Page last updated at 17:45 GMT, Thursday, 28 August 2008 18:45 UK

What is happy Powys' big secret?

Carl Yapp
BBC News website

Happy people in Powys
Plenty to smile about - Powys is rated the happiest place in the UK, according to a survey

Powys is officially the happiest place in the UK, but what is its secret and is it really all it's cracked up to be?

After all, the county's transport links and the lack of broadband and mobile phone coverage are regularly lambasted by frustrated residents.

However, the people I spoke to in the towns of Llanfair Caereinion and Machynlleth didn't seem to care...much.

Musician Ian Gomm, 61, exchanged the hustle and bustle of London for sleepy Llanfair, near Welshpool, 33 years ago.

Part of cult rock band Brinsley Schwarz, he moved with his family to Powys when the group spilt in 1975.

During his time with Brinsley Schwarz, he toured with Paul McCartney and Wings and later during a solo career he formed part of the bill during Dire Straits' first US tour.

Since then, he joked, he had been forced to endure Powys' poor transport links, TV reception, mobile phone coverage, the lack of broadband, post offices closing and threats to the county's community hospitals.

Ian Gomm
In some ways the drawbacks add to the area's charm and that's why some people move here
Ian Gomm, musician

But despite all the drawbacks he said the county was a wonderful place to live.

He added: "Shortly after moving to Powys our friends in London would say, 'What's it like where you live?'

"We would say: 'It's horrible, stay away' because we didn't want anyone to know how peaceful and relaxing it was in comparison to the rat race in London.

"That was 30 years ago, but the pace of life hasn't altered a great deal since then.

"Sometimes the lifestyle makes us laugh especially when people born and bred in the county take things for granted.

"For instance, I remember being with a farmer one day and I was seeing these wonderful views for the first time. I was amazed, but all the farmer was concerned about was whether his tractor radio could receive Radio 1."

But Mr Gomm said some incomers found Powys' drawbacks difficult to come to terms with.

Powys scene
Powys - away from the rat race but some complain about transport and TV reception

"People from outside the area see Powys as a rural idyll, but if they're not prepared to sacrifice a few things then they can learn to dislike their new home.

"We know a couple who moved to Powys because they wanted to escape the rat race, but the woman in the relationship couldn't drive and she eventually hated the area.

"But in some ways the drawbacks add to the area's charm and that's why some people move here.

"For example, I recently saw two old women clapping and mouthing 'well done' as a police car drove through Llanfair - it was hilarious but charming at the same time. Can you imagine that happening in Cardiff or Birmingham?"

Mr Gomm, who has worked as a music producer in Powys, said bands like The Stranglers and James had recorded albums nearby.

"They liked the fact there was no distractions," he said.

Jon Pickles
I would never go back to living in the south-east of England - it's over-crowded and a stressful place
Jon Pickles

Another musician who moved to Powys from London was ex-Small Faces and The Faces guitarist Ronnie Lane.

He bought a farm in the hamlet of Hyssington, near Welshpool, in the early 1970s and many of his showbiz friends visited him and his family there, including the legendary Eric Clapton.

Lane died in 1997 in the US, but his sons and stepdaughter still live in the area.

Another star who has found peace and quiet in the hills of Powys is Oscar-winning actress Julie Christie.

She owns a house near Montgomery in the north of the county, while fashion designer Laura Ashley ran her hugely successful business from Carno, near Newtown.

Other less recognisable incomers agreed with the new research that Powys was indeed the happiest place to live in the UK.

Jon Pickles, 52, from Machynlleth, moved to the area from Buckinghamshire 30 years ago.

"I would never go back to living in the south-east of England - it's over-crowded and a stressful place."

Philip and Jackie Dunsford, from Llanfair Caereinion, said they loved living in Powys.

"There are low anxiety levels," said Mr Dunsford, 82. "For instance, if I forget to lock my car at night it doesn't bother me because I know it will be there in the morning.

"Powys has some of the lowest crimes rates in the UK and that gives us peace of mind."

Mrs Dunsford, 62, said: "Everybody knows each other and it's such a friendly place. A five-minute trip to the shops can turn into 20 minutes when you stop and chat."

* In the study by researchers at Sheffield and Manchester universities, Powys tops the list of 273 districts, with Edinburgh apparently the most miserable place in Britain.

People were asked about their sense of well-being and the study found personal circumstances rather than physical location determined their responses.

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03 Jul 08 |  Special Reports
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