Home is where the Heart (of Wales Brewery) is
My wife and I moved to Llanwrtyd Wells in 2001, after years living and working on the Welsh borders. We were looking to buy a pub – we'd never done it before – but when we walked into the Neuadd Arms, this place had a feeling about it. You just know when something feels right.
It’s a hotel and a pub in two parts: one from the 18th century, which used to be called Llanwrtyd House. We found that out peeling off the render refurbishing. The other is from 1869, just after the spring water was found just outside town, when a huge influx of people came here from all over Wales and England.
There was also a derelict stables behind with a corrugated iron roof, home to a colony of feral cats that a dear old lady used to feed. That became the Heart of Wales Brewery! Over a year, we make 14 or 15 beers, including one to support the Air Ambulance, and one we promote under the local Cambrian Mountains Initiative, which promotes local food. We send some beer to Prince Charles every year, and in 2009, he even came here and pulled a pint. Even Camilla tried some. She said it was lovely!
Skipping stones and racing chariots around Abernant Lake
I’m also the chair of a local organisation, Green Events – we run events all year in Llanwrtyd.
The Bog Snorkelling Championships are the best-known, bringing in competitors from all over the world; others include the Real Ale Ramble, the Real Ale Wobble and the Whole Earth Man vs Horse race. The Welsh Open Stone Skimming Championships is one of them that anyone can join in with – young or old – and we do this on Abernant Lake, just outside town.
The old Abernant Lake Hotel on the site is now the Abernant Lake Activity Centre for schools, with climbing walls and zip wires, and they help us run lots of our events. Everyone in the village is always helping each other. They help run our Mountain Bike Chariot Racing Championship in January, for instance, where we celebrate the winter festival of Saturnalia by, well, racing Roman chariots. The course is only a third of a mile, but we get two cyclists on mountain bikes connected to each chariot by a system of bars and joints, which they then pull along. They all move independently though, so it’s harder than it sounds!
Drovers' roads - and the Drover's Rest
There are a lot of drovers' roads criss-crossing the land just outside town, and there's even a Roman road through the Irfon Forest. They’re used for our runs and our rambles, but they’re also lovely to walk on when it’s quieter here. Go 200 yards from anywhere in Llanwrtyd, and you're in the middle of beautiful Cambrian Mountains countryside.
The Drover's Rest in town is always busy when there are events. Peter James runs it, a great cook who's lived here since childhood, and even been Mayor several times! There are other drovers' inns around, but most are closed, although we're planning to 'open' one for an event soon, by setting up a refreshment station outside it.
Well up at the Dolycoed Spring
The spring that made Llanwrtyd Wells famous has been opened up in the last few years. Dolycoed Spring is a sulphur spring, and still running – you can smell it before you see it! There’s even a gazebo over it if we get some Welsh rain, which we do. There are some lovely spa buildings in the park too, which are now private cottages, an old boating house and a pump room.
Soak up Welsh culture
The new Llanwrtyd and District Arts and Heritage Centre is a great thing for the town, in one of our old chapels. Older people who've lived here for seventy or eighty years and schoolchildren have been involved in it, and it's lovely to see the community coming together this way, to celebrate its heritage. This is a very welcoming community anyway, for people who have been here all their lives, as well as incomers. The pace of life is calmer and easier here, especially when I make time to go for a walk, and remember!