Aberystwyth is the principal holiday resort and administrative centre of the west coast of Wales. It is also home to the University of Wales Aberystwyth, National Library and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales.
The town itself nestles between three hills and two beaches, and hosts some castle ruins, a pier and a harbour. The surrounding hills hold the visible remains of a iron age hillfort called Pen Dinas, also a monument to Wellington, from here you’ll have stunning views of Cardigan Bay.
Aberystwyth is a University town with some seven thousand students, ensuring its vibrant throughout the year, not just the summer months. Incidentally, there are now ‘only’ fifty pubs left in Aberystwyth!
The seafront hosts Victorian / Edwardian buildings mostly 4/5 stories high. The wide promenade protect the buildings from the ravages of the Irish Sea and offers space to sit, soak up the sun and enjoy the views of the surrounding hills and mountains which in winter are often covered in snow. On a clear day you may lucky and see the tallest mountain in Wales, Snowdon.
The harbour was once one of the busiest in Wales and is fed by the rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol (the steepest river in Britain). Geographically, Aberystwyth may be considered isolated from the rest of Wales. However, this isolation made it necessary for the local people to look after themselves and over the years it has acquired more resources than a town of this size would normally have. It is now the centre of local rural life and is visited by many to sample the numerous cafés, bars, and restaurants including, Chinese, Indian, Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. The local weather is dominated by the sea and the Gulf Stream which warms the whole region.
Aberystwyth Iron Age Hillfort Pen Dinas
The Hillfort height is 413 feet, positioned to the south of the town, is easily distinguished by a tall column upon it. This is in the shape of a cannon on end and was erected in commemoration of the Battle of Waterloo by a local landowner who was present as an officer on the field.
Long before the Normans began their castle-building program, Iron Age settlers used the hilltop called Pen Dinas to build a huge hillfort (one of the largest in Wales) which still dominates the skyline as you approach Aberystwyth from the south. Consisting of two adjacent fortified areas, each roughly oval in plan. The fort was excavated some years ago and the yield in the way of finds consisted of fragments of iron implements, spindle whorls, tubular fragments of bronze, a stone bead and a very rare type of glass bead.
Aberystwyth Sea Fishing
Excellent sport is afforede by sea fishing, with fly as well as ground bait. Bass appear in the Bay about May, remaining until July, and may be taken with the Alexander fly or other bait from the Promenade, the rocks or, best of all, from a boat. Mackerel run from May till August; sometimes the sea teems with them. Mullet are present from June to September, gurnet from May to August, and whiting from September to March. In the early summer, crabs, lobsters and prawns may be taken in the rocks at Wallog and at Monk’s Cave.
The name Aberystwyth first appears in credible history in the year 1109, when Henry I gave Gilbert de Strongbow the right to build a castle on a hill above the River Ystwyth.
The Conquest by the Normans brought with it a feudal system where all lands belonged to the King. Cardiganshire was held by the Welsh Prince Cadwgan ab Bleddyn who refused to acknowledge the sovereignty of King Henry I. Gilbert de Strongbow (= Gilbert FitzRichard of Clare) was given Cardiganshire on the understanding that the peoples would be brought under the control of the King.
As part of this plan Gilbert built a fort of a ringwork and bailey design opposite Llanbadarn near the mouth of the river Ystwyth. The earthworks can still be seen on the ridge called Tan-y-Castell to the south of Tan-y-bwlch beach). This came to be known as Aberystwyth Castle.
[Aber- mouth of the river -ystwyth Ystwyth.]
Gilbert had to fight fiercely to secure his hold on the land, for the former owner, Cadwgan ap Bleddyn, did not relinquish it easily. The castle’s turbulent history came to an end in 1208 when it was burned to the ground by Maelgwn ap Rhys, its owner at the time, to prevent it from falling into the hands of his enemy Llwelyn ab Iorweth.
The first building to be erected on the present site of the town was in fact the castle. This was built for Edward I by his brother, Edmund of Lancaster. The work was begun on the twenty-fifth of July, 1277, and before the end of the year the settlement which had grown around it was granted a foundation charter. The Charter Rolls for 1277 read – “Grant that the town of Lanpader shall be free borough; and grant to the burgesses of the said borough, and their heirs, that they may enclose the town of Lanpader with a ditch and wall.” The inhabitants were also allowed to hold two fairs a year as well as a weekly market on Monday.
The town was called Llanbadarn Gaerog for some years. “Gaerog” (=fortified) being added so as not to cause confusion between it and the neighbouring town of Llanbadarn Fawr.
