Quirky, beautiful and eco-friendly, the rural market town of Machynlleth comes alive with laughs, literature and life in the wild each spring
Nestled within the UNESCO Dyfi Biosphere Reserve, Machynlleth - Mach to its friends - abounds with culture, nature and nurture. Just wandering around you’ll come across antique stores, alternative lifestyle shops and galleries featuring local artists and craftspeople, all in the shadow of the town’s iconic Victorian clock tower.
And then there’s the history. Wednesdays echo to the sounds of a bustling market, a tradition launched by royal charter that pre-dates by over a century even Owain Glyndŵr’s Welsh parliament, set up here in 1404 on the site of where Glyndŵr was crowned Prince of Wales. The site is now home to Parliament House and The Owain Glyndŵr Centre, a local history museum that tells the story of the Welsh national hero.
Reflecting more recent history, MOMA Machynlleth is an intimate museum of modern art in a Victorian townhouse and a former Wesleyan chapel that hosts a hefty collection of local treasures. Its white-walled exhibition spaces show contemporary Welsh paintings, prints, sculpture and photography. And arty types can refuel over coffee and cake at Y Tabernacl Coffee Shop.
Bringing things right up to date is CAT, the Centre for Alternative Technology set up long before green principles became mainstream. It was the mid-Seventies when a small group of eco-enthusiasts established the centre in an old slate quarry, three miles north of Machynlleth. CAT was unique and inspired a generation. And today the centre’s School of the Environment runs day courses, postgraduate courses and distance learning on practical topics such as earth ovens, composting toilets, raw food, upcycling, traditional crafts and the harnessing of renewable energy.
It’s somewhat apt, then, that two years after CAT was founded, UNESCO designated the area in and around the Dyfi estuary as an internationally recognised Biosphere Reserve - one of only six such reserves in the UK which demonstrate how the relationship between man and nature can be improved.
The Dyfi Biosphere includes several important nature reserves, lowland wet grassland and salt marshes, ancient woodlands, lakes, national trails, coastal paths and mountains - amounting to some of the finest examples of special landscapes and wildlife areas in Europe.
Not surprisingly, the area is also home to an RSPB reserve, at Ynys-hir just a 10-minute drive from town. Home to a Welsh woodland and wetland reserve it offers carpets of bluebells and trilling wood warblers come spring, not to mention a host of other water birds that can be spied from the hides all year round. Just follow the trails to explore the lowland wet grasslands, reedbed and saltmarsh habitats.
Even closer to town you’ll discover a love-nest for ospreys at the Dyfi Osprey Project just five minutes away. The work of dedicated conservationists, whose first big success - three healthy chicks - featured on BBC Springwatch, the project plays host to these spectacular fish-eating birds of prey from April to September. You can view the famous residents through scopes, binoculars or live on screen, while a two-storey observatory offers visitors lofty views over bird, mammal and insect habitats.
Back in town, festival fever now strikes as early as March, in the shape of Amdani, Fachynlleth!, Machynlleth’s literary festival. Translated as Let’s Go, Machynlleth!, the bilingual festival began in 2020, inspired by the life of Wales’ most celebrated travel writer, Jan Morris. Jan’s description of Machynlleth as “the place where journeys meet” is something festival organisers aim to evoke as they bring together readers and writers, poets and artists from across Wales and the border.
Opening the festival this year, on Friday 31st March, will be art historian Peter Lord and historian of music Rhian Davies who present The Art of Music: Branding the Welsh Nation, with a lavishly illustrated talk in the company of the book’s designer Isobel Gillan and harpist Rhian Bebb.
The following day begins with a Writer’s Breakfast Buffet Flash Fiction Workshop and ends with Mike Parker’s Quiz Night and Penderyn Whisky Tasting at The Wynnstay Hotel, while on 2nd April, roaming across Wales, Scotland and California in Birdsplaining, Jasmine Donahaye discusses the uniqueness of women’s experiences of nature with Charmian Savill.
Elsewhere Mike Parker, author of On the Red Hill, will be in conversation with Ffion Dafis, to launch his new book, All The Wide Border: Wales, England and the Places Between. And the weekend draws to a close with Barbara’s Border Crossings, hosted by ‘Mrs Barbara Nice’, aka Janice Connolly, providing a fun finale.
And talking of fun, there’s not long to wait after the literary festival closes before the comedy takes over. The annual Machynlleth Comedy Festival is now world famous and features the cream of comedy talent - rising and established - as they descend on Mid Wales to try out new material, experiment with new formats and generally have a fine old time.
Although the likes of Nish Kumar and Mike Wozniak from the USA are already sold out, there are some 189 shows being staged in total, so there’s bound to be something that takes your fancy.
The laughs begin on Friday 28th April when, among others, Phil Wang takes to the stage. Hot off the heels of his critically acclaimed Netflix special and David Letterman appearance, Phil brings a brand new stand-up show to the BBC Radio Wales Mach Arena, where he’ll be followed by a Friday Night Showcase later that evening.
The festival wraps up two days later, with a number of Sunday-night shows, not least Rob Deering’s Beat This, a live music-based comedy pop quiz, featuring four top stand-ups and host Rob Deering, famed for his “highly impressive one-man soundscape powered mainly by energy and excellent guitar skills” (The Scotsman).
A Machfest favourite, Beat This is never the same twice, offering an alchemical mix of Rob, the audience and an impressive roster of fabulous contestants, making for a wonderful musical end to your Machynlleth weekend.
For more information about all of the attractions and events above, visit:
UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Dyfi: www.dyfibiosphere.wales
The Owain Glyndŵr Centre and Parliament House: www.canolfanowainglyndwr.org
MOMA Machynlleth: moma.cymru/en
The Centre for Alternative Technology: cat.org.uk
RSPB Ynys-hir: www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events
The Dyfi Osprey Project: www.dyfiospreyproject.com
Amdani, Fachynlleth! - 31st March - 2nd April 2023
Machynlleth Comedy Festival - 28th-30th April 2023