Radnorshire is my stomping ground. Its an overlooked part of Wales, sandwiched between the Cambrian Mountains and The Marches. It really is the heart of my homeland – and its home to some hidden historic gems!
Long time Hisdoryan followers will know I’m a big fan of church crawling. In fact, when everything is a bit safer, I thoroughly recommend visiting rural Radnorshire and exploring some of its historic churches (this is a really handy post if you’re new to church crawling and want some tips) These are the Radnorshire churches that really can’t be missed!
St Michael’s Church, Cascob
Looking for a church built into a prehistoric burial mound? Then the remote church of St Michaels, nestled in the narrow Cascob valley beneath Radnor forest is for you!
People travel to this medieval church for one reason – The Cascob Charm. Its an Abracadabra charm, written in English with a little Latin, a strange mix of charm and Christian prayer to keep one Elizabeth Lloyd safe. The charm was discovered 200 years after the church was built, and now hangs inside.
In the churchyard you will find grazing sheep and a yew that is reputedly 2000 years old!
St Anno’s is a 19th Century rebuild on the site of a medieval church and possibly an even earlier Celtic monastic foundation. Outside, the church could be described as simple, but inside its a totally different story. There is a late medieval carved wooden rood screen and loft, which is the best example of its kind in the whole of Wales and an equal to any of that in England.
I think part of this church’s charm is its location – its just off an arterial North-South trunk road in Mid Wales, but hidden in a little nook next to a small river. When I visit, hundreds of people probably pass me by on the road, but I always have this hidden treasure to myself.
Cared for by the wonderful Friends of Friendless Churches.
St Michael’s Church, Llanfihangel Helygen
One of the overlooked Radnorshire churches, simple single-celled St Michaels is beautifully situated in a clearing surrounded by oak trees near Llanyre. Very little is known of the history, and there is nothing architecturally that pre-dates the late 17thC. There are some great examples of box pews here but the only pre-Reformation feature is the font.
Renowned Welsh historian, antiquary and literary figure Thomas Price aka Carnhuanwc was made curate of Llanfihangel Helygen in 1811. He was a leading figure in the revival of the Eisteddfod and assisted Lady Charlotte Guest with her translation of the Mabinogion.
The ancient hilltop settlement of Old Radnor is now not much more than a pub and church – but what a church! Set up on a hill in a prehistoric enclosure, it is the only church in Wales dedicated to St Stephen. The font is also the oldest (and one of the largest) in Britain, carved out of a prehistoric boulder. Another remarkable find in such a remote country church is the early 16th Century organ case, the oldest of its kind in Britain. Oh, and there’s also some medieval glass and floor tiles to boot!
The reason I personally love this church is because it is almost a stereotypical Marcher country church – as T.J. Hughes says in his book Wales’ Best One Hundred Churches its ‘a church that looks English to a Welshman and must feel Welsh to an Englishman’.
St Mary’s Church, Pilleth
A place of pilgrimage and battle, St Marys stands on Bryn Glas hill overlooking the site where Owain Glyndwr defeated Edmund Mortimer in battle in 1402. Glyndwr then proceeded to partially destroy the church (the battle is also mentioned by Shakespeare in Henry IV Part one).
This is a simple, medieval church. A medieval holy well can be found in the church yard that had a reputation for helping to heal eye problems. In the churchyard is a mass grave of soldiers is marked by Wellingtonia trees and a modern memorial. Inside the church is a small exhibit about the battle.
St Cewydd’s Church, Disserth
A true gem of a church. When you open the door, it truly is like stepping back in time into Georgian Wales. This is one Radnorshire church that escaped the enthusiastic Victorian restorers.
This church is filled with the history of pioneers, including one of the fathers of the Industrial Revolution, James Watt. You can view their original box pews that have the name, and sometimes house name, of the owner. The oldest is dated 1666. There’s also an impressive display of wall paintings.
Random fact – Did you know that St Cewydd is the Welsh patron saint of rain, our own version of St Swithin?
And while you’re church crawling why not check out…
The Pales Meeting House, Llandegley
In Radnorshire you will find Wales’ oldest complete surviving Quaker meeting house.
Quaker meetings have been held on this remote site above Llandegley since the establishment of a burial ground in 1673. The Pales Quaker Meeting House was built in 1717 and has been in continuous use as a place of worship since that time.
Capel Carmel, Nantmel
Hidden in the hills above Nantmel, Carmel is a modest independent chapel built c. 1829. It is a charming building with a symmetrical frontage. Inside is small and intimate – there are only four rows of pews! But it is definitely worth a visit.
Unfortunately the chapel is not usually accessible and you can only view the exterior. It passed in to the care of the Welsh Religious Buildings Trust a few years ago, and is need of a lick of paint.
Capel Caebach, Llandrindod Wells
Another lovely little Independent chapel, with distinctive hipped rood and gothic windows, which unfortunately closed in 2019.
Capel Caebach was founded c.1715. This makes it one of the earliest non-Conformist buildings, and one of the first Independent chapels in Wales. It attracted the likes of dissenting preachers such as Howell Harris.
So which of these Radnorshire churches will be top of the list of your places to visit? Let us know in the comments below.
P.S. If you fancy checking out other historical places to visit in Radnorshire, check out this post on Presteigne and the award-winning Judges Lodging museum.