Exploring the Welsh coast: Aberaeron and New Quay

Welsh coast, New Quay
Yesterday I mentioned that Aberystwyth is a good base from which to explore western Wales. On our second day in Wales my wife, son, and I hopped on a local bus and went south down the Welsh coast to the ports of Aberaeron and New Quay. Aberaeron is about 40 minutes from Aberystwyth and New Quay is only about 20 minutes further south from Aberaeron.

While we didn’t have long in Aberaeron, we liked this tidy little Welsh town with its brightly painted houses and fine view of the sea. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, and pubs and we got the impression that it might be a better place to stay than Aberystwyth. Like in Aberystwyth, we heard a lot of people speaking Welsh. Most signs are in both languages. It’s nice to know that the language is surviving in the age of globalized English.

At New Quay we stopped for lunch at a pub on a cliff overlooking a sandy beach and broad harbor. The view was nice but service was slow and the food substandard. Sadly, this was the case with all too many of our meals in Wales, even though we usually followed local advice as to where to eat.

%Gallery-129265%The famous writer Dylan Thomas lived here for a time and New Quay was the inspiration for his fictional town of Llareggub (“bugger all” spelled backwards). Visitors interested in literary tourism can follow the Dylan Thomas Trail.

We’d come to take a boat trip instead. My five-year-old had never been out to sea so we decided to remedy that by going on one of New Quay’s many dolphin tours. Dolphins are abundant in these waters; we’d seen several from the window of the Seabrin Guest House in Aberystwyth. We chose a tour run by the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre, which uses its profits to fund research into the sea life on this part of the Welsh coast. The sea was calm and the sun shone fine so we weren’t worried as we stepped aboard an inflatable motorboat with a half dozen other people.

This good weather was our undoing. The calm conditions had made the fish move further out to sea, and the dolphins had followed them. As we made our way down the coast on our one-hour ride we saw exactly none. Oh well. It’s best to remember that nature isn’t there for our amusement.

This stretch of Welsh coastline is beautiful, with jagged rocks rising high out of the sea. The strata of the rocks is clearly visible, which allowed me to give the kid a lesson in geology, and the cliffs are dotted with numerous caves that smugglers (our boat captain called them “pirates”) used to elude the customs agents. My son was more disappointed about there being no pirates than he was about the lack of dolphins! All was made better when he got to sit in the captain’s chair.

One local told me that New Quay isn’t the most pleasant place to be at night in the summertime. A lot of rough people come into town to get drunk and start fights, and two of his friends got knifed in one incident. We saw a big fight in Aberystwyth too. This isn’t unusual in the UK. When I lived in London, I regularly saw fights on the street on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s just a sad fact of life in this part of the world.

Still, we had a nice day and the kid had a great time and got to experience something new, which is what really matters. Tomorrow I’ll be blogging about a steam train we took through some beautiful Welsh countryside. Unlike my last two posts on Wales, this one will be entirely positive!

Aberystwyth: Exploring a seaside resort in Wales

Aberystwyth, Wales
When deciding where to go for a beach vacation, Aberystwyth in Wales probably isn’t the first place you think of. It wasn’t ours either. My wife and I picked it on the advice of an English friend who had never been there and about an hour’s research on the Internet. We like to travel by the seat of our pants because it usually leads to a great experience. Usually.

Since this will not be an entirely positive article let’s get the downsides out of the way. First, the beach is stony and smells of rotting seaweed. Second, in four days of eating out at restaurants recommended by locals the only decent meals we had were at our B&B and a Sunday roast at The Fountain Inn. Third, there’s no nightlife outside the pubs and we saw a bunch of football hooligans fighting on the street outside one of them. Blood flowing, police sirens wailing, the whole nine yards. I feel bad mentioning these things because the locals were generally very nice. Most of those football hooligans were actually Scottish. Let’s get on to the good things.

Aberystwyth has been a popular seaside resort for a century, although now it’s suffering from competition from easyJet and Ryanair. In the days before £100 round-trip fares, working class people could only afford to go to places like Aberystwyth or Blackpool. Now they can go to Cyprus or Spain. While this is bad for the local economy, it does bring prices down, making Aberystwyth a good spot for budget travelers. Our B&B, the Seabrin Guest House, was a ridiculously cheap £55 a night for me, my wife, and son. We got a delicious breakfast and a huge bay window overlooking the sea. Some of our best moments in Aberystwyth were lounging in front of the Seabrin drinking beer and watching the sunset with the owners.

%Gallery-129146%Aberystwyth has ancient roots. There’s an Iron Age hillfort just outside of town and the remains of a castle founded in the 12th century stand picturesquely on the seaside promenade. This promenade is good for some lazy strolls, especially in the late summer evening as the last rays of sunlight turn the sky a faint pink and the water a rippling cobalt. Many locals build fires on the beach and hang out enjoying the view.

Museum goers will want to see The National Library of Wales, which has exhibitions of rare books and manuscripts.The regional museum, called the Ceredigion Museum, makes the understated boast that it’s “sometimes described as probably the most beautiful museum interior in Britain.” Housed in an old converted music hall, it features displays of archaeological finds and historic artifacts from the area. While I was here I had the weird experience of showing my five-year-old a record player and having to explain what it was. A few minutes later I saw another parent doing the same thing!

My son loved the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway that rides up the steep slope of Constitution Hill and affords a sweeping view of the town and bay. At 778 feet it’s the longest cliff railway in Britain and is an electric cable train with tilted carriages. Once on top of the hill he got to unwind in a bouncy castle before we went to see the Camera Obscura. This is a clever device that uses a rotating rooftop mirror reflecting onto a white disc inside a dark room to give a view of the surrounding countryside. This gave me the chance to give the kid a quick lesson in optics that he then repeated to everyone who came in, especially a certain girl he’d met in the bouncy castle.

Despite my crack about the local pubs, I have nothing but good to say about The Ship and Castle. This is what all pubs should be: fun, friendly, and serving up great local real ales. It’s won awards for best regional pub in 2007 and 2011. If you go to Aberystwyth, don’t miss it.

Aberystwyth is also a good base from which to explore the rest of Wales. Tomorrow and the next day I’ll be talking more about what to see in the region.