Sunday, July 27, 2008

Aberaeron, Wales

[Note: This travelogue has been re-formatted within the blog to facilitate better searches and commentaries. The original travelogue can still be found here]

Aberaeron is a small coastal town on Cardigan Bay, sixteen miles south of the Aberystwyth. It is a fascinating town with a lot of history and a tremendous civic pride. It is also a center for exploring the softer side of Wales and the coast to the south offers splendid walks, quiet sandy coves and superb family beaches.

The town owes its heritage to one man. In the early nineteenth century, Alban Gwynne came into some money (from his first cousin's estate) and decided that Aberaeron, which he served as minister of the town's church, needed to step up in the world. The tiny Aeron river that flowed into the sea could, he thought, provide Aberaeron (meaning "mouth of the Aeron") with a real harbor. And he set about designing a small port while his son laid out the plan for a new town around it. (*Editor's note: the history of the rebuilding of Aberaeron has been revised following the receipt of new information; the original reference to the good reverend having spent his wife's fortune on the town has proved to be incorrect).

The result was quite remarkable. The town quietly prospered over the years though its harbor never really came to much.

Tide's out!

Seen on a grey day in winter, Aberaeron has a rather different look than many of its neighbors and it is difficult at first to see quite why. Then, rounding a corner it hits you. The town has a oneness of architectural style - beautiful Regency and Victorian architecture interpreted in that solid down to earth way that is so typically Welsh.

This being said, though, the oneness is not quite the same as seen in so many drab Welsh communities. Instead of slate grey, Aberaeron offers a stunning mix of bright colored walls.

Aberaeron

One wonders if the Reverend Gwynne would actually appreciate what has happened to the town since a resident decided to paint one of the houses on the quay a bright color. For many of the neighbors, it seems, rather took to the idea and now the town looks, well, bright, colorful and different!

The colors have gotten brighter and brighter over the years and now they border on the eclectic.

Painted Houses

None more so than the Harbour Master Hotel which takes its name literally from the fact that it was the Harbour Master's residence and office. Now a refurbished modern boutique hotel, it stands proud on the quay, decorated in a wonderful shade of cobalt blue.

The hotel has been restored and decorated and is operated by its owners, Gwyn and Menna Heulyn, a local couple who returned to Aberaeron with a host of new and intriguing ideas. The restaurant is outstanding with locally sourced food (seafood including lobster, Welsh black beef, fresh vegetables, etc. etc.) The rooms are, simply put, but using an overworked word, eclectic. Bold colors reflect the town's color scheme in each of the seven rooms (there are two more rooms in a cottage down the quay).

Harbour Master Hotel, Aberaeron

The hotel stands alongside the entrance to the harbor and you can easily imagine the harbor master watching the traffic from the upstairs windows. Today it is the guests who watch the world go by and if the weather is warm and sunny there can be no better place to watch the sun go down over Cardigan Bay, a pint of Welsh beer in hand.

Aberaeron

The coast between Aberystwyth and Newquay (which includes Aberaeron) has few good beaches except at the southern end. In fact the beaches get progressively better going southwest. So if the weather is fine and warm and a day on the beach is the order of the day, a short jorney is required from Aberaeron. Newquay itself is a busy town so we decided to bypass it and find quieter bays around Llangranog. This small seaside town has a couple of pubs, a tea room, typical seaside shops and a narrow beach that is easily accessible (you can park on the upper beach for about £1 a day!)

Aberaeron Beach, looking toward Newquay

We decided to try out the coastal paths and discovered a quiet cove immediately north of Llangranog which is accessed by a long steep stepped path. The thought of clambering back up this path seems to put most people off, with the result that in early June we were two of only four people on the beach. Then as the tide ebbed, a few more people ventured round the headland and we felt positively crowded!

Cardigan Bay offers clean if cool water for swimming and we saw quite a few people out in small boats and kayaks.

Cove near Llangranog

Further along the coast path there is a headland now owned by the National Trust. It goes by the name of Ynys-Lochtyn and appears to be a geologically controlled resistant feature as there are numerous thick white quartz veins within the Paleozoic sedimentary rocks. It is possible to scramble down to the shore and here the water is crystal clear. On the western side of the headland another small cove can be reached, mainly because someone has left a heavy rope to help getting down and up the last twenty feet or so! Many of these coves have little or no sand at high tide, an important consideration in choosing a beach for the day.

Near Llangranog

Cove near Llangranog

The coastal path continues to the southwest of Llangranog, and the walk to Penbryn is well worth the effort. A small sandy cove was seen but not visited - we think this one might be the gem that most people miss - because the path was very overgrown in places and then quite steep. One day we plan to return and will make the effort to get down to this beach!

The alternative would be a small boat or kayak from either Llangranog or Penbryn.

Cove near Llangranog

The beach at Penbryn offers the first real expanse of sand southwest of Llangranog. Owned by the National Trust the mile long beach has plenty of sand at high tide with a lot more in the adjacent bay to the northeast that is accessible only when the tide is out. The National Trust has a good parking area at Penbryn with an access road down to the beach that allows for the unloading of all the paraphenalia families need for a day at the beach!

On a warm sunny day there can be few places to better Penbryn. Perhaps the problem is that we can never be sure when a warm sunny day will appear! But Aberaeron and the surrounding area does have that certain "call" that beckons us back again and again!

Penbryn