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.