Henry Widdicombe’s Guide to Machynlleth
Henry Widdicombe by Edward MooreHenry Widdicombe is co-founder and co-director of Machynlleth Comedy Festival. Now in its 9th year the festival has grown from the best secret in comedy to widely being regarded as the best alternative comedy festival in the UK. With an emphasis on providing acts a platform to try new ideas and experiment, it has set itself apart from other UK comedy festivals. An expected 7,000 people will attend the event in 2018, with around half coming from outside of Wales.
“However you get to Machynlleth there’s no getting away from the natural splendour of the place. Nestled at the head of the Dyfi Estuary and surrounded by mountains the first thing I would recommend is to climb a hill, or walk along the banks of the river. Climbing Pen’rallt, the small hill to the north of the town, or the Roman Steps at the rear of Y Plas, will give you fantastic views over Machynlleth and the estuary.
The next thing I would do would be to jump on the train to Dyfi Junction. One stop out of Machynlleth sits what has to be one of the best railway stations in the UK. Sat among the marshes of the estuary and seemingly in the middle of nowhere it’s like alighting into a scene from the film Spirited Away. Take a bite to eat and a book and enjoy the quiet while you wait the 40 minutes for the train to return from Aberystwyth to take you back to town. If I had my way this would be a compulsory pilgrimage for all visitors to Machynlleth, but then I guess it wouldn’t be so quiet. Just up the road from Dyfi Junction is RSPB Ynys-hir, which is also well worth your time. They’ve done a wonderful job of creating a nature reserve that balances conservation with accessibility.
Back in town be sure to check out the huge array of independent shops. Machynlleth has done an incredible job of staying independent over the years, and this gives the place an energy and vibrancy lost in so many small towns. You’ll notice an abundance of antique and junk shops that are always packed with curios. There are also some wonderful bookshops, Penrallt Books being a personal favourite, and just about everything else you could imagine, from Wheeler’s Fabrics, to high-end home décor in Bedwen, the sister shop of Deco which resides in the original Laura Ashley shop, to local cooperative Dyfi Wholefoods. If you can, it’s well worth being in town on a Wednesday when the local market takes place, and the town has a special buzz about it. The charter for the market was granted by Edward I in 1291, who gave the right to hold "a market at Machynlleth every Wednesday for ever and two fairs every year.”
By now you’re probably getting hungry. The good news is you’re spoilt for choice with a range of great pubs and independent cafes. The Wynnstay and White Lion are two of my favourite pubs, and both have inviting beer gardens. And there’s cafés of every variety in Machynlleth. The Deli in Royal House is perfect for tea and cake, as is Café Alys housed in the Owain Glyndwr Centre. Being a vegetarian there’s a special place in my heart for the Quarry Café. This local cooperative serves vegetarian and vegan food that is straight from my childhood. And lastly, no visit to Machynlleth is complete without visiting Top Shop Chip Shop, the town’s very own award-winning chippie.
Owain Glyndwr Centre, Machynlleth, Mid Wales by Phoenixlili, FlickrYou should definitely wander around the Owain Glyndwr Centre and Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) Machynlleth, which happen to also be two of our festival venues. The Owain Glyndwr Centre is one of the oldest buildings in the town and be sure to take the time to read the interpretation boards in The Old Parliament Building about Owain Glyndwr, the last true Prince of Wales. But I like to just have a sit in the courtyard and take in the surroundings. Look out for my favourite gargoyle on the stairs, that guy’s like an old friend to me.
Small, interesting businesses are also springing up within the Owain Glyndwr Centre complex and are well worth a look. Housed within the Tabernacle is the wonderful MOMA Machynlleth. The gallery shows Modern Welsh art and has an extensive collection of works by artists from 1900 onwards, majoring on artists living and working in the country.
There’s so much more going on in and around the small town at all times of the year, and I’d encourage you to look at the notice boards and do your own digging. For instance, you’ve got Edible Machynlleth growing plants for picking and eating throughout the year in public spaces, as well as the community gardens just past Y Plas. The award winning Dyfi Distillery is just out of town and offer tours, and while you’re there King Arthur’s Labyrinth will take you deep into an old network of mines.
King Arthur's Labyrinth, Corris, Mid WalesAlso on the road north to Corris, you’ll find the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), complete with funicular railway to gain entry. CAT has been leading the way in sustainable living since the 70s and I would say is unmissable if you’ve never been.
The full line-up for the Machynlleth Comedy Festival can be found on the festival website www.machcomedyfest.co.uk. The best way to hear about all the latest announcements is through their Twitter @machcomedyfest, Facebook and Instagram @machcomedyfest. For information straight to your inbox sign up to their newsletter via the website.