by Ben Johnson
Aberystwyth is a small sea-side resort in the county of Ceredigion on the west coast of Wales.
Although a thriving sea-side town in the summer, the historic town of Aberystwyth is better known as a university town and the centre of learning for Wales, as it is also home to the National Library of Wales and boasts the largest Arts Centre in Wales.
The town is huddled between three hills and two beaches. The seafront boasts the Old College, a harbour, marina, a small pier and the atmospheric ruins of the castle, a favourite place from which to watch the sun set over the bay.
Long before the first Norman castle was built in Aberystwyth, Iron Age settlers used the hilltop called Pen Dinas to build a huge fortification which still dominates the skyline as you approach Aberystwyth from the south.
The first Norman castle was built in the early 12th century, however this was later replaced by a castle built by the Welsh themselves led by Llywelyn the Great. The castle began to fall into disuse as early as the 14th century, perhaps its position so close to the sea adding to the pace of decay. In 1404 it was captured by Owain Glyndwr but retaken shortly afterwards by the English. During the Civil War the garrison sided with King Charles I and was later put out of action by Oliver Cromwell‘s troops. Most of the castle stone was then appropriated by the local people to build their homes. The castle once ranked among the greatest in Wales.
Mining for both silver and lead was the main occupation of the townspeople until the 18th and 19th centuries when the port became the main employer. The harbour was once the second busiest port in Wales.
With the railway age came tourists and the heyday of Aberystwyth as a sea-side resort was during the late 19th to mid 20th century. To the north of the town is Constitution Hill, reached by the Aberystwyth Electric Light Railway, the longest electric cliff railway in Britain. It runs from the end of the promenade up to the summit from where you can enjoy panoramic views over the town and bay and even as far as the mountains of Snowdonia on a clear day. There is also a cafe and the Camera Obscura. The present building is a recreation of the Victorian original. Inside the building, a mirror slowly revolves and images of the surrounding countryside are thrown onto the table in the centre of the room.
The seafront has many Victorian and Edwardian buildings including the Old College which is located close to the ruins of the castle. The mosaic on southern corner of this attractive building represents Archimedes receiving the emblems of modern science and industry. The University of Wales Aberystwyth is the oldest founding member of the University of Wales and the main (modern) campus is to be found a mile or so out of town, close to the National Library and the hospital. During the academic year, the population of Aberystwyth is swelled by some 7000 students. Many of the seafront houses are now university residences.
Geographically, Aberystwyth is quite isolated from the rest of Wales. This isolation has meant that it has all the amenities and facilities of many larger towns, including numerous cafés, bars, and restaurants. It is also famous for the large number of pubs (perhaps due to the large student population!) – over 50 in the one square mile of town.
The tiny cottages lining the narrow streets of the old part of town are very quaint and the cafes with their tables and chairs on the pavements add to the attraction of this historic seaside town.
Aberystwyth is easily accessible by both road and rail, please try our UK Travel Guide for further information.
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