CEREDIGION

Ceredigion winter landscape flickr stuff_and_nonsenseCeredigion. The name itself sounds utterly made up, plucked from a fantasy tale of a land full of dragons, trees of white flowers and glossy, hiding hills. The reality of this Welsh land is not far from the imaginings, the quiet majesty of it as well as the story behind the name, a story, like most Welsh tales, that tells of struggle and courage for a higher purpose. Named for a Welsh prince, Ceredig, who fought off the colonial Irish to regain his land, it is a land of both haunting beauty and tourist hotspots.

From the desert of Wales in the womb of the Cambrian mountains, to the award winning beaches crawling with tourists eager for an escape from the hectic bustle of the concrete wilderness, this plethora of geography presents Ceredigion as an adventure of nature – a challenge to those who embrace wholeheartedly the beauty and the history behind the land, and wish to tame it. A wealth of outdoor activities are on offer; cycling, freerunning and hiking for those who enjoy working up a sweat, to those who wish a leisurely walk along the coast or the more challenging routes of the mountains; or soothing boat trips accompanied by the local dolphins and seals at New Quay. For a more historical twist to your travels, there are the narrow gauge steam railway trails in Teifi Valley and the Vale of Rheidol to be explored. This mode of transport, with tracks built close together to ferry miners across the unpredictable terrain, retains its original carriages and now allows sightseers a journey through Ceredigion natural landmarks.

Many of the inns, B&Bs, and boutique hotels are old mansions, ancient villas or quaint houses managed and run by locals. The food is wholly homemade, with thick slices of fresh-cut bacon and newly-picked fruits, and meals cooked over an Aga stove. Some, like the modern boutique hotel The Harbourmaster Inn, serves ale and wine at a harbourside bar where you can watch the catch of the day being brought in from the sea; while others like the Argo Villa B&B encourage visitors to explore the village pubs and restaurants for true Welsh food. Here still exists the posts of Innkeeper and Landlady, and they are there to ensure that your bedspreads of Egyptian cotton and heated water are as pleasing to you as the hearty Welsh breakfasts served every morning.

Aside from its obvious attractions, in many ways Ceredigion has also become the keeper of knowledge for the Celtic Nations, with the National Library of Wales, the Ceredigion Museum, and the Aberystwyth Arts Centre centred here. Much of these historic safeboxes are situated in multi-talented Aberystwyth, known as a university town, a market town, and a tourist resort. On the opposite side of the coin, there is a burgeoning parkour community in West Wales, with Ceredigion having its own team. This freerunning activity makes use of both natural and man-made structures to reach a destination. Requiring an intensity of mind and body, this sport finds a home in the sparsely populated, but naturally diverse, layout of the county.

Because of the many coastlines and rivers spread throughout, most local inns and tourist hotels serve fresh seafood, ranging from delicate sewin (a salmon-like fish) to the famous Cardigan Bay lobsters and New Quay mackerel. As with most members of the United Kingdom, lamb, beef and dairy produce are in abundance; but Ceredigion has a sweet specialty: honey. The largest honey farm in Wales, located in New Quay, houses millions of tiny magic-making drones in its more than 500 hives, and Ceredigion itself is known for its many honey-based offerings, ranging from deliciously cool honey ice-cream to honey fudge and mustard.

 


The Preseli Ridge of West Wales, also known as the Golden Road, passes through the burial cairns and ancient dolmens of the prehistoric people. Atop this ridge is the source of the bluestones for the mythical Stonehenge; here too is the Bedd Arthur, believed to be the final resting place of King Arthur. Said to date back to the Neolithic period, Preseli Ridge was once the main route for travellers to and from Ireland

The Bronze Age heralded the beginning of Ceredigion’s mining heritage. The first metals mined here were copper and lead, followed by small amounts of silver during the time of the Roman occupation of Wales. Copa Hill at the Cwmystwyth Mines is one of the best-known and most-documented of the Ceredig mines, prompting excavations by archeologists both amateur and professional in hopes of finding some tenuous but important link to the past. In 2003, a freelance archaeologist named Simon Timberlake found a disc made of gold on a dig at Copa Hill – the disc was only one of a few of its kind in all of Europe! The fact that it dated back thousands of years ago led archaeologists to believe that there might have been the presence of traveling prospectors in that area and at that time, something that had not occurred to them previously.

Mining played an important part in the pulse of Ceredigion livelihood, right up to the 20th century. Part of the Central Wales Orefield runs through it, an important source of lead, zinc, copper and silver. Silver proved to be the greatest incentive to expand the mining area and to build smelting factories in the 17th century, and eventually a mint in Aberystwyth. Soon the demand for lead overtook the demand for silver, making it easier in some ways for the miners, as silver was extracted from the lead ore. Eventually, zinc became the mining priority, and then when the clamour for that, too, died down in the 1920s, the mining industry faltered. The lack of profits and the falling metal prices signaled the end of mining in Ceredigion.

Nevertheless, even today, these mines are regarded as a legacy of Ceredig culture, and awareness as well as efforts of conservation are being made through the Ceredigion Uplands Mining Heritage Project. The mining industry left its mark not only on Ceredigion’s history, but on its geography as well, where the remnants of the mines have become a part of the rugged landscap
e.

