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Aberystwyth b&b, guesthouse and hotel accommodation

Aberystwyth in Ceredigion

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Visit Aberystwyth and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:

Aberystwyth, Ceredigion. This seaside town, placed almost half way round the long curve of Cardigan Bay, seems poised between North and South Wales. The massive moorlands of Plynlimon lie behind it to the East, and the threatened railway takes a long time to reach it through the valleys and hills of Central Wales. The town is a long way from any of the big centres of population in the principality. Aberystwyth thus seems to have a character of its own, Welsh and independent despite the flood of visitors that swamp it in summer. “Aber” is a fascinating amalgam of holiday resort and university town, with a national library as well. It may not be the “Brighton of Wales”, as the old guides dubbed it, but the curve of houses and hotels along the sea-front, each with its double bow-windows, has charm, even distinction. The same early 19th century saw the construction of the South Marine Terrace, the pleasing houses around Queen's Square, and the attractive Laura Place near St Michael's Church.

There is plenty of history here as well. The earliest settlement lies on the summit of Pen Dinas, the shapely hill that rises just South of the town, between the rivers Rheidol and Ystwyth, whose waters eventually unite in Aberystwyth harbour. Pen Dinas is crowned by a column in a form of a cannon on end, set up by a local landowner who fought at Waterloo. But the summit ridge of the hill has been fashioned into a fort, or rather a double fort, of the Iron Age. This is one of the largest forts in West Wales. Pottery discovered here linked this remote fortress on the far coast of Wales with Iron Age people in Gloucestershire and even Spain and Portugal. The Normans built the next fortifications at Aberystwyth. as they advanced up the coastline from Cardigan in the reign of Henry I. The first of these Norman castles (the Welsh destroyed them from time to time) was South of the present town in the Ystwyth valley. Later the strong position overlooking the sea at the mouth of the Rheidol was firmly occupied. Edward I rebuilt the castle on this spot. Glyndwr captured it in 1404, and its loss to Prince Henry in 1408 marked the beginning of the decline in Glyndwr's fortunes. During the reign of Charles I, Thomas Bushell received permission to establish a mint here in l637. Bushell had taken over the mining concession of the Plynlimon lead-mines from Sir Hugh Middelton, who had already made a fortune out of the enterprise. Middelton used the money to finance the New River project, which brought London its first reliable water supply. For a while Bushell also did well. His new process of refining silver from the ore made the Aberystwyth mint important. The Civil Wars eventually ruined Bushell. The castle was held for the King, but surrendered to the Parliamentary forces in 1646. After that it fell into decay. The ruins are now in the care of the Aberystwyth Corporation, and the promontory on which they stand is pleasantly laid out with seats and gardens. In the castle courtyard is a stone circle, prepared for the Gorsedd ceremonies when the National Eisteddfod was held in the town in 1952. Overlooking the sea is the tall column of the war memorial, surmounted by a figure representing the Angel of Peace. From the castle grounds, in clear weather, the peak of Snowdon can be seen 44 miles to the North.

South of the castle is the harbour. Aberystwyth was a busy port until the middle of the 19th century. At one time it could boast 2,000 small vessels, and in 1801 it was still the fourth largest town in Wales. Inevitably the Railway Age brought a slow decline in the trade of the port.

To the North of the castle are St Michael's Church and the extraordinary complex of buildings that was the first home of the University College. The core is formed by the neo-Gothic hotel a connoisseur's piece of Victoriana built by the railway engineer Thomas Savin about 1860. He was a man with ideas on tourism far ahead of his day. He conceived a brilliant scheme for popularizing Aberystwyth, and his own railway line to the coast, by offering a week's board free to anyone who bought a return ticket at Euston. He built the hotel (and planned two others at Aberdovey and Borth) to accommodate the rush of tourists he confidently anticipated. Unfortunately, the whole speculation failed after Savin had spent £80,000 on his dream hotel.

From the ruins of Savin's dream, another dream came to fulfilment. The l860s were also the period of a great awakening in Welsh education, and of the voluntary movement to establish a university college in Wales. Funds were collected from the patriotic, and Savin's empty building seemed just what was wanted. The committee paid down £10,000, and the first constituent college of what afterwards became the University of Wales was established, with Thomas Charles Edwards, the great-grandson of Thomas Charles of Bala, as its first Principal. The college fought its way through the financial difficulties that surrounded its origin, and survived by the “pennies of the people”. This was a college for which a whole country had fought. The seal of royal approval was set on the college in 1896, when the future King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, came to Aberystwyth to be installed as first Chancellor of the University of Wales. This was also Mr Gladstone's last appearance in public. The college has now become involved in the post-war “university explosion”. The old buildings are now mainly a museum, where, among many other interesting exhibits, a collection of the silver coins minted at Aberystwyth by Thomas Bushell is on display. The main buildings of the college now lie on Penglais Hill, on the road that leads North, out of the town. The college has almost become a small town in itself, looking down over the old town and the first “college by the sea”.

