I will go ahead and say that when I first visited Welshpool I was pretty certain that there would be nothing of interest there for me. It looked like a standard kind of small town, very few recognisable-name high street shops and rather middle aged.
However, my opinion has changed a great deal since moving into the area. Welshpool is only just over the border into Wales, but is undeniably Welsh; in quiet moments at the bank you sometimes catch the cashiers chatting in their native tongue!
Welshpool is surrounded by countryside, which opens up activity options straight away if you're a fan of the outdoors. There are campsites and caravan parks dotted around the surrounding countryside, as well as B&B's in the town centre (and further afield). The one notable (only?) hotel is the Royal Oak. I haven't stayed at the Royal Oak myself, but I have dined there and I have nothing but praise for their lovely menu and good service.
As for other eateries in Welshpool, there are plenty- mostly cafes with the odd small restaurant thrown in. The Pinewood bakery/cafe deserves a special mention for it's cakes (I am rather fond of the oddly named "Japs", which are some previously unheard of concoction of meringue, cream and chocolate). There are a range of pubs in the town centre, with various different attractions in many (real ales, live sport, pool tables etc), so you're sure to find something to suit you. There are takeaways in Welshpool if that's your thing, Spice UK does a brilliant curry for example.
There are a few highstreet names present (Boots, Superdrug, WHSmiths, Stead & Simpson), which some people may find reassuring, but the real charm comes from the independent shops, and even the charity shops. A good rummage on a Saturday morning brings up some right treats. The only shop I would like to express a negative opinion on is the Covent Garden Fruit & Veg store- their staff are beyond rude! I was even driven to write a letter of complaint after one incident (which went unanswered!), which is a shame as they have good quality fruit and veg for excellent prices, but I am not often in the mood for having my day soured by appalling service!!
Five minutes from Welshpool (by car) is the Derwen Farm Shop and Garden Centre, which in my opinion is amazing. The first time I went to the Farm shop I was delighted by the range of goodies available and spent absolutely ages browsing. The seeded white loaf they sell is beyond excellent, and if you're into such things, is divine with the goats cheese they sell (expensive but worth it!). They have affordable cuts of meat, loads of chutneys and sauces, a huge array of cheeses, olives, pickles, ice cream, ales and ciders. I can't praise this place enough!
As for actual activities- The Welshpool to Llanfair Caereinion Railways is worth a look for sure. There are a couple of options per day for which train you get there and back (and of course which way round you do it!), and you get taken through amazing countryside on a beautiful steam train. I speak from experience when I say that kids of an age who might be rather keen on another train named Thomas can't get enough of this sort of thing! And the gift shop at the Llanfair end of the line only stokes their train-love affair!
I hope this has given a reasonable overview of the town to anyone looking to visit. Perhaps it's not the ideal destination if you're seeking a fun filled thrills and spills kind of break, but if you're in the area it's certainly worth a visit.
If you havent been to Mid Wales yet you should start making plans now. It is surely one of the most beautiful and uncrowded areas in the UK.
And the gateway is a pool. Or to be precise, a Welsh pool. On any map its known and as Welshpool and can be found just three miles from the English border, and 19 miles west of Shrewsbury. To a number of locals it is known as Y Trallym, and it used to be known by all as Pool until 1835. However, the rise in popularity of Poole in Dorset persuaded the town that it should be known as Welshpool to avoid the inevitable confusion (the lack of a nearby sea should have been enough of a hint in my mind).
There must be a pool somewhere but I havent found it yet. Water is abundant though as the river Severn runs past the town.
So why stop at Welshpool?
It is one of those rare townss that has managed to retain a sense of charm and individuality. Admittedly this is because its size (about 6,000) and its proximity to Oswestry (16 miles) and Shrewsbury.
The attraction youd be hard pushed to miss is Powis Castle. If you do, youd be missing an excellent place to pass some quality time - a great place for walkers, garden lovers, for historians and lovers of grand / old buildings. I have been three times now as it proves to be an excellent choice for entertaining guests. If Im honest I probably dont need to do another castle tour but I will never get bored of the garden or park. For more detail the following review (not mine) is recommended: www.dooyoo.co.uk/sightseeing-national/powis-castle/354658/
There are even a number of events held in the grounds of Powis Castle. The largest and most popular is the Country and Western Music Festival in July. The town fills with people dressed in full western gear and the pubs (weather allowing) lay on straw bales for seating. Its fair to say youd have to be keen on Country and Western, but if youre not I can recommend the Powys Wood Fair, showcasing local crafts and art, in September.
There are a number of restaurants in the town, though the only one Id go out of my way to recommend is the Corn Store. Id avoid the Chinese take aways as they are all pretty poor in my opinion. There are also plenty of pubs to choose from, though they are far better for drinking in than eating in. There are none I am a dedicated fan of. That could be an age thing of course. The Grapes on Salop Road is probably the most interesting the pub that time forgot. There are some great village pubs in nearby villages the Lion in Berriew a good one for food.
If staying overnight there is one hotel, the Royal Oak an old coaching house which has a comfortable bar and okay food, and numerous B&Bs. I have never stayed locally and cannot make a recommendation.
The town itself flanks the castle grounds and it is laid out over two main crossing streets although most of what is to be found is in Broad Street. In the centre it still has shops that are small local businesses, which makes the town something of a museum piece (the National Milk Bar helps with that). WH smiths and Woolworths are the only names that might be recognized in a modern town unless of course you think of food shopping and then you have the quality choices of Morrisons, Summerfields, Kwik Save and Spar!
I am going to take a wild guess and assume that those shops arent going to tempt you to Welshpool. In fact the shopping on offer wont tempt you, but if you get here there are some shops worth looking into: Gwythers Shoes is one of my wifes favourites, some good antique and jewellery shops, a wine shop that knows what they are talking about (the Welshpool Wine Company), a shop for all things Welsh (the Celtic Company) and for those that like lace and quality clothes from a bygone era then Ashmans is somewhere to bookmark.
On Mondays and Saturday there is an indoor market, and you can get some good produce but otherwise it is full of your usual tack.
On the edge of town wine lovers have more options with Tanners Wine Merchants warehouse on the Severn Farm Enterprise Park. Its headquarters are in Shrewsbury but it has a genuine UK wide reputation. The best Picture Framing service (Kingswood Frames and Mirrors) I have ever come across is on the edge of town in the Offas Dyke Business Park.
After persuading you to stop in Welshpool Im now going to recommend you leave (youll have to come back for your car at least) on the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway (www.wllr.org.uk), which takes you on a beautiful journey through the Banwy Valley to Llanfair Caereinion. The countryside around Welshpool in general is stunning.
If you want to go at an even slower pace then Welshpool is an excellent base for walking the long distance Offas Dyke, Glyndwrs Way or Severn Way paths, all of which pass through the town. Easier walking is to be had along the Montgomery Canal tow path its flat! You can go all the way to Newtown heading West
More interesting bits and pieces:
Every Monday there is a livestock market in Welshpool, the largest in Wales
There are some quality garden in nearby villages
There is culture! Head for Andrew Logans museum in Berriew (www.andrewlogan.com)
Not so good
The pavements are too narrow.
There is too much traffic A bypass runs to the south taking which has succeeded in reducing the amount of traffic passing through en-route to Newtown or Aberystwyth, but unfortunately all traffic heading to Dollgellau (considerable in summer) still has to come through part of the town which does often clog up centre.
For more info:
Powis Castle: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hbcache/property146.htm
Welshpool in detail: www.welshpool.org / www.welshpool.com
Thanks for reading.