 


Aberystwyth Seafront Flickr MooganicAberystwyth (pop.16,000), or Abeamong the locals, is a market town of considerable history. Situated near the confluence of the rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol, like many little towns with a beach or two it really took off in popularity during the Victorian era when extensive rail networks were laid down. In 1869 the Cambrian railway line brought floods of visitors to see the new Royal Pier and enjoy a little sunshine. The Promenade stretches from Constitution Hill in the north to the harbour in the south. This itself is divided into two beaches which are separated by Aberystwyth's castle, ruined by the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War.

Aberystwyth is often called the capital of Mid Wales and it is home to a number of national and regional insitutions such as the beautiful and comprehensive National Library of Wales. There is a lively local culture, thanks partly to the university, with plenty of arts and music events going on. The town came to international attention a few years ago after its mayor Sue Jones-Davis (who played the fiery Judith Isariot in the film) organised a charity screening of Monty Python's Life of Brian upon hearing a (false) rumour that the film had been banned there.

Layout
Aberystwyth is relatively spread out but you should have no trouble getting around by bus. The station is next door to the train station to the east of the town centre off Terrace Road and Dan Dre.

Sights
Constitution Hill stands 100 metres above sea level and provides wonderful views not only of the immediately surrounding areas but, on clear days, of mountains throughout Wales. Take the Aberystwyth Electric Cliff Railway [Cliff Railway House, Cliff Terrace, +44 1970 617642, return £3.50] to the top. Operating since 1896, it offers a leisurely way to enjoy the views.

At the summit, you'll find the Camera Obscura [Constitution Hill, +44 1970 617642, £1] – a reconstruction from 1985 of a Victorian amusement that first adorned the castle grounds at the other end of the Promenade in 1880.  The large lens focuses the vastness of the surrounding coast into moving colour pictures within the building.

When in Rome: below Constitution Hill tap the railings with your foot as you reach the end of the Promenade. This is an old local custom called 'kicking the bar'. But aside from mysterious local traditions, you can also enjoy a traditional seaside pastimes along the Promenade.

Aberystwyth Castle SXU CerysAberystwyth Castle began to be built in 1277 under Llywelyn the Great but it was not long before it was subject to such siege and attack that it began to fall into disrepair. The castle constantly fell into different hands and by the 14th century it had significantly deteriorated. Over the years, the locals too played a role in its downfall, taking away the stones for their own building works. The north tower gate is virtually all that remains today.

Parc Natur Pengais [+44 1545 572142, free entry] is a charming woodland on the site of a former quarry. During Spring, the area is particularly lovely as the ground is covered in blooming bluebells. Listed by UNESCO as a Man and Biosphere urban reserve site, the woodland is a stroll from the centre of Aberystwyth town.

The Pen Dinas boasts excellent views and some interesting history too: In 400BC it was the site of an Iron Age hillfort but it now boasts a peculiar monument in memory of the Duke of Wellington. It is situated to the south of the town and well signposted.

 


Devil's Bridge Falls by Flickr BladeflyerGraceful and astonounding in both their construction and location, there are quite a few so called 'Devil's Bridges' throughout Europe. Pontarfynach in Ceredigion, Wales, has its own. Three Bridges [+44 1970 890233, Adults £3.50] built one on top of the other span the Rheidol Gorge. From the bridges you can walk up to the Mynach Falls or to the stunning rock formation called the Devil's Punchbowl.  

Local legend has it that the lowest bridge was built by the Devil as a ploy to get the soul of a local woman who needed to rescue her ow on the other side of the gorge. He stipulated that the first living creature to cross the bridge had to give her soul to him. The canny woman sent her dog across the bridge first.

The Devil's Bridge is around 20km from Aberystwyth. Make a day trip of it by taking the Vale of Rheidol Railway to the Devil's Bridge Station, a short, well signposted walk away from the falls. 

The Vale of Rheidol Railway [Park Avenue, +44 1970 625819, Adult return £14.50] runs from Aberystwyth to Devil's Bridge, a distance of around 19km. The railway opened in 1902 and passes through some lovely mountain scenery as well as by woodlands and open fields.

 


Cardigan Bay Flickr jez.atkinsonCardigan (pop.4,200), also called Aberteifi in Welsh, is a town on the banks of the River Teifi in the county of Ceredigion. The town9o08i grew around its castle which may have been built in 1093 by the Norman invader Robert de Montgomery. The town (and castle) is particularly noteworthy for the fact that it gave birth to the very first Eisteddfod. Lord Rhys organised the event in 1176 and it drew competitors from throughout the British Isles. However, after centuries in private hands, the castle  became quite derelict. Find out more about current attempts to preserve it click here.

Cardigan was an important sea port throughout the medieval period and up to the 18th and 19th centuries, surpassing even Cardiff and Swansea, until the river silted up in the early 20th century. Today, the river is mostly used for leisure pursuits like kayaking, fishing, and pleasure cruises. Head across the river to Poppin Sands to enjoy the beach or join the northern end of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, a part of the national park of the same name.