Aberystwyth faces west. This fact makes for stunning photography in the evening, but in the morning the photos aren’t so good, as the coast is shrouded with dark-blue shadows. I look at the steep cliff I came down yesterday, and am glad I’m not heading up that difficult climb today.
I walk along the seafront, past the old castle, and into the next bay. This northern section of Aberystwyth is lined with some grand houses. Ahead I see an intimidating mound of land. That is Constitution Hill and I will be climbing up it shortly.
First, I walk past the pier, which is not particularly attractive.
I know Aberystwyth took a pounding during the terrible series of storms that swept in over the winter of 2013/2014, and some of the esplanade has been recently repaved. There is still some reconstruction work going on.
At the end of the esplanade you can turn right and take the funicular railway up to the top of Constitution Hill. Or you can walk. There are several walking routes to choose from but I take the one that continues on from the end of the promenade.
Signs warn me that this is not a public footpath, although it is a permitted route. And ‘the path may be affected from time to time by unexpected slippages of rock and stone‘. This warning, of course, makes the route irresistible!
It’s steep. I haven’t got very far before I come across this beautiful arrangement of objects. At first I think it must be a memorial to someone who has died – maybe a walker hit by falling stones, or a young student who committed suicide by leaping off the cliffs. But, in fact, it’s a shrine ‘dedicated to Our Lady of Craiglais. 2009’ . An unusual thing to come across.
The path winds up the hill, crossing over the funicular railway at various points. On one of the bridges I take a photo looking down the railway tracks and with a good view of Aberystwyth spread out below.
At the top of Constitution Hill is the largest camera obscura in the world. Apparently on a clear day you can see the whole 60 mile stretch around Cardigan Bay. Well worth a visit.
Standing right on the top of the hill is a millennium torch. Although I’ve seen many of these around the countryside, and several at strategic points along the coast, this is the largest and most impressive I’ve come across so far.
A plaque says it was erected with the support of a number of agencies, the council, British Gas, the Funicular Railway, Jewsons, and others.
It is turning out to be another splendid October day. Blue sea, clear skies with a smattering of fair-weather clouds. (People warned me it rained all the time in Wales. That certainly hasn’t been my experience.)
Ahead the path stretches out, looking irresistible. As is often the case, I’m alone. Nobody else about. Strange, given the wonderful weather.
The first place I come to is Clarach Bay, which seems to be one huge holiday park, dominated by caravans.
Past Clarach Bay and the path climbs up cliffs, running close to the sea, wild and remote, the coastline unspoilt by development. It’s lovely.
Ahead I see a wide, blue bay, but find the topography confusing. Is that Borth in the distance? I thought Borth was situated on a flat spit of sand dunes, but that town looks as if it’s nestled against a range of mountains. Strange.
Between Clarach Bay and Borth, the only building I come across is a large, white house at a place called Wallog. Below the house a sandbank, covered in stones, points into the sea. The bank is called Sarn Gynfelyn and at low tide it’s exposed as a causeway leading out into the waves, stretching for miles and miles. This has given rise to a number of local legends about sunken kingdoms.
I begin to meet other walkers. A couple of ladies warn me the path ahead is very steep. And they’re right. The stretch of coastal path between Wallog and Borth turns out to be both taxing and strenuous. But it’s also very, very beautiful.
The photo below gives an impression of the rollercoaster nature of the route. As soon as I climb up to the crest of a slope, then I find I’m heading down into yet another dip.
Ahead the view becomes clearer. I can see Borth lying as I expected on a flat piece of land. The town beyond, the one nestled against the mountains, is… well, it must be Aberdyfi.
[Aberdyfi is the Welsh name for Aberdovey. Most places have two names around here and the signposts usually indicate both. But, after some confusion on my part, I realise that Aberdovey is only always called by a single name: Aberdyfi.]
I’m getting close to Borth, but the landscape has one last trick to play me. A huge drop – down to sea level – followed by a steep climb up the other side.
At the top there is a war memorial and a great view down to Borth, a sleepy, spread-out village. Behind, a little separate from the other buildings, is an imposing church.
Lunch time. In Borth I stop at a café and sit outside in the sun. My light lunch (a Ploughman’s) turns out to be more substantial than I expected. My appetite has shrunk following my recent diet and I am unable to finish my plate.
From Borth, a long spit of dunes and marshes reaches up towards the Afon Dyfi estuary. Unfortunately, the only way to cross the estuary is via a long inland trek to the nearest bridge, at a town called Machynlleth. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do when I reached Borth, but it seems I have a choice of 3 routes.
- Follow the Wales Coast Path, which turns inland at Borth and, although running nowhere near either coast or estuary, eventually reaches Machynlleth.