The Normans were defeated by the Welsh in 1282 and the castle came into new hands for a year, but when Llwelyn the Last was murdered in 1283, it was recaptured by its former inhabitants. The castle was put under siege in 1294 and surrounded by the men of Ceredigion under Maelgwn ap Rhys, and it only survived by being relieved from the sea.
After a century of comparative peace the castle saw further fighting. In 1400 Owain Glyndwr (Glendower) rose against the Norman oppression. The town was burned in 1401 but he failed to take the castle. He returned two years later and, bur for the sea-borne provisions, he would have taken it then. The castle was forced to surrender in 1404 and Glyndwr held it until 1408.
While he held the castle Glyndwr signed a treaty with Charles VI of France. Also, in 1406, cannons were first used in Wales. Henry, later Henry V, sent down a large train of artillery. The guns did not prove to be successful and he had to give up his attempt. However, he returned in 1408 and took the castle. This was the beginning of the end for Glyndwr’s brave attempt to establish a free Wales.
Little was heard of the castle for two centuries until 1637 when Thomas Bushell was allowed to set up a royal mint for Charles I. Bushell used silver and lead from nearby mines to produce coins in half-crown, shilling, sixpence and tuppenny denominations. He was payed at the rate of £15 a year for his work. When Civil War started he was forcedto move to Shrewsbury and later to Oxford.
During the Civil War the castle sided with the Royalists and it eventually fell to Colonel Rice Powell of the Parliamentarians in April 1646. To prevent it falling into Royalist hands again, it was blown up in September 1649.
The remains of the castle were used as a quarry by local inhabitants for the purpose of building their own homes. In 1835 work began on clearing some of Cromwell’s rubble and, when the castle was bought by the Town Council in 1881, it was layed out as a public garden.
The wall around the town stood until about 1760 when parts of it became dangerous and had to be pulled down. The wall followed some of the existing streets of the town and went from the castle through Eastgate, Baker Street, Chalybeate Street, Mill Street and back to the cstle through South Road. The only part of the Castle which has survivedstands by the North wall of the castle, on the putting green.
Finds from recent excavations may be seen in the Ceredigion Museum, Terrace Road, Aberystwyth.
Most of the castle stone was pilfered by locals to build their homes.
Aberystwyth Constitution Hill & Electric Cliff Railway
The Aberystwyth Electric Cliff Railway is the longest electric cliff railway in Britain. It climbs Constitution Hill from the northern end of the town’s promenade with trains running every few minutes during the spring, summer and early autumn.
Constitution Hill 485 feet high, on reaching the summit reveals an amazing panorama which on a clear day extends as far as the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire to the south, while the whole expanse of Cardigan Bay opens out to the west and the mountains of Snowdonia to the North can also be seen. There is a caf at the summit and the famous Camera Obscura. The present building is a recreation of the Victorian original. As the carefully-balanced mirror revolves, detailed views of the surrounding countryside are thrown onto the table in the centre of the building.
The Cliff Railway also provides the simplest start to the beautiful walk over the cliff-tops to Clarach Bay, from where you can catch a bus back to Aberystwyth.
The beach is composed of dark sand and pebbles. At the north end of Marine Terrace are Craiglais Rocks and Cove, a particularly attractive spot, when the tide is breaking over the rocks.
One of the most intresting features of Aberystwyth beach is the great variety of pebbles: pink and red jasper from North Wales, granites from Scotland and the Lake District, agates, quartz and amethyst from far afield and even flint from North of Ireland are all to be found mingled with the local rocks. Their origins traces back to the early history of the formation of Cardigan Bay. During the Great Ice Age, tongues of ice spread southwards from the mountainous regions of the north, bringing with them boulders of rock of all kinds from many parts, and a good deal of the country around Aberystwyth is still covered by a layer of ice-transported debries – clay and stone. The site of Cardigan Bay was then a low-lying plain, floored by similar deposits, and even in the early part of the present era man was able to live in regions that are now covered by the sea. Gradually the sea has encroached upon the land and in doing so has broken up the “boulder clay,” as these glacially transported deposits are called, and the pebbles are continually being thrown up by the waves. Some of them have been drifted to from long ridges or Sarns, extending for considerable distance out to sea, and clearly visible when the tide is low. Such, for example, is Sarn Cynfelin, near Wallog. Other evidences of the submerged land are seen when the sea clears away local accumulations of sand, and exposes on the foreshore (as at Borth and Clarach) the sites of old forests with the rotting tree-stumps still embedded in the soil in which they grew.
The sea at Aberystwyth is remarkably clear, and since there is only a short distance between high and low water marks, bathers never have to go far to reach the sea. The sandy shore of Clarach Bay, on the far side of constitution Hill, is a popular place for the delights of paddling. Bathers, however, should exercise great care.