My Favourite Towns of Britain – Aberystwyth

I was in Norwich last weekend, where Norfolk’s unheralded county town proved to be a surprising delight. While on a nice stroll towards Norwich Cathedral, I stumbled upon the idea to collect and categorise my experiences of visiting the cities and towns up and down the United Kingdom, and to share some of my favourite places one list at a time.I begin here with my 5 favourite towns of Britain, in no particular order.

Cities in the United Kingdom have a peculiar and archaic definition, one that I have little interest to adhere. I have, completely arbitrarily, defined a “town” as any settlement with a population less than 50,000. According to the 2011 Census, there are 194 cities in the U.K. with a population above 50,000. The largest “town” below that line, and thus qualifying for selection, is Kirkcaldy.

I can confirm that Kirkcaldy will not feature, as I have never been there.


Aberystwyth Promenade

Travel Notes

  • Last visit – July 2017
  • Time spent – 1 day
  • Method of arrival – by rail (from Borth)
  • Distance from London – 190.0 miles; 4 hour 37 minutes from Euston, change at Birmingham New Street and occasionally Machynlleth
  • Did I stay in town – No

Four random facts about Aberystwyth

  • Population: 18,903 (2011 Census); 572nd Largest in the U.K.
  • Parliament Constituency: Ceredigion, Plaid Cymru
  • Google autocomplete: Aberystwyth is “a dump”
  • A famous local: Elton John Kingsman Taron Egerton

Three Reasons to Go

  • The Remoteness – Just the word “Aberystwyth” conjures up the image of Celtic mystery. Nobody knows how to pronounce the name; nobody know where the town is situated. Perhaps the only “town” deserving of this epithet in mid-Wales, it’s at least a three hour drive from anywhere resembling a major city: if travelling from London, it’s generally quicker to reach the Mediterranean. By rail, it’s the terminus of a single spur, spitting off from the already little-trafficked Cambrian Coast line. It’s very much end of the journey, and worthy for that alone.
  • Promenade on Cardigan Bay – Cardigan Bay may be the best kept secret of the country. It certainly has some of the most beautiful seaside: a gentle meander of the Welsh coast, miles upon miles of sand in direct contact with the Atlantic, the sun shines upon the impossibly blue water. Brighton’s shingles simple do nor compete. If you catch the good weather like I did, it might as well be the Maldives. 
  • National Library of Wales – Aberystwyth is most famous for its position as the centre of Welsh learning. The university has long outgrown its Victorian roots and, unfortunately, moved into a 1960s campus atop the town. As I am not an undergraduate anymore the concrete did not peek my interest. The Library next door, however, not your standard university library: the National Library of Wales is one of the nation’s deposit library, meaning that it has a right to demand a copy of every single book published in the United Kingdom and Ireland. I actually did a little studying at the vast, airy reading room for fun. And contemplated whether its status meant that they have copies of Twilight somewhere. Also in store are exhibitions dedicated to Welsh literature.

Two places I ate/drank

  • Sophies – having alighted the early Sunday train, I set about servicing my breakfast needs. I’m convinced that I came to Sophies by Googling “Aberystwyth breakfast.” I ordered one of the most massive Full Welsh Breakfast I’ve ever eaten. I am ashamed to report that I failed to finish. About 3 years on, I have not seen a bigger breakfast since.
  • Hafod – I cheated here as Hafod is a hotel at Devil’s Bridge, the terminus of the Vale of Rheidol Railway, more of that below. (The other choice would’ve been a nondescript Fuller’s pub at the town centre) A historic hotel furnished with a nice, resort-style bar, across the Devil’s Bridge. Well-sheltered from the sun and with a tranquil view in front, Hafod remains one of my most peaceful pints.

One place I missed

  • Amgueddfa Ceredigion Museum – a museum “house in a beautifully preserved Edwardian theatre”, “home to both permanent and temporary displays that explore Ceredigion’s heritage, culture and art.” It seemed to fit my interest up to a tee. Unfortunately, closed Sundays.

One unmissable place

Constitution Hill, Aberystwyth
  • Constitution Hill – a tiny hill by the promenade, Constitution Hill is the place for a instagram panorama. You have two choices to ascend the hill: a gentle 20-minute hike, or a short hop on the funicular Aberystwyth Cliff Railway. Guess which way I went… I walked! The hilltop is adorned by the usual restuarant and souvenior shops. Under the unceasing sun and the strong Atlantic stream, I picked up an ice cream and simply enjoyed the views across Cardigan Bay, the town and the green and plesant hinterland. 

One excursion opportunity (that I did do)

  • Vale of Rheidol Railway – another heritage railway, though again interesting in its own way. As the only tourist train ever ran by the nationalised railways of the nostalgic past, the railway churns along the picturesque Welsh countryside to the tourist attractions of Devil’s Bridge, a series of waterfalls bridged throughout the century, with the result of having three bridges stacked on top of each other. I like the Victorians sense of marvel.

One pointless memory

  • Sunset – Aberystwyth faces west. The much-shrunken Royal Pier provides an excellent vantage point for viewing the sky. Not quite as dramatic as Borth, but still.

One point of concern

  • July: the students have gone home, though they may have selected precisely the wrong time to skip town – July sees this stretch of the Welsh coast unshackled from the usual gloomy overcast and frequent rain, embracing the unseasonably warmth instead. It may be global warming. Essentially, I stumbled upon Aberystwyth at perhaps its finest; your experience may vary. 

One line verdict

Gentle Breeze of the Atlantic