaques on the town’s notable buildings. They must be very busy people.
The history of the Old Bell is a tale in itself. Once a 16th century inn, then a temperance house and a butcher’s shop, it now houses a quirky and eclectic collection of objects covering all aspects of life in the parish over the last 1,000 years.
Best of all this Prince of Wales Award-winner, open from April to September, costs just £1 to get into – or 50p for kids.
What more, even in a fantasy world, could you possibly want from a market town? Well, a market, obviously. Montgomery holds one every Thursday in the Town Hall. And since it’s surrounded by some of the finest growers, bakers and brewers in the whole of Wales, the produce is always fresh, local – and very, very tasty.
Especially now the local community has got together under the “Taste Montgomery” banner to talk about their food and drink and generally promote its scrumptiousness. Some beautiful friendships have been forged.
So at the Dragon Hotel, they source their fresh fruit and veg from Dave Jones at Offa Farm just up the road. You can buy local beer from Monty’s Brewery and bottles of Old Monty Cider(no relation) at Castle Kitchen deli on the square. The organic flour from Bacheldre Mill is perfect for the artisan loaves of Montgomery Real Bread.
And over at The Checkers restaurant, only the fourth in Wales to win a Michelin star, head chef Stéphane Borie looks no farther than Morwens Montgomery Meats for his beef and lamb.
For the final ingredient in your perfect market town, how about the sort of shop that you simply don’t find anywhere else anymore? Step forward Bunners, a Montgomery institution since the day it opened in 1892.
This traditional ironmongers is an Aladdin’s cave of garden machinery, kitchen supplies, lightbulbs, tools and toys. They’ve even branched out into woodburning stoves and quad bikes.
As far as we know they don’t sell canoes but if you fancy a paddle you can always borrow one from the Friends of the Montgomery Canal for a donation. They don’t do bikes either but you can hire them in the town to tackle one of five family-friendly cycle rides starting in Montgomery.
All you need for Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail is a pair of walking boots and lots of stamina. It skirts the town on its epic journey from one end of Wales to the other.
So, just in case you thought it didn’t have enough going for it, Montgomery is the perfect base for a walking holiday as well.