When Welsh people talk about the River Severn, their minds often turn to the place where its mouth meets the sea, 220 miles on from its source in the boggy peaks of Plynlimon. But look to an earlier stretch of the river’s journey, in its fourteen-mile stretch between Newtown and Welshpool, and you'll find fascinating moments of Welsh industrial history, radical cultural life, and flourishing nature reserves.
Explore Newtown, home of industrial history, culture, and big ideas
The Severn at Newtown is already wide and proud, weaving into town under the impressive, Victorian Long Bridge. But before you walk along it, head into town, where you'll Newtown's industrial history celebrated very proudly. Take in the grandeur of the Royal Welsh Warehouse: this is the first place in the world where mail order began, thanks to the entrepreneurial nous of the local, and rather canny, Pryce Pryce-Jones, who used the local railways to send catalogues and his woollen goods all over Europe. The Newtown Textile Museum nearby (open from May to September), also shows how weaving and looming boomed here, and runs workshops in felt-making and spinning to keep that legacy thriving. And don't miss the stunning and genuinely progressive Oriel Davies Gallery, which hosts ten exhibitions of contemporary art a year across its beautiful airy spaces. Its lovely shop and bright cafe also make it a great part of the community.
Radical politics thrived in Newtown too. Robert Owen was an early advocate of universal education, utopian socialism, and the Co-operative Movement, and the Robert Owen Museum hosts of Wales' most fascinating small exhibitions. His plans for education for all and model communities take you into the mind of an extraordinary man, another Aneurin Bevan many years before his time. Also look out for the town's WH Smith, the only one in Britain to be decorated as it was when it first opened in 1927. The Newtown shop was chosen especially by the business itself, and the oak shelving and period lighting are particularly beautiful. A small museum upstairs also charts the history of the company we know so well.
Explore a nature-lovers' paradise as you head north
The Severn Way walk curls up into the hills north of Newtown, away from the river, giving great views of the Valley. On the waterside itself, though, you'll find some stunning nature reserves. In Pwll Penarth three miles out of town, you can spot kingfishers, little grebes and reed warblers. Further along, you'll find even rarer treasures. Llanmerewig Glebe is home to a huge, managed crop of gorgeous, highly poisonous Autumn crocuses, while Dolforwyn Woods hosts rare woodland herbs and birds like pied flycatchers near the ruins of Dolforwyn Castle. Near Fron is the swampy Red House, teeming with uncommon wetland plants like Sweet Flag, while nearer Welshpool, Llyn Coed Y Dinas swarms with butterflies and houses a resident bittern. Severn Farm Pond also provides an accessible spot full of boardwalks, frogs and newts.
Eat and rest up between Newtown and Berriew
If you're enjoying going back to nature, stay at the dog-friendly Porthouse Wood Cabins in Llanllwchaiarn – cook your food in your own kitchen, and if the weather's being kind, take it outside to entertain you by the river. If you'd rather hang up your tea towel, the Severn Way is packed with lovely pubs, and in many, you rest your head afterwards. The Abermule, recently beautifully restored, has a popular summer beer festival, sells locally reared wagyu beef, and has an adjoining camping and a caravan site. At Garthmyl, the Nags Head is the AA's Welsh Pub of the Year, a Grade II-listed coaching inn with five lovely bedrooms, and the Western branch of the Montgomery Canal (part of the Severn Way) sitting peacefully outside.
Have your mind blown at Berriew with some dazzling art
The Welsh borders have always been inspiring places for art, and the fabulous work of Andrew Logan – all bright colours and dazzling glass – has its HQ in Logan's adopted village of Berriew (he's lived here since the 1980s). A huge British countercultural figure who influenced the work of Vivienne Westwood and Derek Jarman, his Andrew Logan Museum of Sculpture is full of stunning, inventive mosaics, huge eggs and moving models, right by the river. His mirrored portraits and designs also decorate the vivid blue walls of the Lion Hotel and Restaurant opposite, where locally-made drinks and Welsh lamb are never off the menu. Berriew's riverside location also hosts two important chapels: one of only two surviving Wesleyan Methodist chapels in Wales, Pentre Llifior, and St Beuno's, on a medieval site, with beautiful white marble Jacobean effigies.
Then weave onto Welshpool
As the Severn heads north it runs through Glansevern Hall's gorgeous 25 acres of gardens, before reaching Welshpool, Here, the town's handsome Georgian buildings tell their own stories of the riverside journeys of stone. The Severn loops away into England at this point, before slowly widening its way south, but it's already shown us how much this river helped to shape Wales. All you have to do is look where you least expect it, and you'll find so much more than you thought by the water.
Discover Newtown and Welshpool for yourself
Before you head off walking, Adventure Smart UK has plenty of advice on how to ‘make a good day better’, and we recommend you read it before planning your days out. Find out about appropriate clothing and footwear as well as more info on protecting and enjoying the countryside in the Countryside Code. If you enjoy walking, the Newtown Walks website has several downloadable routes you can follow to explore the area.
You can do the walk either way, using a train or bus to get you back to your starting point. Traveline Cymru has a useful journey planner.