Aberystwyth, resort among the cliffs that face Cardigan Bay
Southwards from the beautiful wooded estuary of the River Dyfi, the West Wales coastline turns from low-lying meadows to steeper, wilder cliffs and headlands, interrupted by gaps where rivers have cut valleys through the rock. Some beaches are small and secluded; others are larger and more easily reached. The Ystwyth and Rheidol rivers pour into the largest gap of all, on which stands the resort and university town of Aberystwyth.
This village on the river Einion owes its name to a magnificent monument from West Wales’s industrial past. At the bend in the centre of the village, the large stone building with a huge water-wheel at one side is a smelting plant dating back to the early 18th century. Iron ore was refined there, using charcoal made by burning local timber, and the water-wheel drove the furnace bellows. The ironworks is being restored.
Below the building the river cascades over moss-covered rocks as it rushes down from a ravine. A lane climbs steeply alongside the water into the ravine, and a waymarked path provides a delightful walk of about a mile through the woods.
The attractive village of Talybont was a centre of the wool trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, and still has links today with the traditional ways of weaving. There are tweed mills near by, at the bridge where the road crosses the river Leri at the southern end of the village.
In the centre of the village is a green on which two pubs stand side by side; one, finished in light stucco, is called the White Lion and the other, in the dark local stone, is called the Black Lion.
A signposted road from the village leads after 7 miles to the Nant-y-moch reservoir and crosses the dam, which is 172 ft high and 1,150 ft long. The reservoir is part of the Rheidol hydro-electric scheme and covers 680 acres. Submerged beneath 1,150 million cu. ft of water are Nant-y-moch farm, a small chapel and a cemetery.
Water from Nant-y-moch flows 5 miles to drive the generator of Cwm Rheidol Power Station, between Aberystwyth and Devil’s Bridge. The power station can be seen from the Vale of Rheidol Railway, or visited by road from Capel Bangor, 5 miles east of Aberystwyth. There are guided tours over the power station during the summer, and the cascades over the weir are floodlit on summer evenings. There is a 2 ½ mile nature trail around the water’s edge.
The Welsh name means ‘green-blue island’, for though Ynyslas is now definitely part of the mainland, its northernmost part used to be cut off at high tide. The whole estuary up to the high-water mark, together with the adjoining Cors Fochno bog and the Ynyslas dunes, now forms the Dyfi National Nature Reserve. An information centre explains the local natural history, and visitors can follow a nature trail which shows how the dunes are formed and gives glimpses of the flowers, birds, butterflies and small animals which live among them. Marram grass knits the loose sand with its tenacious roots, and sea spurge grows profusely. There are rabbits in the dunes, preyed on by polecats and weasels. Bathing is unsafe in the estuary because of dangerous currents.
On the sandbank between Ynyslas and Aberdyfi stands a curious tower framework. When the railway line was built from Machynlleth to Aberystwyth in 1864, a branch line was added to take passengers to the ferry across the Dyfi estuary. The tower was built as a refuge where passengers could wait for the ferry to cross from Aberdyfi to collect them. After the line to Pwllheli was built along the northern bank of the estuary the ferry fell into disuse and the railway tracks were removed, leaving only the tower framework.
South of Ynyslas, empty dunes give way to the straggling main street and promenade of this busy holiday village. It straddles the narrow strip of dry land between the sea and the Cors Fochno swampland for 2 miles. The beach offers safe bathing away from the Dyfi estuary. There is a golf course, while anglers can cast from the beach for bass, and surfers can enjoy good sport when the wind blows from the west and the rollers sweep in from Cardigan Bay.
Cors Fochno is a desolate wilderness of semi-liquid peat, 20 ft deep, and though crossed by paths made by peat cutters it can be dangerous to enter.
THE WELSH CALIFORNIA
Silver and lead have been mined along the Ystwyth and Rheidol valleys since the Middle Ages, and some local mines supplied silver for Charles I’s mint at Aberystwyth Castle. One such ‘Mine Royal’ was at Cwmsymlog, 9 miles east of Aberystwyth, reached by a minor road off the A4159; remains of the village can still be seen, together with part of the winding house and an engine-house chimney.
