Rhayader lies in the very heart of Wales, situated some 700ft above sea level in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley, it is sheltered by the Cambrian Mountains and cupped by hills rising to over 1500 feet. Rhayader is the first town on the River Wye, lying just 20 miles from its source on the Plynlimon range to the north (Welsh spelling - Pumlumon). The town’s Welsh name - Rhaeadr Gwy - means the “Cataract on the Wye”. Until its destruction, during the building of the first stone bridge over the River Wye in 1780, there was a magnificent waterfall whose roar could be heard all over Rhayader, and which was described by one traveller as “a miniature Niagara Falls”.
Water has always played an important role in the town and today it is known for the spectacular beauty of the flooded Elan Valley where Victorian engineers created a series of magnificent dams and reservoirs as a water supply for the City of Birmingham some 70 miles away.
Today the population of the local villages and countryside surrounding Rhayader is only a fraction of what it used to be a couple of hundred years ago, although friendly co-operation between neighbours is still an important characteristic and the village communities are still very strong with a variety of village hall and village show committees, social clubs and WIs. Of all the villages only Nantmel still retains its own school and while most have also lost their shops they have mostly retained their pubs! Common to all is a strong reliance on agriculture with the pattern of life revolving around events in the farming calendar such as lambing, shearing and hay making. Throughout the surrounding area you will frequently notice the names of Hafod and Hendre. Their meaning was once commonplace as during the bitter winters in the uplands, shepherds and their flocks would move to lower sheltered pastures and dwellings named the Hendre. As summer approached they would return to the upland pastures and shelters called a Hafod.
Today history merges with the present. While agriculture remains a very important element of life here, vividly portrayed in the weekly Livestock Markets, the ancient and stunning landscape, rich in rare and beautiful wildlife, provides a wealth of opportunities for the modern activities of birdwatching, walking and mountain biking.
Gwestedyn is the hill rising to the south east of the town and identified by a cairn on its highest point. Known as a local vantage point it is well worth the walk to gain excellent views over the town and surrounding countryside. It is also famed for the annual hill race which takes place during Carnival Week in July – from the town clock to the top of Gwestedyn and back!
The River Wye
The River Wye, or Afon Gwy, is one of the cleanest rivers in Britain and is great for wildlife. Its whole length and many of its tributaries are designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and among the wildlife that inhabit the river are salmon, grayling, trout and lampreys, otters and water voles, dippers, kingfishers, grey wagtails, goosanders and common sandpipers, damselflies and dragonflies.
The town’s Riverside Walk is a good place to look for wildlife and follows an interesting and attractive path which takes in both the parks - Waun Capel Park below St Clements Church and The Gro Park over the bridge in Cwmdeuddwr. There are excellent picnic spots and benches with views of Gwastedyn Hill and the waterfalls that gave Rhayader its name.
According to legend the Rivers Wye, Severn and Ystwyth, which all arise on Plynlimon, once discussed the best route to the sea, and the Wye chose the prettiest route. The Wye Valley Walk, which follows the river for 136 miles from its source to its mouth near Chepstow, passes through Rhayader on its way.
Learn more about Rhayader's history here.
Wheelbarrow Race Rhayader Carnival 1984: Credit to Rhayader Musuem & Gallery