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Long Mountain (1)

The importance of the Shrewsbury railhead was huge for the sheep & cattle trade.  Between 1848 and the 1860’s (when the railway came to Welshpool, Machynlleth and Aberystwyth) the droves of beasts across north Wales and up from Mid-Wales to Shrewsbury station were nonstop1

David Johnathan took the turnpike route but the less affluent drovers who wanted to avoid tolls walked to Shrewsbury via Long Mountain.  The “Roman Road” across the top is probably older than Roman and starts its ascent at Forden (SJ 2502) where the holloway carved out is spectacular – and we failed to get a good picture of it (#1).  

The road on top has absurdly wide verges (#2) and is littered with small beerhouses as it approaches Shrewsbury.  The most impressive, the one we were determined to find out more about, was The Welsh Harp at SJ 279080, and we struck lucky.  Not only were the owners at home; they were also even more fascinated than we were by its history.  The remainder of this article is entirely due to them.

In its long life since 1555, Welsh Harp has been a Manor House & Court Leet, Drovers’ Inn, Farm, Chapel, Sunday School, Youth Hostel (see #3) and private dwelling. 

(Btw: a Manor was not just a large house; it was the dwelling of a “lord” who exercised a variety of rights over his tenants, including the right to hold court for minor offences.  It was also an administrative centre where rents were collected and the focal point of ten households (“tithings”) where tenants pledged to oversee the good behaviour of the other nine.  That’s where the Court Leet comes in.  Grasses’ paradise, the Middle Ages!)

The owner wrote a piece about The Harp for the Leighton News, a magazine he also publishes, in 2017.  He starts by quoting the Aberystwyth Observer of June 1910: “The sheep & cattle [came] to rest for the night on their march to England and over them guard was kept by a man...stationed on the top of the house, armed with a blunderbuss..”  On the top of the house?

The inn must have prospered because a new section was added, with a cellar below it, in 1820 (LHS of #4).

The Gittens family was the last to use the Harp as a farmhouse.  They also used the 1820-half as a youth hostel.  In 1979, after the present owners took over, a caller arrived – there have been quite a few besides us – who had hostelled there in 1940.  A men’s dormitory at the back had slept 12; another at the front had beds for 8 women – and there was no indoor sanitation at the time…  In 1946 The Harp was closed as a YH – guess why! – but continued as a stopping-place for cyclists.  On Sundays they could attend a chapel service in the front room.

As an added extra, there's a stone stairway up to a barn at the right hand end of the building.  I'd like to bet the drovers would have slept up there, safe in the knowledge that the man with the blunderbuss was looking after their stock. 

No ordinary drovers’ inn, then.  Thanks for your hospitality, D & P.


 1 David Johnathan (see separate tab) shod his cattle even after the three Welsh stations were opened; presumably – writes Richard Moore-Colyer – to prevent too much loss of condition as they traipsed from fair to fair in England.  And it cost a bit: 1/= to throw each beast, another 1/= to shoe it.  He also quotes from the report of the Select Committee called to debate the building of the Montgomery railway in 1853: “A great proportion of the cattle from Welshpool goes through Westbury [on the Long Mountain] to avoid the tolls on the other roads.”