At Llywernog, 11 miles east of Aberystwyth on the A44, the 6 ½ acre open-air Llywerndg Silver Lead Mine Museum includes a rock-crusher house, a water-wheel pit and three working water-wheels. Visitors to this old mine can follow a Miners’ Trail, and also go underground to see the Blue Pool, a floodlit cavern formed from a prospecting pit sunk about 1795. The main building on the site contains a mining exhibition, ‘California of Wales’. The museum is open daily from Easter to October.
The beach at Wallog is separated from Borth by a stretch of cliffs. Its main attraction is its seclusion, as it can be reached only by following the narrow, twisting coast road from Borth to Clarach. Opposite a turning where a road leads to Llandre is a track which ends in a footpath leading down a small beach of sand and shingle, with a rushing stream flowing down from the hills.
A finger of shingle, Sam Cynfelyn, points out from the beach and runs for several miles under the surface of the sea. It was probably left by a retreating glacier at the end of the Ice Age, but legend links it with the drowned city of Cantref-y-Gwaelod, said to lie beneath the waters of Cardigan Bay. The shingle bank, according to the legend, was one of the dykes protecting the low-lying city. A drunken watchman named Seithenyn failed to warn the citizens of an approaching storm, and the city was lost beneath the sea, and the watchman with it.
The bay is formed by a stream which cuts its way down to the sea from the village of Clarach a mile to the east. A road follows the valley to a pleasant sand-and-shingle beach, where there is safe bathing except in the strong currents around the headlands to the north and south.
Chalets and caravan camps crowd the bay, but walkers can escape the throng by searching the rock pools for crabs and shrimps, or by following the cliff walks – northwards to Wallog and Borth or southwards over Constitution Hill to Aberystwyth.
The principal seaside resort of West Wales, Aberystwyth lies at the centre of the long sweep of Cardigan Bay. As well as providing a wide range of seaside attractions, it is the home of the National Library of Wales and of one of the colleges that form the University of Wales. The library contains more than 3 million volumes, including the world’s largest collection of books in the Welsh language or relating to Wales.
Aberystwyth’s two beaches are divided by a headland on which stands the ruined gatehouse of Aberystwyth Castle. Begun in 1277 by Edward I, it was later captured and held by Owain Glyndwr. During the Civil War the castle was pounded by Cromwell’s cannons and the rubble removed by local residents to build houses. The Victorian Gothic building near by was planned as a hotel but used for Aberystwyth’s original university college; it still houses some college departments, but the main college campus is now on Penglais Hill, overlooking the town.
A museum of local history tells the story of the neighbourhood from the Stone Age to the present day. The Coliseum is a restored Victorian music hall; and there is a camera obscura on Constitution Hill.
The North Beach offers safe bathing. The South Beach, between the castle and the old harbour at the river mouth, has a steeper shingle bank which makes it suitable only for strong swimmers. There are fishing trips from the old harbour, which also provides a safe haven for pleasure craft.
There are splendid views along the coast from the top of Constitution Hill at the northern end of the seafront; the hill is reached by a stiff climb up a cliff path, or more easily by a cable railway.
Further up the valleys of the Ystwyth and the Rheidol are the old lead, copper and silver mines on which the prosperity of the whole area once depended. A narrow-gauge railway line built to carry ore from the Rheidol Valley for shipment from Aberystwyth survives today as the Vale of Rheidol Railway, British Rail’s only steam-operated line. It starts from Aberystwyth Station and runs inland for 12 miles through magnificent scenery, rising to 680 ft near Devil’s Bridge. There are daily services in summer.
The name means ‘small marsh’, and this rocky little beach is one of the few breaks in the long, cliff-edged stretch of coast which stretches from Aberystwyth almost to Aber-aeron. It is difficult to reach: follow the signs from the main road, then turn off down a narrow and winding lane which meanders close enough to the clifftop for a path to reach a steep ramp down the cliff face to the water’s edge.
This small village is on the main coast road from Aberystwyth to Aberaeron, where it crosses the River Wyre. There are two beaches, one on either side of the river, each with a stretch of shingle and sand at low water. The southern beach is the easiest to reach, by a road leading down to a car park. The beach on the northern side of the river can be reached only by walking down the lane from the church. A stream flows down the main street, and a green mound marks the site of a 12th-century castle.