Monday, 30 June 2014

NEW QUAY




This year marks the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas, who was born on 27 October 1914, so there's never been a better time to pay a visit to New Quay, where the poet lived for a short time during the Second World War.  True to form, he had a favourite pub, the Black Lion, where he spent a large portion of his time while in New Quay.  He wrote a number of poems while living in the town, including 'Vision and Prayer', 'Poem in October' and 'Fern Hill', and New Quay is thought to have been the inspiration for the location featured in Under Milk Wood, although the characters were allegedly drawn from Laugharne in Camarthenshire, where he also lived for a while.  Those who want to follow in his footsteps can take the Dylan Thomas Trail, a walk around New Quay taking in the places featured in his poem.

Like many places on the Welsh coast, New Quay once had a thriving economy based around shipbuilding and fishing, but nowadays these activities have been replaced by tourism.  As well as the picturesque harbour, there are three beaches: Harbour Beach, Traeth Gwyn and Dolau.  Waterborne activities are on offer at Cardigan Bay Watersports, and there is a Yacht Club.  The Cardigan Bay Regatta takes place in August.  Due to its biological makeup, Cardigan Bay is an important environment for marine wildlife, and this is showcased in the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre.  The centre also runs boat trips to look for bird colonies, seals and if you are lucky, bottle-nosed dolphins and Porpoise.  Sadly, the cetaceans were playing hide and seek the day we did the trip, but it was a lovely boat trip anyway.  Just outside the town, the New Quay Honey Farm has an exhibition on honey bees as well as a shop and tearoom.  

The New Quay Music Festival takes place on the first weekend in August this year, with some names from the past including Toyah and Hazel O'Connor.  For other events in the town see here.

Map of the area.

File:New Quay Harbour - geograph.org.uk - 558613.jpg
Photo by Des Adams, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

ABERAERON



The first time I visited Aberaeron, I thought I had been transported across the Irish Sea: the brightly coloured houses surrounding the harbour seemed more reminiscent of Cork or Kerry than Wales.  Many of these houses belonged to sea captains during the town's heyday as a seafaring port, and some of them bear the names of far-flung locations such as Melbourne.  The town owes a debt of gratitude to the Reverend Alban Thomas Jones Gwynne, who passed an Act of Parliament in 1807 for the enlargement and improvement of the harbour, which in turn led to the development of a planned town thought to be one of the best of its kind in Wales.  The once thriving economy was based around shipbuilding, with many sailing vessels and steamships bearing the Aberaeron name, and other local industries such as the production of wool in a woollen mill on the banks of the River Aeron and the ironworks, where the 'Aberaeron shovel' was made, a type of shovel with triangular blades and long curved handles designed to avoid back-bending work.  The arrival of the railway in 1911 proved a mixed blessing, since while bringing a new transport option to the town, it also sounded the death knell for the town's seafaring activities (the line was finally pulled up in 1975 after being wound down first to passengers and then to freight).  

Today, Aberaeron is a popular holiday town with a jolly mix of independent shops and decent restaurants and pubs, such as the colourful Harbourmaster Inn which dominates the harbourside, and which featured in a Welsh tourism advertisement a few years ago.   There are a number of events and festivals, many of them in the summer months, although probably the oldest event is a fair that takes place each year on the 13th November, a throwback to the days when there was an annual livestock fair on this date.  The livestock are gone now, and the modern-day fair promises 'fun and entertainment for all the family'. 

For a list of events in Aberaeron see here

Map of the area.

Aberaeron

Saturday, 21 June 2014

LLANRHYSTUD AND ABERARTH



The coast running south from Aberystwyth is characterised by high cliffs and it is not until the cliff walker has tramped for 7 miles that there is an opportunity to descend to the sea, where steps go down to the beach at Morfa Bychan.  Further south again is the village of Llanrhystud, where a stream divides the shingle and sand beaches.  The church of St Rhystud, for whom the village is named, is a Grade II listed building surrounded by a conservation area.  St Rhystud was a 6th century missionary who chose this spot for the foundation of a religious settlement.  It is hard to imagine now, but the village saw some considerable action during the 12th century, when there was a castle built there known at the time as Castell Cadwaladr, and also other fortified sites nearby.  

I have passed through Aberarth several times while travelling up and down the main coast road fringing Cardigan Bay.  It looks picturesque, but due to its diminutive size it is a question of 'blink and you miss it'.  In fact the village was popular as a seaside retreat in Victorian times; retiring sea captains occupied most of the bigger houses in the village in those days.  Going back in time to the 12th century, the village was a seaport used by Cistercian monks to import Bath Stone from Bristol.  The stone was transported inland to a site near Tregaron for the building of Strata Florida Abbey.  Economic activity in the village on the part of the Cistercians included the milling of corn and fishing by means of fish traps which can still be seen at low tide.  Later, in the 19th century, the village was a centre for shipbuilding.  The village church has a Norman tower, but most of the present-day building dates from 1860.  A mile or so inland from the village is the Derwen International Welsh Cob Centre, a stud which rears some of the most versatile and beautiful horses on Earth.

Map of the area.

File:Aberarth and River Arth.jpg
Photo by Velela, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 16 June 2014

ABERYSTWYTH

Aberystwyth has been on our TV screens a lot lately. First, during the awful storms of last winter, when the town's seafront made the national news after suffering extensive damage. The damage was so bad that the occupants of all the seafront houses were forced to evacuate. Then, more recently it appeared in the excellent TV crime drama Hinterland, when the town was the location of the police headquarters. The series was shot before the storms, and there were glimpses of the seafront with its 1920s shelter intact - sadly the shelter was badly damaged during the storms, but it has been reported that the shelter will be rebuilt.

