Sunday, 27 July 2014

ST DOGMAELS

Like many places in this part of Wales, St Dogmaels has an alternative Welsh name: Llandudoch. St Dogmael was a 6th century saint said to be a cousin of the more famous St David.  The village, which lies on the Teifi estuary across the way from Cardigan, is best known for the ruins of its 12th century Tironian Abbey, occupying a site on a hillside where there was an earlier Celtic church dating from the 7th century. The abbey, which is run by Cadw, is open to visitors, who can also visit a museum and visitor centre in the restored Coach House, where fine examples of early Christian and medieval stones are on display.  The abbey has its own theatre group which performs Shakespeare plays during the summer - next up is the Merchant of Venice from 6-9 August.  Next to the abbey is the church of St Thomas, with further interesting stones with inscriptions that provide the key to an early alphabet. Further down, where the estuary opens out into the sea, is a sandy beach with dunes known as Poppit Sands. Swimmers need to exercise caution here due to the mid-tide currents, and in particular they should avoid the deep-water channel further out.

Map of the area.

File:St Dogmaels Abbey - geograph.org.uk - 309701.jpg
Photo by Trish Steel, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

CARDIGAN

Cardigan lies on the estuary of the River Teifi, hence its Welsh name Aberteifi. The river separates the Western counties of Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. It used to be a walled town with a medieval castle built in 1093 by Robert Montgomery. In 1176 the first National Eisteddfod was held at the castle. The town went on to become a thriving maritime centre, and was at one point the second most important port in Wales. Many goods were exported from the port and there was a large herring fleet. The port was also a major departure point for emigration to North America, with ships such as The Active and The Albion taking passengers to New Brunswick in Canada, and the Triton heading to New York. One of the families who emigrated from here was that of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Cardigan Bay Maritime History Project known as 'Over the Waves' is dedicated to recording the area's seafaring past.

Today, Cardigan is a busy market town, with a pleasant mix of independent shops and galleries. Many of the buildings have their original Georgian and Victorian frontages. The Neo-gothic Guildhall contains an indoor market and a gallery, while other places to view arts and crafts include the Custom House shop and gallery and Pendre Art Gallery and Cafe. There is entertainment to be had at the Theatr Mwldan, and there are events and festivals throughout the year, including a River and Food Festival and a Film Festival. For nature lovers, just upstream from the town is the Welsh Wildlife Centre, with walking trails meandering among the marshes and hides dotted about for viewing the birds and other wildlife. One of the more unexpected sights at the centre is a herd of water buffalo, and if you are very lucky you may spot an otter.

For a list of events in Cardigan and the surrounding area see here.

Map of the area.

File:Cardigan River.jpg
Photo by Jprw, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

MWNT AND GWBERT

It takes a bit of work to get to the beach at Mwnt, involving the negotiation of narrow roads and a fair few steps down from the car park, but it is well worth the effort. The beautiful little beach is overlooked by the church of Eglwys Mwnt, a simple whitewashed building built in the 13th or 14th century on a site originally occupied by an earlier 6th century church. The font inside the church is made from Preseli stone and there are ancient pieces of carved wood. Beachgoers frequenting Mwnt are occasionally treated to the sight of dolphins just offshore.

File:Mwnt - Wales 03.jpg
Photo by Dickelbers, via Wikimedia Commons


The village of Gwbert lies in an elevated position above the mouth of the River Teifi, which marks the southern boundary of the county of Ceredigion. The sand dunes on the estuary to the south of the village support a multitude of plant species. To the north is Cardigan Island Coastal Farm Park, with rare breeds from all over the world. The headland by the Farm Park offers fine views across to Cardigan Island, a small uninhabited island 200 yards offshore, once the home of puffins, but sadly no longer since the island was overrun by rats from a shipwreck and the little blighters ate all the eggs and chicks. However, the island remains a nature reserve, with thousands of nesting sea-birds and also a flock of wild Soay sheep. Below the Farm Park the cliffs are riddled with caves, and these are the haunt of a colony of Atlantic grey seals. If you are lucky enough to be in the area towards the end of a sunny day, the sunsets from the clifftop are spectacular.

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Sunset at Gwbert. Photo by Ian Knox, via Wikimedia Commons


Map of the area.


Friday, 11 July 2014

TRESAITH AND ABERPORTH



The tiny Tresaith and the larger Aberporth are linked by a clifftop path from where, as well as spectacular views across Cardigan Bay, walkers may get a chance to see a variety of wildlife such as the rare chough or, out to sea, bottle-nosed dolphins and grey seals.  There have even been sightings of orca in the waters off here.  Both Tresaith and Aberporth developed around the maritime trade, with many local shipowners.  There was also a thriving herring fishing industry, making use of rowing boats with sails and a crew of 5 to 8.  Each family had a shed where the herring were salted and stored for the winter.  Aberporth's Traeth y Dryffryn beach was used as a sheltered anchorage for the vessels.  When Tresaith began to attract tourists towards the end of the 19th century its popularity earned it the unlikely title of the 'Second Brighton'.  The sandy Blue Flag beach continues to attract families, with the reassurance of lifeguards on hand in the high season.  Aberporth has two beaches separated by Pen Trwyn Cynwyl, a headland named after St Cynwyl, to whom the parish church is also dedicated.  Up until recently, the Felinwynt Rainforest Centre to the west of Aberporth delighted visitors with its exotic butterflies in a tropical environment. Sadly, this is now closed due to retirement according to the website, but may open again if new owners are found.  There is another quite different activity in the vicinity of Aberporth: an MOD testing range, first established during the Second World War, where air-launched weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are tested.

Map of the area.

