Quiet coves between the cliffs on a wild Welsh coast
The coast between Cardigan and Aberaeron/ on the long sweeping curve of Cardigan Bay, is remote and secluded. The main coast road swings inland, and the sea can be reached only by following a lane to one of the villages or coves which nestle in gaps in the impressive cliffs. The wildness of this part of the Welsh coast is well suited to those looking for quiet pleasures such as picnicking, sunbathing or walking clifftop paths.
At the northern end of the village, facing west across the Teifi estuary, the dunes give way to the beginning of the rocky cliffs that stretch almost without interruption to New Quay. The beach is covered with shingle, though as the tide ebbs it uncovers a stretch of muddy sand. Bathing is safe close to the shore, but further out the river currents make conditions treacherous and the water is best avoided when the tide is on the ebb.
Like so many of the small islands off the Welsh coast, Cardigan Island is a nature reserve – owned, in this case, by the West Wales Naturalists’ Trust. It is small – only 40 acres – and a mere quarter of a mile from the shore, but the rock-strewn approaches and steep cliffs all round the island make landing difficult. There is a flock of Soay sheep on the island, as well as nesting gulls and fulmars. Attempts are being made to establish a colony of Manx shearwaters, by introducing fledglings from Skomer Island.
This beautiful spot is well worth the drive along a narrow and tortuous lane off the main road. The drive ends with a spectacular view down into a small sandy cove, bounded at the northern end by a 250 ft high rocky headland which is National Trust property. Beside the car park in the clifftop meadows, at the top of the path leading down to the beach, is the 700-year-old church of the Holy Cross, its whitewashed walls standing out against the green slopes. No trace is now left of the battle fought at this spot in 1155 when a party of Flemish raiders was defeated, a victory which until the 18th century was celebrated each year with a festival called the ‘Bloody Sunday of Mwnt’. Human bones and rusting weapons are still occasionally turned up by the ploughs of local farmers.
A Government test centre for missiles, and its airfield and research establishment, are sited along the road which leaves the main coast road at Blaenannerch and leads to Aberporth. The village, clustered round its sheltered bay, has two beaches, separated by a small rocky headland, with good access to the water for boats.
Bathing is safe except when the wind is blowing from the north; it then causes currents to funnel around the bay, creating a strong and dangerous undertow which could trap unwary swimmers. Another hazard is from test firings of weapons from the missile base, but these are heralded by signal flags and a patrol boat; the target-area
Compared with some of the beaches along this stretch of coastline, Tresaith is easy to reach, as the road leads almost to the water’s edge. Parking is extremely limited, with space for only half a dozen cars or so, though there is more parking space at the top of the hill.
The beach is covered with wide, hard sand, below a strip of shingle, and the clear waters are popular with divers. When the tide is out, the beach of Penbryn, a mile to the east, is an easy walk along the sands.
FEEDING THE LAND In many coves along the Welsh coast, stone-built lime-kilns still stand on the shore. They are relics of the days in the 18th century when coasters called in with cargoes of limestone. This was then burned in the kilns to provide fertiliser for nearby farmlands which were acid through lack of underlying chalk.
Penbryn beach can be reached by road down a track from the village of Penbryn. Boats can be taken down to the beach for launching, but there is no parking space, and cars have to be left a 10 minute walk away in a nearby farmyard and camping site.
The sand, the low dunes and the wooded valley tucked into a gap in the cliffs cut by a small stream make a tranquil place to while away a summer afternoon.
Two roads from the main Cardigan to Aberaeron coast road, and a narrow, winding lane from the west lead to Llangranog. It is a pretty little village with pubs and restaurants, slipways and a sandy beach bounded by rocky headlands. If the sea is rough, bathing is inadvisable (especially near the rocks), bu t a walk along the clifftops to the headland of Ynys-Lochtyn, owned by the National Trust, a mile to the north will provide spectacular views of the breakers. A 541 ft hill between the village and the spacious harbour – the building materials had to be brought in by sea – and there was soon a busy shipbuilding industry here, using timber from local oak forests.
Later in the century better roads, and the railway from Aberystwyth down the coast to Carmarthen, with branches to coastal towns including Aberaeron and Cardigan, killed off much of the coastal trade, but the town lives on as a busy holiday resort. The harbour shelters yachts and small fishing boats. The nearby beaches, though they have little sand, are blessed with crystal-clear water and in settled weather conditions offer safe bathing. There is an aquarium beside the harbour.
Once a prosperous port for coastal shipping, all that remains of Aberarth now is a tiny village alongside the Cardigan to Aberystwyth coast road, at the point where it crosses the little river Arth. On either side of the river, narrow lanes lead towards the shingle beach, backed by a sea-wall built of rock. Parking is difficult.
LLANSANTFFRAID AND LLANON
Llanon lies on the main coast road, from which a lane leads to its near neighbour of Llansantffraid, where the Peris stream flows to the sea. It is possible to drive down the lane as far as the handsome little parish church, with its stone tower and walls faced in purple slate, beside a bridge over the stream. But parking space is limited and the beach can be reached only on foot. headland has the remains of a prehistoric fort, while a scramble down a narrow path leads to a pair of quiet, sandy coves on the north-eastern side of the headland.
This secluded beach can be reached only by driving for several miles along narrow, winding lanes. At the end of the journey there is a small car park overlooking a small shingle beach, approached by a steep path, and edged by cliffs with caves and rock pools. There are the remains of an old limekiln on the shore.
New Quay lives up to most people’s idea of how a fishing village should look: narrow, hilly streets sloping down to a pretty little harbour, where the long stone quay points like a finger to a long crescent of sheltered sandy beach. The building of the quay after which the town was named in 1835 provided the only safe harbour along this whole stretch of coast, and a century ago there was a thriving shipbuilding and ship-repairing trade here. Look for the list of tolls on the notice board on the quayside, which dates back to the time when there was also a busy coastal trade. It cost 6d to bring ashore a box of cigars, a shilling for a ton of gunpowder, two for a coffin and five for a marble tombstone.
Fishing boats still put out from New Quay, and anglers can cast for pollack from the rocks near New Quay Head, to the north of the village. If the flavour of the place is reminiscent of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, this is no coincidence: the poet lived there in the 1940s and after a stroll through the village wrote Quite Early One Morning in which can be seen the beginnings of Under Milk Wood.
Ranks of beautiful Regency houses painted in contrasting pastel shades give the har-bourside streets of Aberaeron a Mediterranean flavour, offset slightly by the gridiron regularity of the town plan. The port was the creation of a local landowner, the Reverend Alban Gwynne, who decided to establish a town at the mouth of the river Aer the last century. It was centred on;