Just bananas about the happiest place in Britain

Powys tops the happiness league, said researchers last week. Is it the beetroot cake, the tropical fruit or simply the brawny men?
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The Independent Online

The county of Powys lived up to its name Paradwys Cymru last week. "The paradise of Wales", as it is known, has been found to be the happiest place in Britain to live. It beat Manchester, West Lothian, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, and Macclesfield to the top spot, giving Powys citizens reason to be cheerful this weekend.

It was gloomy news for the people of Edinburgh, however. The city, already spending the weekend washing up after its month-long festival, was judged the most miserable place in Britain. Perhaps even more depressingly, Powys's neighbouring Cynon Valley and Rhondda was found to be the second saddest. Aww.

In the report, by a team of researchers from the universities of Sheffield and Manchester, much was made of the rolling hills and community cohesion that can be found in the glorious county of Powys. But can it be only this? The rolling hills roll into Rhondda, too. Communities cohere in Edinburgh and Cynon Valley. So what's so great about Powys?

Sian Lloyd, the Welsh siren and TV weather girl who is currently converting a cottage in Powys, is one resident who is thrilled to bits by the news. Not just that, but "overjoyed and ecstatic", she reports. The happiness in Powys is based on three things, she claims: people, place and pride. That, and the fact that it's the best place on earth to find charity shop bargains. "I went to the Welsh Baftas in an evening gown that I bought in a charity shop in Newtown," she gushed. That, and the beetroot and hazelnut cake at the Lavinia Vaughan's Feast of Food delicatessen on Station Road, Caersws.

The food in Powys is a good reason to be cheerful, it is true. Mountain lamb is, of course, a delicacy, though Ms Lloyd prefers mutton and uses it to make a mean shepherd's pie. Penarth Vineyard is famous for local white, sparkling and rosé wine. The average price of a pint in the county is £2.30. And a Newtown woman, Novelette Childs, has grown a bunch of bananas on an outdoor plant in her garden, according to the County Times, in which it is also reported that an elderly couple have received A* grades in their GCSE Spanish exams. "I was just walking through the garden when I saw the plant had flowered," Ms Childs said last week. "When I looked closer I could see a bunch of bananas hanging above my head."

At rival newspaper The Brecon & Radnor Express, they are also cheerful. And why wouldn't they be, rolling along with their local wine to festivals such as the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, the Green Man Festival and the annual Bog Snorkelling Championships? Last week they drew a record number of soggy competitors from all over the world. "And yes, there are a lot of pretty girls in Powys," reports a source on the newsdesk. "I will confirm that."

According to Wikipedia, Powys is "an extensive, largely upland county" that covers a quarter of the area of Wales. It contains the book town of Hay-on-Wye, the Berwyn Mountains in the north and the Brecon Beacons National Park. "With only one person in every 10 acres it is one of the most sparsely populated local authority areas in England and Wales." A spokeswoman for the county council points out, happily: "My commute to work is 30 miles through beautiful valleys." Other locals reveal that the lack of motorways is good for keeping the English out.Nearly a third of residents can speak some Welsh.

"Powys is very classy in an effortless way," insists Sian Lloyd. "Prince Charles is extolling the virtues of mutton, but we've been eating it for ages. We're just more sophisticated." That, and the men, must be enticing. "We have the farming rugby boys, with muscles and brawn like D H Lawrence characters," she sighs. Is the last train to Brecon fully booked yet?