In the centre of this new development stands the somewhat older, imposingly Edwardian building of the Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru (National Library of Wales). Until the new college construction after the war, the Library stood out in lonely white splendour on its hill above Aberystwyth, as another symbol of the Welsh people's determination to create their own national institutions. The movement to establish a national library began as far back as 1873, and Aberystwyth, with its new college, seemed the right place for this second venture in spite of its remoteness from the main centres of population. The first section was finished in 1911, to the designs of Sidney Greenslade and later additions made by Sir Charles Holden. The whole scheme was completed in 1955.

Here is housed the most complete collection of Welsh books and MSS. in the world. The nucleus of the MS. collection was brought together by Sir John Williams (l840-l926), the Royal Physician. Apart from the Havod MS. which belongs to Cardiff Library, there is hardly a Welsh MS. of importance that is not at Aberystwyth. Here is the Black Book of Carmarthen, the earliest MS. in Welsh, together with the White Book of Rhydderch, the Book of Taliesin, and the earliest complete text of the Mabinogion. Here also is the Hengwrt Chaucer, one of the most important texts of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Copies of the earliest books printed in Welsh are also among the treasures of the Library.

Behind Alexandra Hall, the funicular cliff railway gallantly hauls passengers up a 2-in-1 gradient to the glorious viewpoint of Constitution Hill. From here a path leads round the Coast for 2 miles to the beach at Clarach, set between two steep hills. Clarach has sand; Aberystwyth beach is mainly shingle. Clarach can be easily reached by road through the quaintly named village of Bow Street. The Clarach valley holds the little church of Llangorwen, surprisingly connected with the subtleties and religious anxieties of the Oxford Movement. Isaac Williams, the poet and one of the leaders of the Movement, lived in the house of Cwm Cynfelin, behind the church. Here Keble wrote the last section of his Christian Year. The church was built in 1841, and the chancel is a replica of the church that Newman himself built at Littlemore. Keble presented the lectern. Unusual, too, is the altar, constructed of stone. Cwm woods are part of the public attractions of Aberystwyth. The golf course is nearby.

Eastwards from Aberystwyth, the remarkable Rheidol valley reaches inland to the wilds of Plynlimon. One of its delights is the Light Railway that runs to Devil's Bridge.

The valley parallel to the Rheidol northwards is not only the traditional birthplace of Dafydd ap Gwilym, but also contains Plas Gogerddan. the home of the powerful Pryse family, one of the last county families to keep a private harper. The Pryses ruled the political life of northern Cardiganshire throughout the 18th century so much so that in 1714 one Pryse was automatically elected in his absence and without ever being consulted about his candidature. He resolutely refused to regard himself as an M.P., and defied all Parliament's attempts to punish him until another Pryse nominee was duly elected in his place. No wonder the old mayors of Aberystwyth were supposed to administer the loyal oath with the formula: “I swear to be faithful to the King and the House of Gogerddan”.

In a fold between the lower courses of the Ystwyth and the Rheidol is the estate of Nanteos (Nightingale Brook). In this mansion was once kept a wooden cup said to be the Holy Grail, taken there by the monks of Strata Florida when threatened by the Dissolution. It left Nanteos, however, with its owners in 1967. Legend had it that Joseph of Arimathea brought it to Glastonbury, either as having been used at the Last Supper or part of the Cross. The very name Grail and the belief that it was a Cup belong to Malory's Morte D 'Arthur. Earlier romances called it a precious stone. It is recognized as having originated with a religious philosophy belonging to the oldest interpretations of Christianity and as being the symbol of all Creation, an idea on which the visitor could well reflect even in the absence of the Cup.

The coastline South of Aberystwyth, after the mouth of the Ystwyth river, becomes high and rather remote, with one showplace in the Monk's Cave or Twil Twrw (Thunder Hole). The main road southwards to Llanrhystyd runs high here. Look North East on a clear day for a panorama of the Plynlimon range rolling away to the far horizon.

Nearby towns: Aberaeron, Lampeter, Llanidloes, Machynlleth, Tregaron

Nearby villages: Aberdovey, Borth, Bow Street, Bronant, Capel Bangor, Devils Bridge, Eglwys Fach, Elerch, Llanafan, Llanbadarn Fawr, Llancynfelyn, Llanddeiniol, Llanddewi Brefi, Llanfihangel, Llanfihangel-y-Creuddyn, Llangwyryfon, Llanilar, Llanon, Llanrhystud, Llansantffraid, Lledrod, Pontrhydfendigaid, Pontrhydygroes, Rhayader, Rhydyfelin, Southgate, Talybont, Tre-Taliesin, Upper Borth, Ysbyty-Ystwyth, Ystradmeurig

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