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Aberporth. Photo by Wici Rhuthun, via Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

CWMTYDU AND LLANGRANOG



Walkers heading south along the coastal path from New Quay are in for a treat, especially those who enjoy wildlife, natural phenomena and ancient remains.  First there is Bird Rock with its colonies of nesting birds, then a short distance further along is Seal Bay, where mature seals can often be seen, although the autumn is the best time for younger seals.  Then for the ancient history enthusiasts there is the site of Castell Bach, a 2,000-year-old Celtic fort.  The village of Cwmtydu has a shingle beach reached  by a drive along narrow lanes.  The beach is overlooked by the remains of an old lime kiln, and the nearby shale cliffs are dramatically buckled and tilted.  

One of the many things I enjoy about the British coast is the spectacle of mountainous surf rolling onto the shore, all the more so when viewed from close quarters.  This was what I was met with during my visit to Llangrannog a couple of years ago, where I stood on the beach watching the waves roll in, and became so transfixed by the sights and sounds of it all that I was reluctant to drag myself away.  This small resort is reached by narrow lanes weaving past picturesque cottages.  The village was established in the 6th century around its church.  The original church of St Caranog has been superceded by a newer building dating from 1885, although among its contents are treasures from the Norman period.  St Mary's Well, also from around the 6th century, used to be visited by pilgrims who believed in the health-giving properties of its water.  However, there are signs of much earlier habitation in the area: the headland of Ynys-Lochtyn is overlooked by the site of a prehistoric fort.   

Nowadays it is tourism that is the mainstay of the economy.  Llangranog has a small sand and shingle beach with a distinctive rock at one end of it called Carreg Bica which according to legend is the tooth of a local giant, spat out when the giant had a toothache. During the early days of Llangrannog's time as a holiday resort it was visited by Edward Elgar.  Dylan Thomas also paid a visit while living in New Quay and, inevitably, ended up in the Ship Inn.  The Welsh painter Christopher Williams was moved to paint the village while there, and his painting 'Holidays, Village Girls at Llangrannog' is on display in the National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth). The village remains small and unspoilt, with a small cluster of businesses including two pubs.  A mile to the east of the village is the Llangrannog dry ski slope at a youth centre called the Urdd Centre.   

Webcam view from the Pentre Arms.

Map of the area. 

Llangrannog Beach with Carreg Bica


 

Monday, 30 June 2014

NEW QUAY




This year marks the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas, who was born on 27 October 1914, so there's never been a better time to pay a visit to New Quay, where the poet lived for a short time during the Second World War.  True to form, he had a favourite pub, the Black Lion, where he spent a large portion of his time while in New Quay.  He wrote a number of poems while living in the town, including 'Vision and Prayer', 'Poem in October' and 'Fern Hill', and New Quay is thought to have been the inspiration for the location featured in Under Milk Wood, although the characters were allegedly drawn from Laugharne in Camarthenshire, where he also lived for a while.  Those who want to follow in his footsteps can take the Dylan Thomas Trail, a walk around New Quay taking in the places featured in his poem.

Like many places on the Welsh coast, New Quay once had a thriving economy based around shipbuilding and fishing, but nowadays these activities have been replaced by tourism.  As well as the picturesque harbour, there are three beaches: Harbour Beach, Traeth Gwyn and Dolau.  Waterborne activities are on offer at Cardigan Bay Watersports, and there is a Yacht Club.  The Cardigan Bay Regatta takes place in August.  Due to its biological makeup, Cardigan Bay is an important environment for marine wildlife, and this is showcased in the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre.  The centre also runs boat trips to look for bird colonies, seals and if you are lucky, bottle-nosed dolphins and Porpoise.  Sadly, the cetaceans were playing hide and seek the day we did the trip, but it was a lovely boat trip anyway.  Just outside the town, the New Quay Honey Farm has an exhibition on honey bees as well as a shop and tearoom.  

The New Quay Music Festival takes place on the first weekend in August this year, with some names from the past including Toyah and Hazel O'Connor.  For other events in the town see here.

Map of the area.

File:New Quay Harbour - geograph.org.uk - 558613.jpg
Photo by Des Adams, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

ABERAERON



The first time I visited Aberaeron, I thought I had been transported across the Irish Sea: the brightly coloured houses surrounding the harbour seemed more reminiscent of Cork or Kerry than Wales.  Many of these houses belonged to sea captains during the town's heyday as a seafaring port, and some of them bear the names of far-flung locations such as Melbourne.  The town owes a debt of gratitude to the Reverend Alban Thomas Jones Gwynne, who passed an Act of Parliament in 1807 for the enlargement and improvement of the harbour, which in turn led to the development of a planned town thought to be one of the best of its kind in Wales.  The once thriving economy was based around shipbuilding, with many sailing vessels and steamships bearing the Aberaeron name, and other local industries such as the production of wool in a woollen mill on the banks of the River Aeron and the ironworks, where the 'Aberaeron shovel' was made, a type of shovel with triangular blades and long curved handles designed to avoid back-bending work.  The arrival of the railway in 1911 proved a mixed blessing, since while bringing a new transport option to the town, it also sounded the death knell for the town's seafaring activities (the line was finally pulled up in 1975 after being wound down first to passengers and then to freight).  

Today, Aberaeron is a popular holiday town with a jolly mix of independent shops and decent restaurants and pubs, such as the colourful Harbourmaster Inn which dominates the harbourside, and which featured in a Welsh tourism advertisement a few years ago.   There are a number of events and festivals, many of them in the summer months, although probably the oldest event is a fair that takes place each year on the 13th November, a throwback to the days when there was an annual livestock fair on this date.  The livestock are gone now, and the modern-day fair promises 'fun and entertainment for all the family'. 

For a list of events in Aberaeron see here

Map of the area.

Aberaeron