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Presteigne, Powys. The population of Presteigne is under 3,000, and it gives the impression that this is as it should be. It does not doubt its distinct identity, and it lies in a country of gentle slopes and wide vales, luxuriant in a sturdy peace quick with growth. Here the Lugg river makes the boundary between Powys and Herefordshire, between Wales and England. Llanandras is the Welsh name for Presteigne; Offa's Dyke lies some way to the North of it on Llan-Wen Hill, and again to the South, where Walton has a name that marks it as the Welsh Town. The Welsh name for the shire is Maesyfed, sometimes translated as the Sinking Meadow because in dry weather one of its streams, the Somergil, vanishes into the soil. Another explanation is that it means Easily Conquered, by reason of the contrast between its open lands and the wave-like curves of the Radnor Forest that bear upon it. But the word “fed” in Welsh means a limit or confine, and for the old Kingdom of Powys Radnor may have been the South East March.

Presteigne confirms that sense of being nothing but itself which is typical of the border population. The houses are of a fairly uniform Georgian kind, with those used for professional purposes drawn round the church, which, Norman in origin, was remodelled in the Decorated period, the 15th century. But, as the Welsh for the town implies, its foundation must have been parallel with that of Old Radnor. What was once the castle now lies in a public open space called the Warden. The inn, a genuine half-timbered house of the 16th and 17th centuries, was in his day owned by a relation of the Roundhead Bradshaw who signed the death-warrant of Charles I. But the later history of Presteigne does not seem to have been much disturbed. Owain Glyndwr had one of his first great victories at Pilleth in the early 15th century, not far from the town, yet its pastoral life was in Tudor and Stuart days distracted only by the meeting of priests and officials to inquire into and condemn the operation of white witches and their incantatory rites in the neighbourhood. In other parts of Wales, the white witch was still at work well into the 20th century, and there are living people who can vouch for the efficacy of their recommended remedies, a raw potato in the pocket for rheumatism and a handful of earth for curing warts. But authority may have been inclined to take a severe view of such activities for two reasons: the magician John Dee, who seems to have been no more than a man interested beyond his time in the scientific analysis of Nature, was a man of Radnorshire descent and perhaps of the princely family of Llywelyn Crugeryr. Born into the service of the household of the Tudors, Dee escaped burning by Mary to act as secret agent for Walsingham and trusted adviser to Elizabeth Tudor. His reputation, however, has never recovered from the accusation of dabbling in black magic. And about the hills of Presteigne roamed - perhaps still roams the black and ghostly hound, attached to a local family, whose tale was used by Conan Doyle for his Sherlock Holmes adventure The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Nearby towns: Kington, Knighton, Llandrindod Wells, Leominster, Ludlow

Nearby villages: Adforton, Aymestrey, Bedstone, Birtley, Bleddfa, Brampton Bryan, Byton, Cascob, Colva, Dilwyn, Discoed, Downton-on-the-Rock, Eardisland, Evenjobb, Gladestry, Hergest, Huntington, Huntington, Kinnerton, Knucklas, Legion Cross, Leinthall Starkes, Leintwardine, Letton, Lingen, Llangunllo, Lyonshall, New Radnor, Norton, Old Radnor, Pembridge, Pilleth, Shobdon, Stowe, Stowe, Titley, Upper Kinsham, Walford, Whitton, Wigmore

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