Welsh: Rhaeadr Gwy
The Clock Tower
|Brecon & Radnorshire
Rhayader is a market town in Radnorshire, of which it is one of the main centres. It has a population of 2,075 in 2001 and is the first town on the banks of the River Wye, 20 miles below its source on the Plynlimon range of the Cambrian Mountains.
It sits roughly midway between North and South Wales on the A470, 13 miles north of Builth Wells and 30 miles east of Aberystwyth on the A44 on the way to Hereford; two of the most important trunk roads in mid-Wales. The B4574 mountain road to Aberystwyth is described by the AA as one of the ten most scenic drives in the world.
Name of the town
The name "Rhayader" is from the Welsh "Rhaeadr Gwy", meaning Waterfall on the Wye. Little remains of the waterfall itself, having been destroyed in 1780 to make way for the bridge linking the town to Cwmdauddwr and the Elan Valley.
The oldest town in Mid Wales, the abundance of cairns and standing stones bears witness that Man inhabited the area several thousand years Before Christ. Rhayader has always been a natural stopping point for travellers - the Romans had a stop-over camp in the Elan Valley, Monks travelled between the Abbeys of Strata Florida and Abbeycwmhir and drovers headed to the lucrative markets with their livestock. While Rhayader is known to date to the 5th Century, it wasn't until the 12th Century that documented history of the town began with the building of a Castle in 1177. Little remains today, with the exception of a dry moat that can be seen from Wauncapel Park.
In the 19th Century, turnpike roads were only passable on payment of heavy tolls, imposing additional burdens on already poor communities. This led to the Rebecca Riots across South and Mid Wales from 1839–1842, with no less than six of Rhayader's tollgates being demolished with impunity by local farmers dressed as women. The actions of these 'Rebeccaites' led to the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry, and most of Rebecca's grievances were righted two years later.
In the 1890s the rapidly expanding city of Birmingham, 70 miles east, viewed the nearby Elan Valley as the ideal source of clean, safe water. This was to change the face of Rhayader forever, bringing thousands of workers involved in building this massive complex of dams and reservoirs to the area. A new railway was built connecting this huge area with the main network in Rhayader, and the construction of a new village to house the workers was built on the banks of the River Elan. Work started in 1894 and the scheme was officially opened in 1904 by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.
The station on the Mid Wales Railway line that served the town was closed under the 'Beeching Axe' programme of modernisation on 31 December 1962. The nearest station is now at Crossgates on the Heart of Wales Line, though connections are usually made at the more accessible Llandrindod station a similar distance away.
Due to the volume of traffic generated by the convergence of two of Wales's most important trunk roads, the construction of a bypass to relieve congestion at the town centre crossroads has been an ongoing debate for many years.
The town is also a popular cycling centre and is on Route 8 of the United Kingdom National Cycle Network - Lôn Las Cymru.
Sights around the town
Tourism and agriculture are the most important industries locally. Walkers and cyclists are drawn to Rhayader for the abundance of trails and bridleways surrounding the town, which is the gateway to a massive complex of reservoirs and dams (The Elan Valley), known as the 'Lakeland of Wales'. This vast area is home to some of Britain's rarest wildlife and plants, including red kites, along with magnificent feats of engineering.
There are a number of hotels, bed and breakfasts and campsites to accommodate the large amount of visitors that travel to the area all year round. Rhayader is also home to a museum, a leisure centre, numerous parks and all the amenities expected of a larger town. There are an abundance of shops, banks, restaurants, takeaways and supermarkets catering to both the local population and visitors to the area. Rhayader is also renowned for being the town with the highest concentration of pubs and drinking establishments by head of population in the United Kingdom; one to each 173 people.
Culture and society
In nearby Llanwrthwl the Living Willow Theatre, an open-air theatre constructed of living willow trees, was opened in 2007.
A carnival week is held every July. As part of the carnival, Rhayader plays host to three world championship events in lesser celebrated sports, ranging from wheelbarrow racing rock-paper-scissors and wellie wanging.
The town's has teams in rugby union, football (Rhayader Town FC) and cricket.
The town is also well known by motocross fans. Every summer a series of events take place at the nearby Cwmythig Hill circuit, at which many of Britain's top riders take part. The race series regularly attracts over 5,000 spectators.
- "Town has pub for every 173 people". London: BBC. 28 May 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/mid/7423077.stm.
- Rhayader Carnival
- "Rhayader Town secure promotion to Spar". County Times. 1 May 2008. http://www.countytimes.co.uk/sport/Rhayader-Town-secure-promotion-to.4041094.jp.