If you’re not expecting it Llandrindod Wells can come as a bit of a surprise as you drive along the A483 through Powys in mid-Wales. I don’t think I’m being unkind when I say Llandrindod is in the middle of nowhere, so to stumble on it’s grand Victorian-era hotels and villas when you’re expecting market towns and farmyards is a bit of shock.
Those hotels and the more-ornate-than-you’d-expect housing stock are due to Llandrindod’s glory days as a mecca for people wanting to sample the ‘healing waters’ of the town’s springs – hence the ‘Wells’ bit. Sadly, those days are long gone but there’s still a pretty compelling reason to stop off in Llandrindod Wells – the National Cycle Museum!
Rather ironically located in The Automobile Palace – an art deco former car showroom – the museum is wonderfully British. Forget virtual reality headsets and interactive displays to keep the kids amused, the National Cycle Museum – which is run entirely by volunteers – is simply packed with row upon row of historic bicycles (and some admittedly dodgy looking dummies). And it’s all the better for it if you’re a bike geek!
“We have up to 240 bikes on display at any one time and they range in age from 1817 to the modern day,” explained my guide for the day, trustee John Gill. “The collection includes early ‘hobby horses’, velocipedes – or boneshakers, Penny Farthings, early safety cycles, police bikes, ice cream vending bikes, classic lightweights, tandems and record breaking race bikes.”
It really is an impressive collection and there’s enough to satisfy your cycling curiosity whatever your tastes. Okay, if you’ve a deep love for the latest lightweight carbon fibre you’ll be disappointed, but that’s what the local bike shop is for. If you can’t make it to Wales just yet, then you’ll be able to get a taste of the museum in London this June.
“The museum is mounting a major display of historic cycles at World Cycling Revival at Herne Hill Velodrome,” explains John. “It’s a celebration of the the 200th anniversary of the birth of cycling and the re-opening of the historic track.”
I think it’s worth reiterating that the National Cycle Museum is run by unpaid volunteers – hence the limited opening hours –and costs around £25,000 a year to stay open. Sure, it isn’t a bells-and-whistles interactive experience space designed for Instagrammers… But it is charming, and interesting and well worth a visit. In fact, take your bike and book into one of the town’s hotels as the riding around Llandrindod Wells is pretty darned good too!
The National Cycle Museum is open Tuesday, Wednesdays and Fridays between 10am and 4pm. Adult entry is £5.
World Cycling Revival runs from June 14th to 16th at Herne Hill Velodrome. Find out more here