SAVOUR THE FLAVOURS
Saturday 28 June 1997
Here I was, walking among one of mid-Wales's latest tourist attractions, the 103 turbines of the Penrhyddlan and Llidiartywaun Windfarm, the largest wind generated electricity power station in the UK. The name doesn't exactly roll off the tongues of the tens of thousands of visitors - mainly English - who come to this part of the principality year in and year out. And they now have a festival of hundreds of events that they can select from, all with a "green" image - not that everyone believes these huge-bladed towers are the most environmentally sensitive structures with which to adorn these lovely hills.
Previously a spring-autumn compilation of walks, rides (on bikes etc, but not, of course, by car), and places to visit, the Mid Wales Festival has now gone completely bush. It runs all year round. The current brochure is a veritable cornucopia of activities: leisurely craft centre visits; cross-country cycling, kayaking; exploring mines; watching farmhouse cheese being made; having a go at being a blacksmith; even bodging a chair. The 72-page brochure is the bible of green happenings hereabouts.
If the prospect of aerobic walks doesn't grab you, there are plenty of indoor attractions. Like Tim Wade's Greenwood Courses, run in his barn near Buith Wells and costing around pounds 170 for six days of chair-making, including tuition and lunches. If you want a reminder of your carpentry skills, you can take your pride and joy home. If the reminder proves too painful, you have a ready supply of firewood.
Tim runs courses on willow basket and coracle-making, hedge-laying (dry weather not guaranteed), even timber-framed building construction, if you have too many chairs and a tendency to think big.
I went off to visit the more relaxing Welsh Gold Centre, part of a craft shop located in what the festival magazine optimistically calls Tregaron's "main square". This little west Wales village had room for only one square that I could find. Among plenty of exquisite gold and silver jewellery - some of it made on the premises - there is just one cabinet of Welsh gold, a reflection of its scarcity. That is why the cheapest native piece, a tiny lovespoon pendant, costs pounds 55.
I would also recommend watching Mrs Thelma Adams make her Cenarth cheese, a type of Caerphilly, at her farm - Glyneithinog - 10 miles south east of Cardigan town. It is free, she does it about three times a week (call 01239 710432 to check times), and she gives a running commentary as she nurtures the cheese into the tasty final product. Savour the free samples and I'll bet you don't come away without buying a pound or two.
If walks are up your street, there is an enormous range to choose from. In woods, on old drovers' routes, along the west Wales cliff-tops to watch for grey seals, mercifully unscathed by Sea Empress oil, or along the Offa's Dike Long Distance Trail. The festival has just produced a 96-page guidebook, Wild Places of Mid Wales, by Andrew Jenkinson, featuring 40 nature reserves such as Abercamlo Bog near Rhayader, with its wet, healthy vegetation and flowers.
The even more active can try white-water rafting on seven-people rafts at the National Whitewater Centre near Bala. There is no shortage of exhilaration. One descent costs pounds l0 (children over 12, pounds 7). Disabled people can ride and all safety equipment is provided. But take your own towel and a change of clothing. You will also have to check that water conditions are suitable rather than turning up on spec (01678 520826 for information).
The festival has the odd dollop of kitsch - such as "King Arthur's Labyrinth", a boat voyage "into caverns where tales of this ancient land unfold". Or "Gypsy jaunts", horse-drawn wagon rides near Brecon, on Saturdays and Sundays.
So what boost to the local economy does the Mid Wales Festival provide in this most rural part of Wales? An extra pounds 1m of tourist income per year, according to independent consultants quoted by Michael Smith, the festival's assistant director.
And how green is it? The magazine lists most of the events and attractions according to their accessibility by bus, train, bike, horse, or on foot. Yet its location map is dominated by the blue, red and yellow of roads. You have to search much harder to spot the thin black railway lines. I know there are precious few of them, but there will be fewer still unless tourists take to the tracks. Timetables would be a useful plus, too.
Realistically, though, a car is often the only means of reaching the many parts of mid-Wales which public transport fails to penetrate. So I put the festival magazine on the passenger seat and set off ...
The festival magzazine is available free from The Festival of the Countryside, Frolic House, Frolic Street, Newtown, Powys SY16 1AP (01686 625384). `Wild Places of Mid Wales', by Andrew Jenkinson, costs pounds 3.95 from bookshops or pounds 4.95 by mail order (inc p&p) from the above address.
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