- Stick to the Ceredigion Coast Path, which runs parallel to the beach but 1/2 a mile inland of it along the course of a drainage ditch. The Ceredigion path comes to a dead-end at the edge of the estuary, a place called Ynyslas.
- Or, following my rules and staying as close to the coast as I can, walk along the coast road until it comes to a dead-end at Ynyslas.
Options 2 and 3 would both require me to follow roads inland from Ynyslas, in order to pick up the Wales Coast Path and so continue onwards to Machynlleth.
Or… as the tide is out, I realise I have an even better option. I can walk along the beach! Normally this would be too difficult because of a series of high groynes stretching across the upper sands.
Of course, I choose to walk along the beach. And it’s glorious. Three miles of walking, mainly solitary, with just the gleaming sands for company.
I pass the end of Borth. One of those houses is a youth hostel.
I’ve never been to Borth before, but my husband brought our children here for a youth hostel holiday many years ago, while I stayed at home and worked. (This was back when we were unable to have holidays together because we couldn’t find a locum GP to cover our practice.) The children still have vivid memories of the long, flat beach.
Walking on, I see some rocks interrupting the smooth flow of the sand. Strange rocks. Twisted into shapes like… maybe dying crocodiles, or strange sea monsters. Organic forms. As I get nearer, I realise what this is: a submerged forest. Thousands of years old. How wonderful!
I spend far too long taking photographs, and then realise I must move on. I still have a long way to go.
Beyond the submerged forest is nothing much. The groynes on the upper beach change from stone to timber. Clouds come over the sky. I see gulls and oyster catchers…
… and suddenly spot a dark shape moving through the waves. It arches up and then disappears again, only to reappear many yards further along. Smooth and graceful. It’s a dolphin. A solitary one.
I manage to snap the photo above. It’s movement is hypnotic, gently up and down again, like a needle threading through the water.
The sands eventually come to an end. I walk over a patch of stones and come to the far end of the land. Over the water, looking so close, is Aberdyfi. It looks as if I could just wade across! But I know it’s going to take me two days of walking to get around this estuary.
I set up my camera on the stones for a self-portrait. A reader of this blog complimented me on my ability to take timed portraits of myself, but of course I don’t normally share the disasters. This one (below) wasn’t so successful!
From the end of the sands I turn inland towards the dunes. This area is usually underwater, and so the surface is beautifully rippled and very, very soft. My boots sink deep into the sand and leave a line of impressive footprints.
I reach a car park on the edge of the dunes. This is the Ynyslas Nature Reserve and now I’m standing at the end of the official Ceredigion Coast Path.
I follow a track and walk along the edge of the marshes. To my right are the vegetated dunes of Ynyslas. To my left is an extensive bog. Ahead is the Afon Dyfi valley and, 9 or 10 miles away, is the nearest bridge crossing. It’s time to make my way inland.
I cross over the end of long drain, where I part company with the wonderful Ceredigion Coast Path. Now I join the B4353. It’s as quiet and empty as I hoped it would be.
My plan is to follow this road until it meets the A487 at a place called Tre’r-ddol. I’ve chosen this as my destination because here I can rejoin the official Wales Coast which passes through the village. I won’t be joining the path today, of course. When I reach the main road at Tre’r-ddol I plan to catch a bus back to Aberystwyth.
I always find the final few miles of any walk the hardest and the longest. And this road is no exception. It’s only 3 miles and I make good progress, but I find the surface very hard underfoot and I’m suffering from mysterious stomach cramps.
The straightness of the road makes for boring walking. I’m relieved to reach the occasional curve and get a change in view.
It’s a relief to arrive in the village. But there’s only 2 minutes to spare before the 16:57 bus is due to arrive. The next one isn’t for 90 minutes, by which time the sun will have set. I can’t see a bus stop, but I know the bus stops outside the pub, so I stand on the main road beside the pub and wait. And wait. Might I have missed it?
I look down the road and see the bus approaching. Thank goodness. I bend down to lift my rucksack and, when I look up again, the bus has disappeared. What?!
Suddenly I realise it’s turned off the main road and is trundling down a back street. Yes, it does stop at the pub, but at the back of the pub. I run like a maniac down an alley way. The bus is just about to set off again. I risk death by running into the road and so forcing the driver to stop.
The shrine on Constitution Hill: turns out to be a shrine to a pagan goddess, rather than to the Virgin Mary. You can watch a YouTube video of the shrine, embedded at the end of this post.
Miles walked today: 15 miles
Total along Wales Coast Path = 587 miles
Total distance around the coast: 2,194 miles
My route shown in BLACK.
Ceredigion Coast Path (where different) shown in RED.
Wales Coast Path (where different) shown in GREEN.