Occupying a central position on Cardigan Bay, Aberystwyth has been a popular resort since the late 1800s following the arrival of the railway to the town. The town has a pier - which is known for its impressive starling murmurations at certains times of the year - and also a cliff railway, opened in 1896, which climbs to the top of Constitution Hill at the northern end of the resort, from where there are lovely views over the town, and there is a Camera Obscura and a restaurant. Aberystwyth is also the terminus of the Vale of Rheidol heritage railway, which chugs up to the beauty spot known as Devil's Bridge Falls (which featured in the first episode of Hinterland). The Ceredigion Museum is housed in a former Edwardian music hall, which still has its stage and balconies on view. On the headland to the south of the town are the ruins of a 13th-century castle.

However, Aberystwyth is more than just a resort; it is also an important university town. The University opened in the 1870s, the first Welsh university to open its doors. The Welsh Language Society is also based in Aberystwyth. Continuing the learned theme, the town is home to the National Library of Wales, with a huge collection of books and material relating not only to Wales but the wider Celtic world. The collection includes examples of early Welsh poetry and laws. The presence of the university makes Aberystwyth one of the most vibrant resorts on the Welsh coast, with a wide variety of bars and clubs aimed at the student population and visitors alike.

To find out more about the locations used in the Hinterland series, why not take a look at my other blog, Britain On Page And Screen.

Map of the area.

File:Aberystwyth seafront - geograph.org.uk - 243595.jpg
Photo by David Stowell, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

BORTH



Until recently, Borth was one of the lesser known resorts on the Welsh coast, eclipsed by its better-known neighbour to the south, Aberystwyth.  I say until recently because Borth had its moment of fame a short time ago when it featured in the final episode of the new TV crime drama series Hinterland.  In particular, it was the station that took centre stage, with its creepy station manager keeping watch over the surrounding countryside and ending up on the suspect list for the killing of a young woman found murdered and kneeling upright in the marshlands near the station.  In real life the station is an unmanned stop on the Cambrian Line, which runs up the west coast of Wales.

File:Borth Railway Station - geograph.org.uk - 518896.jpg
The most famous railway station in mid-Wales.  Photo by Ben Croft, via Wikimedia Commons

I remember one particularly hot July weekend when my husband and I were making our way back from Harlech to Aberaeron and I was desperate for a swim.  I persuaded my husband to park up at Borth, where the long sand and pebble beach satisfied my urge to go for a cooling dip quite nicely.  The beach is also popular with surfers.  There is a sea wall running along the back of the beach with a mile-long string of houses behind it.  Walkers can take the coastal path heading south towards Aberystwyth, taking in dramatic clifftops and the remote sand and shingle beach at Wallog.  The other main attraction hereabouts is the Animalarium, where visitors can feast their eyes on exotic creatures such as lemurs and wallabies.  

Map of the area. 

File:South end of Borth beach - geograph.org.uk - 582781.jpg
Borth Beach. Photo by Nigel Brown, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 7 June 2014

ABERDYFI



Aberdyfi (or Aberdovey, to give it its English name) nestles at the foot of a steep flank of the mouth of the River Dovey.  The town is a popular seaside destination today, but its past has been shaped by more industrial activities.  During the 1700s copper was mined in what is now Copperhill street, and there was also lead mining.  During the 19th century the town was an important shipbuilding centre and port, with slate and oak bark the major exports.  Later in the 19th century the Aberdyfi and Waterford Steamship Copmany imported livestock from Ireland; by now there was a railway and the livestock were transported on by rail.  The town's shipbuilding past is recalled in an exhibition housed in the Aberdyfi Information Centre.  The exhibition also recounts a legend about a land submerged beneath the sea in Cardigan Bay.  The legend is also the subject of a Victorian song called The Bells of Aberdovey, arising from the notion that the sound of bells from the lost land can be heard below the water on Aberdyfi beach.

Today, the main activities in Aberdyfi revolve around the water, with sailing and watersports on offer.  There are boat trips available from the harbour, and a long sandy, dune-backed beach stretching to the north towards Tywyn.  For golfers, there is an 18-hole championship course set on the dunes.  The whole scene is accompanied by magnificent views across the estuary.

Map of the area.

File:Aberdyfi Gwynedd B 15.JPG
Photo by Llywelyn2000, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

TYWYN



Heritage railway enthusiasts are really spoilt for choice in the north-west corner of Wales.  As well as the the two railways branching out from Porthmadog (see 9 May), there is the shorter, but no less delightful narrow-gauge Talyllyn Railway, which runs from Tywyn up though a beautiful valley to an area of forest and river walks called Nant Gwernol, passing the Dolgoch Falls on the way.  The railway was the first narrow-gauge railway to be licensed by Parliament to carry passengers, and is the oldest heritage railway in the UK.  The Ealing comedy The Titfield Thunderbolt was based on Talyllyn's story.  Back in Tywyn, the station houses the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum.

Tywyn is a quiet seaside town which predates the Norman invasion.  The origins of the town's Church of St Cadfan are probably also pre-Norman.  The most interesting feature of the church is St Cadfan's Stone, dating from the 8th-9th century which has an inscription in the oldest known written Welsh.  Another notable building in the town is the Magic Lantern Cinema, housed in a wonderful period building dating from 1893 and once used as the town's Assembly Room - the original sign and date can still be seen on the facade, while the present-day venue still retains its old-fashioned box office.  The cinema is one of the oldest in the UK, and as well as films it hosts a range of other arts events, all enhanced by a visit to a lovely bar for pre-show drinks.  Tywyn's golden beach, with groynes at regular intervals along its pebble-strewn sand, stretches for five miles southwards towards the mouth of the River Dovey.

Map of the area.

File:Foreshore at Tywyn - geograph.org.uk - 214678.jpg
Photo by OLU, via Wikimedia Commons