Llanwrtyd Wells, the smallest town in Britain, is also one of the most remote, encased within a breathtaking wilderness in the heart of Wales. Step off the town’s doorstep and you can explore ancient droves or a wealth of forest trails; catch a glimpse of the protected red kite or, if you’re feeling energetic, hike up one of the many hills brooding over the town.
For a walk on the wild side you could instead experience the surprisingly crazy alter ego of LLanwrtyd Wells. The town boasts a mind-boggling underbelly of madness that goes back 30 years when the Man versus Horse race was conceived to attract more visitors.
It was an idea conjured out of a drunken discussion over whether two or four legs were faster. It quickly caught on. The gruelling 22-mile challenge, teasingly just shy of the marathon distance, now takes place every June and sees hundreds of runners and 50 riders stride or canter across rugged, joint-punishing terrain and open moorland. So who wins? You would think the horse but a man has implausibly won the race twice out of 32 races.
Something in the water
As the name suggests, Llanwrtyd Wells owes its existence to the discovery of mineral waters in the 18th century, and it’s water again that has accelerated the town’s reincarnation as a bastion for wacky sports. This time though the source is the foreboding Waen Rhydd bog, which hosts the improbably named World Bog Snorkelling Championships, taking place this year on 26 August. Entrants from both ends of the fitness spectrum negotiate 120 yards of pitch-black, freezing cold and fetid water with a pair of flippers for propulsion and a snorkel for survival. Wetsuits are permitted but the extremely foolhardy wear speedos or fancy dress.
The fastest time wins but any time at all will be considered a success because rules forbid any recognised swimming stroke. Unsurprisingly competitors require plenty of courage to take the plunge and extraordinary encouragement from the jovial crowd to finish; with shouts of “Never again!” often heard.
Championing Corinthian spirit
This summer, the town will gain further kudos when it hosts the inaugural World Alternative Games (dates TBC), a frenetic fortnight of competition that champions absurd and unrecognised sports while encouraging a Corinthian spirit. You may even become a champion in backward running, wife carrying or something equally strange but jolly good fun.
If your appetite is still not satisfied, there is also a mountain bike version of the bog snorkel and the Bathtubbing Championships on 19 August. For something on relatively dry land, how about the Real Ale Wobble and Ramble in November? You can either mountain bike or walk over a choice of distances, and there are drink stations along the route but instead of quenching your thirst with water, you sample real ale courtesy of the town’s very own brewery.
The New Year is also welcomed with much gusto when the town celebrates Saturnalia, the ancient Roman festival. First there is the Mountain Bike Chariot Racing Championship, which sees teams of three wobble their way around a short but testing course on a makeshift chariot of two mountain bikes with half a metal barrel on wheels attached behind. Not as easy as it sounds with poor co-ordination and gung-ho overtaking a recipe for disaster.
In the evening, it’s the legendary toga party at the Neuadd Arms with Roman-themed food and drink. What better antidote is there to fend off the seasonal melancholy? Whatever you decide for a day out, once you have the taste of the bog water or the feel of a toga, you’ll keep coming back again and again as the inexplicable allure of the events leave you spellbound. You’ve been warned.