Machynlleth in the Dyfi Valley, makes claim to be the ‘ancient capital of Wales’, having been the seat of Owain Glyndŵr’s Welsh Parliament in 1404. But while the town can no longer boast to be a centre of power, it makes an excellent base for exploring the best that mid Wales has to offer…
Located in the Dyfi Valley, where the Welsh language is still spoken by over half the population, you will find Machynlleth welcoming and cultured despite it’s unassuming appearance, with an annual comedy festival and access to world class contemporary art at MOMA Wales.
The town offers all the amenities you need for a self catering holiday, including pubs and take away restaurants, a good range of shops, a petrol station, post office and excellent weekly market.
The surrounding area features a diversity of accommodation for most budgets, but it would be a shame not to make the most of the dramatic scenery by getting close to nature and staying in the nearby Welsh mountains.
I stayed at EcoRetreats, which offers a great balance of wilderness and adventure with comfortable luxury camping in a choice of yurts and tipis, set in 50 acres of forest and pasture.
Top on my list to visit was the Centre for Alternative Technology, just north of Machynlleth, which has surely become a place of pilgrimage for anyone interested in sustainable living.
If you don’t mind braving the steep climb by water-balanced cliff railway, you will be rewarded with seven acres of green heaven.
With displays and installations on subjects as broad as sustainable building, organic gardening, renewable energy, woodland skills and waste recycling, as well as a Zero Carbon Britain Trail and the underground world of Mole Hole, there is something for everyone.
More than just a tourist attraction, the Centre is a ‘living laboratory’ where researchers are investigating ways to reverse the damaging effects of climate change, as well as offering short courses and free school holiday activities for children.
There is also an excellent wholefood vegetarian cafe on site, with plenty of options for vegan visitors (including a truly delicious vegan chocolate cake), and a truly inspiring shop stuffed full of books, resources and ethical products to help you live a greener life.
A short drive from Machynlleth, you will find Furnace Mill (Dyfi Furnace), a restored mid 18th century charcoal-fired blast furnace once used for smelting iron ore. Complete with water wheel and falls, the mill is set on the edge of a small patch of beautiful deciduous woodland carpeted with thick springy moss.
For birders and naturalists, this area boasts a number of excellent reserves, including Ynyslas Dunes National Nature Reserve, a haven for rare plants and insects, and the Dyfi Opsrey Project where you can see the UK’s rarest and perhaps most majestic raptor nesting.
The nearby Ynys-hir RSPB Bird Reserve combines Welsh oak woodland, grass wetlands and salt marshes to provide a unique refuge for a wide range of species.
From one of seven hides you could spot wading birds like Lapwing and Redshank, birds of prey like Peregrine and Red Kite, and the less well known Bean Goose, Avocet, Montagu’s Harrier and Garganey.
About half an hour to the south east of Machynlleth is the nationally important Glaslyn reserve where the largest habitat is heather moorland, with boggy areas, a low nutrient lake, and an inaccessible ravine of exposed rock and unstable scree.
A walk around the lake and up to the nearby view point offers fantastic views of the uplands, which the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust is gradually restoring and expanding after years of former grazing. Here you might spot red grouse, merlin or peregrine falcon.
If you’re feeling energetic this part of Wales offers excellent opportunities for walking, mountain biking, horse riding, surfing, sailing, canoeing and wild swimming, among other activities.
For the committed hiker, the Dyfi Valley sits in the shadows of the mighty Cadair Idris (or giants chair) at the southern-most tip of Snowdonia National Park. With four main trails the steep ascent can take between 5-6 hours and requires a decent level of fitness.
For the slightly less committed walker, nearby Dolgoch Falls offers a gentle river-side walk in stunning woodland with beautiful cascades and two dramatic waterfalls, as well as a series of old mining tunnels (among other surprises). In Spring, the forest floor comes alive with a mass of bluebells and wild garlic.
You can’t help wondering how many people get to the first waterfall and then turn back, thinking that’s it. Keep going, it really is worth it!
No visit to mid Wales is complete without a day at the seaside, and the striking beauty of the vast Aberdyfi Beach will not disappoint. It is here that the mountains meet the sea in dramatic style, with a beautiful river estuary and miles of unspoiled white sand and rolling dunes.
Swimmers should take care though, as savage currents make swimming near the estuary mouth inadvisable for all but the strongest swimmer.
If time permits, the area also features three steam railways, some impressive underground caverns and dozens of visitor attractions, including the charming Magic Lantern cinema at Tywyn.
For more information and help planning your trip go to the Visit Mid Wales website.