Sitting at the head of two rivers, the Ystwyth and the Rheidol, Aberystwyth is the largest place you will encounter on the coast path. It has a long history; the original settlement was the Iron Age Pen Dinas Hillfort, which you will pass on the coast path to the south of the town.
Like so many places in Wales, Aberystwyth has changed hands many times, from Edward 1st, through to Owain Glyndwr and Oliver Cromwell, Aberystwyth has been fought over throughout history.
Aberystwyth is often said the be the cradle of Welsh culture. The National Library of Wales is located here, which houses an enormous collection of published works, documents and images about Wales and Celtic culture. In 1872 the first Welsh university was also established here.
The arrival of the railway in the 1860s transformed the town into a popular Victorian seaside resort. To the north of the town, at the top of Constitution Hill, there was a camera obscura, which was demolished at the beginning of the 20th Century. In the 1980’s a brand new camera obscura was built, re-creating the Victorian amusement, which, with a 14 inch lens, is one of the largest camera obscuras in the world. The Aberystwyth Electric Cliff Railway which hauls visitors to the top of the hill, opened in 1896, and switched to electric power in 1921. It has four separate braking systems so there need be no worries about the train running back down the hill! From the top of Constitution Hill there are fantastic views back up the coast and it is said that on a clear day you can see 26 mountain peaks from here.
Entering Aberystwyth, much of the seafront and town centre is classic Victorian architecture. As you walk through, take a look at the Royal Pier, its pavilion a reminder of a bygone age and at the fantastic gothic pile complete with towers and turrets which is Old College, now part of the University, but which started its life as a luxury hotel. Think Hogwarts-by-the-Sea and you will get the idea!
The remains of the real castle of Aberystwyth are rather more poignant, perched on a small promontory overlooking the sea. This was once one of the greatest of the Welsh castles, built by Edward I as part of his campaign to subjugate the Welsh. However, the proximity to the sea resulted in serious deterioration within a couple of hundred years, exacerbated by Oliver Cromwell, and after the 17th century civil war, much of the remaining stone was probably used by locals for building material. Now you can wander amongst the piles of stones which are the only reminder of this once great structure and imagine what life was like living here all those centuries ago.
Beyond the castle and seafront there is a pleasant harbour and marina to walk around and of course as the largest town in the region there are plenty of shops and restaurants to discover.
The Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth is housed within in a beautifully renovated historic Edwardian theatre and is full of artefacts and displays relating to the history of the county. There is no admission charge and a visit here is definitely worthwhile if you are staying in the town.
If you have a rest day and are not heading into Snowdonia then you can get your chance to ride one of the Welsh Mountain Railways by taking a journey on the Vale of Rheidol Railway which will take you almost 12 miles inland to Devil’s Bridge and the stunning waterfalls in the Rheidol Gorge.
There is a 45 minute trail which descends into the Gorge on rugged steps, including the 100-step Jacob’s Ladder to view the Falls, and a shorter walk visiting the Punchbowl, a large pothole carved by the swirling waters, with a great view back up to the three bridges built one above the other at the top of the Gorge.
As an alternative to the train, another option is to hire bicycles and ride to Devil’s Bridge using the Rheidol Cycleway, a 17 mile waymarked trail through the beautiful Rheidol Valley along quiet roads and dedicated cycleway. The route is fairly flat, but note that there is a steep climb at the end up to Devil’s Bridge. Bicycles can be hired from Summit Cycles both of based in Aberystwyth.