No matter how far you’ve come, Powis Castle alone will repay the journey. It certainly had quite an effect on architecture expert Simon Jenkins.
“Powis is a pocket battleship among great houses,” he writes. “Its rose-red walls, half as old as Wales, rise in shimmering medieval apparition over the fertile slopes of the Severn above Welshpool.”
Once a stark fortress it now reflects the changing fortunes of the Herbert family over fourcenturies – each generation adding to the sumptuous collection of paintings, sculpture, furni- ture and tapestries.
Its rare Baroque gardens – with their Italianate terraces blasted from solid rock, spectacular 30-feet high yew hedge and lavish herbaceous borders – are famous the world over.
In 1263, not long after Powis was built, Welshpool was granted its charter as a market town. It’s still the bustling hub of the rural community. In fact every Monday it hosts the biggest one- day sheep market in the whole of Europe.
Which is fine if you’re after a sheep. Otherwise the Old Station might be more your line. ThisGrade II listed former railway station turned shopping destination was built in 1860 to resem- ble a French chateau.
Clearly Victorian Welshpool had a bit of a thing for Gallic flair. Just 13 years later they built a magnificent Town Hall and clock tower in the French Renaissance style.
A town trail links these and many other remarkable buildings – or at least the ones left stand- ing after Owain Glyndwr rampaged through in 1400. Some of them, as you may well notice, have found a surprising new lease of life in the 21st century.
Happily the Royal Oak Hotel is still welcoming travellers with four real ales and a real fire togo with them.
But the 13th century motte and bailey castle is now a bowling green. The six-sided 18th cen- tury cockpit, the only one in Wales still in its original place, now has a less bloodthirsty pur- pose as the headquarters of the local WI. And a canalside warehouse from the mid-1800s is now the award-winning Powysland Museum.
It takes you through every stage of Welshpool’s history from the Stone Age to the present day – including the time when it was merely one of 30 warehouses lining this stretch of the Mont- gomery Canal.
Things are rather quieter now. But gradual restoration has opened up the waterway to boats again and made it the perfect place for a stroll or a picnic. Try not to rustle that bag of crisps. You might just spot the vivid blue flash of a kingfisher or hear the splash of a water vole.
Welshpool teems with wildlife if you know where to look. In fact it has two nature reserves hidden away in the outskirts of the town. At Severn Farm Pond you follow meandering board-walks suspended above pools packed with damselflies, dragonflies, frogs, toads and newts.
And at Llyn Coed y Dinas you walk around a spectacular lake full of waterfowl attracted bythe “ready meals” of fish and insects pouring in from the River Severn. It feels like you’re in awilderness.
But actually the Earl of Powis’s Model Farm is right next door. A £6 million development has turned it into a Charlies store selling everything from agricultural feeds and ride-on tractorsto equestrian, shooting and fishing gear.
All of which might inspire you to get a little further into the great outdoors. Take your pick of long-distance walks. The Severn Way tracing the course of Britain’s longest river from source to sea, 135-mile Glyndwr’s Way and 177-mile Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail all pass tempting-ly through Welshpool. The only limit is your stamina.
Steam power might be a little easier. The open-balconied coaches of the Welshpool and Llanfair Light railway provide quite a view as “The Earl” and “The Countess” huff and puff their way toLlanfair Caereinion.
It’s not quite as sleepy as it sounds. Before the train winds through the lovely Banwy valley it has to battle up the notoriously steep Golfa Bank – with the sound of the locomotive echoing dramatically off the hills.
For an even bigger jolt of adrenalin, join the 8,000 people who flock to the Welshpool Air Show every June. Just remember to stick your fingers in your ears before the Typhoon or the Vul- can sweeps past.
It’s billed as “probably the best little air display in the country”. And if it really sparks yourimagination you can always pop back to Welshpool airport and learn to fly your own Cessna,helicopter or microlight.
It’s the only way to travel. Apart from road, rail, canal and long-distance path, obviously.