The beautiful Welsh Marches encompass a wide range of landscapes. Amazing river valleys, rugged but mineral-rich hills and ridges and flat fertile plains. This diversity, and the relatively unspoilt nature of the countryside, have made long made it popular with walkers, cyclists and horse riders. It has also attracted artists and writers drawn by the rich history and enchanting scenery.
The term ‘Marches’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘mearc’, which means boundary, and although not officially defined, the Marches region encompasses corners of Shropshire, Herefordshire, Powys, Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire. You will also hear various other terms used to describe the areas around Old Radnor. The Borders (as in border of England and Wales), the Wye Valley or the Radnor Valley.
Local Towns and Villages
New Radnor (3 miles): At one time the county town of Radnorshire. Now not quite as grand but remnants of the old glory remain. As well as Esco (see above), other facilities in the village include a tennis court, basketball court and playground and The Hub, a space for events such as supper clubs and music nights (N.B. This has been closed during the Covid-19 pandemic and has an uncertain future). Also worth checking out is Radnorshire Ales, a New Radnor micro brewery that also has a sporadic programme of events (although, again, this has been closed during the Covid-19 pandemic and has an uncertain future).
Kington (4 miles): A great small town that combines the poetic and prosaic. Some great shops, fantastic walks and real rural character. The closest place for good coffee (La Gala is your best bet).
Presteigne (6 miles): A small but well-loved town with a reputation as the area’s cultural centre. It hosts a number of festivals, hence it’s nickname as the ‘Town of Festivals’ (see Local Events section), has a community cinema (Presteigne Screen) an award-winning museum (the Judge’s Lodging). An interesting small café, shop (and carpet design studio!) that’s worth seeking out on an industrial estate on the edge of the town is The Workhouse. The drive from Presteigne to the coast at Aberystwyth has been voted one of the ten most beautiful drives in the world by the AA, so if you fancy a great 90 minutes or so behind the wheel and some time beside the seaside this could be a worthwhile day out.
Hay-on-Wye (15 miles): World-renowned as the ‘town of books’ and home to the Hay Festival, this attractive town on the River Wye is well worth a visit not only for the bookshops but for its range of other independent shops too.
Leominster (18 miles): A large market town, notable for its ‘black and white’ buildings and antiques shops.
Hereford (25 miles): This cathedral city has most of the services you would expect from a city including a mainline train station, extensive shopping area, cinema and more. Hereford Cathedral is home to the Mappa Mundi a medieval map of the known world that is the largest medieval map still known to exist.
Ludlow (25 miles): This popular and historic town is rightfully celebrated thanks to its old walled town, its impressive castle, amazing mediaeval buildings (look out the incredible Feathers Hotel) and spectacular position on the confluence of two rivers. It has also long been renowned as a great place to eat out with a history of outstanding eateries.
The Radnor Valley, also referred to as the Walton Basin, is one of Britain’s most important areas in terms of prehistoric heritage. Findings in the area suggest that it was once a major Neolithic tribal gathering cent, that some think could even have eclipsed Stonehenge in importance and size. Evidence of a number of vast monuments have been found in the area, most notably the Hindwell Enclosure a palisaded ceremonial enclosure that would have been approximately five times the size of London’s Olympic Stadium.
Also notable are the Four Stones (which, as the name suggests, are four purposefully-placed standing stones around 6 feet in height) which still stand today and around which many myths have formed. They are four petrified local chiefs, or mark for the graves of four great kings who died in battle. Another myth insists that after dark, when the bells of St Stephen’s Church in Old Radnor ring, the stones go to the nearby Hindwell Pool to take a drink.
If you are interested in the area’s prehistoric heritage it is worth having a look at the book ‘The Walton Basin Project’ which can be found on the shelves in the house.
Also worth noting is the nearby Arthur’s Stone, a Neolithic chambered tomb, or Dolmen, dating from 3,700 BC – 2,700 BC which is easily accessible to the public.
Quarrying has taken place in the Old Radnor area since the 19th century due to the particularly high mineral quality of the stone in the area. The three quarries – Gore, Strinds and Dolyhir – are worth driving past or getting a good distant view of (you get a particularly good view from the top of the hill behind the cottage which is accessed via a footpath further down the village road) for the impressiveness of their industrial structures and the slightly surreal patches of lunar-like landscapes that they create amidst the bucolic hills and valleys of the area.
The quarries are closed at weekends and in the evening but you may well hear them in the distance during the week (although this depends on various things such as the quarrying schedule, the wind direction etc). You may even hear (and possibly even feel) a faint blast on occasion, which will always be at around 1pm and proceeded by a siren which you may also faintly hear.
You may come across a wonderful little corrugated iron building (now sadly fallen into disuse and disrepair) that many people assume to be a ‘tin tabernacle’ but was in fact constructed in the 19th century as a reading room for quarry workers. It is known to have arrived prefabricated by train. It later become a games room for quarry workers (darts, quoits and billiards) and changing room for the quarry football team.
• Borderlines Film Festival (annual film festival held in multiple locations around the Herefordshire, Shropshire and Powys borders).
• Presteigne Food and Flower Festival
• Sheep Music (well-loved music and arts festival in Presteigne that has been running for over twenty five years)
• Beer on the Wye (beer festival in Hereford)
• Royal Welsh Show (celebrated agricultural event in Builth Wells)
• Presteigne Festival (long-established and prestigious festival focused on innovative and traditional approaches to classical music).
• Magnalonga (7 mile countryside walk around Ludlow taking in a four course meal en route. Booking essential)
•Hay Festival of Literature & Arts (the “Woodstock of the mind” according to Bill Clinton)
• HowTheLightGetsIn (the world’s largest philosophy and music festival)
• Ludlow Food Festival
• Kington Walking Festival
• Leominster Food Fayre
• Kington Show (one of the largest one-day agricultural shows in the country)
• Vintage Sports Car Club’s Welsh Rally
• Autumn Epic (100 mile cycle ride)
• Hergest Croft Gardens Plant Fair
• Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre
• Kington Food Festival