Newest Review: ... guess someone is bound to move on at some point but it's catching it. There are two beaches to Aberystwyth I guess if looking out to the se... more
Druids and Speakeasies
Member Name: mouette
Date: 08/12/03, updated on 25/07/05 (345 review reads)
Disadvantages: A long way from anywhere
The town I know is more mainstream but is definitely a town with beguiling charm. It is heavily dependent on the University for its livelihood, but its presence has blessed the town with more assets than you might expect - for one so small and remote (approx 12,000 people).
So why visit when it takes forever to get to, whether by train or car?
For the journey as a starter. The road into Aberystwyth from Llangurig is arguably one of the most beautiful in the UK, as it winds its way through the Cambrian Mountains - truly dramatic - before giving you a glimpse of the Irish Sea and descending towards the town. Alternatively the train teeters on the River Dovey's banks and then heads towards the estuary at Ynyslas, Borth and then Aberystwyth.
If arriving by train you may well arrive late, and feasibly have been standing for an hour, so you may wish to have a drink at the pub on the station. It's a Wetherspoons - do I need to say more?
The town is full of hotels and B&B's of varied quality. They do get busy at certain times (the start of University terms for example) but finding a bed is not generally difficult. I have stayed in a couple of indifferent B&B's but general consensus among friends is that the Marine Hotel on the promenade is top of the pile. There are no luxury hotels.
Once you have found a bed a good point to head for is the top of Constitution Hill, from where you get spectacular views of the bay, Snowdon National Park and the town itself. For a close up view there is a Camera Obscura from which you can identify buildings in the town with pinpoint precision. There is also a fairly basic café at the top, which you may be glad of if you have walked. If energy levels are low you can take the electric cliff railway, Britain's longest - and an experience in itself.
For lunch my favourite place is the Blue Creek Café near the Castle, with wonderful wraps, cakes and coffee. It's a true gem of a place, but it doesn't have much space, so you may have to wait, or be disappointed.
Other possibilities include Corners, in Chalybeate Street, or for an organic meal the Treehouse in Baker Street, which also has a good organic food shop. Both do excellent food. If, on the other hand, you are just peckish, there is a Sandwich shop at the bottom of Great Darkgate Street that has sublime chocolate doughnuts.
After all that food you may wish to walk it off, and if you head for the promenade via Terrace Road pop in to the Ceredigion Museum, which has fascinating historical objects and displays. And, according to the blurb, it is 'probably the most beautiful Museum in Britain'. It is impressive, but I'll leave you to make your own mind up. Next door is the Tourist Information Centre which is full of pamphlets and maps giving details of all local attractions. Staff are very helpful and friendly too.
I got distracted - the walk. You would join the promenade by a café that sells coffee and ice cream. It is only open in the summer and is a great favourite of the bikers who regularly congregate on the promenade. Walking for about a mile, away from Constitution Hill, take in the colourful hotels and B&B's, the pier, the castle and the harbour. The pier is a popular place, with amusement arcades, a snooker club, pub, pizza restaurant and nightclub. Unfortunately you cannot walk around it and it is not as impressive as in some towns (Eastbourne, Brighton for example).
The castle is a ruin, but it is in lovely surroundings and can have quite a daunting atmosphere to it, especially when the wind is blowing in hard off the Irish Sea.
Shopping in the town is limited. However its remoteness and size has kept many of the typical high street shops away so you do get some interesting individual ones. Siop y Pethe in Great Darkgate Street is a good place for all things Welsh. There is also a regular, although not exceptional, market on Saturday's. Better is the occasional farmers market, which has interesting local products. Some of the shops give very poor service, knowing you are a captive market, but most places you will go to as tourist have very helpful and friendly staff.
The council has recently worked to improve the shopping experience by widening the pavements in Great Darkgate Street - a success, and limiting parking in Terrace Road - not such a success, not least for wheelchair users who now find it difficult to cross the roads due to unhelpful dips between the pavement and the road.
For night entertainment, most of the pubs are geared for the student market and are usually lively in term time. Rummers (a great atmosphere), Scholars (nice surroundings, not too crowded) and Yr Cwps (more traditional, friendly local) are three that I particularly liked. For restaurants, Gannets Bistro has exceptional food and service, and at Figaro's there are good meat and fish dishes, and you can watch your food being cooked. Others I like are Little Italy, Serendipity and Harry's. There is nowhere I have had a bad meal.
Cultural needs are met by the Aberystwyth Arts Centre, which is half way up Penglais Hill at the University. Excellent films, exhibitions and shows are put on here, the quality of which puts many larger towns to shame. The centre also has an excellent café (generous helpings), a craft/gift shop and a Waterstones bookshop.
Further down the hill, back towards the town is Wales' National Library which puts on excellent exhibitions, and has the right to a free copy of every printed work in the UK, so good for research.
Near by it is well worth going to Ynyslas for its wonderful sandy beach and dunes. You can walk from Aberystwyth. It takes about two hours and if you are extremely lucky, as I was, you may see a family of Pole Cats along the way. The path does hug the cliff, so if you suffer from severe vertigo, this may not be such a good idea.
Further out, Devils Bridge looks down over an impressive gorge and has an excellent walk in the surrounding woods. You can get there from Aberystwyth by the Vale of Rheidol steam train. It takes about an hour (return cost - £11) and gives wonderful views of the Rheidol valley.
If you want action, mid Wales has some of the UK's best mountain bike tracks at Nant yr Arian, about 8 miles east of the Town. Close by you can watch Red Kites being fed - there is a pay and display car park off the A44 - and there are good short walks.
It is true that at times Aber can be crowded, with students and holiday makers competing for pavement space, and it can rain quite a bit. But it is a charming beautiful town that once visited would not be forgotten
For more information try: http://www.aberystwyth-online.co.uk/
Summary: A lively student town with beguiling charm
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