Aberystwyth was a flyby visit on my way from Pembroke to Caernarfon, though should I ever come to Wales again, I'd like to spend more time there than two hours. It's a lively place because of the many students, but less hectic than Bangor with its connection to the train line to Manchester. James from the Sir Benfro blog (that's not a title, but Welsh for shire, btw.) gave me a qick tour to the promenade and the castle remains.
View to the Pier at low tide
The pier had once been 900 feet long, but only about 300 remain today after the sea reclaimed parts of it. The sea tends to do that; Ceredigion Bay is also the location of the legendary Cantre'r Gwaelod, one of the sunken cities that line the coasts - its legends are related to Kêr Ys in Brittany.
The history of Aberystwyth goes back to the 4th century BC when Iron Age settlers fortified the hilltop called Pen Dinas. The remains of that large hillfort can still be seen. Albeit the Romans had been in the area (there's a stretch of arrow straight road the way I came that stands out among the winding Welsh tracks, and James told me that a few remains of a smaller Roman fortress can be found near where he lives) there is no trace they ever tried to establish a Roman fort on the site. Pen Dinas, seen from the castle
To the far right is a slender pillar; a monument erected in 1852 to honour the Duke of Wellington's victory at Waterloo, paid by public funding. It's interesting to see what people in the 19th century were willing to support financially - we got the misplaced Hermann (Arminius) monument much the same way. Try that today and you'll get laughed at.
In the foreground are some of the stones that form a bardic circle of 13 standing stones symbolising the 13 old counties, pre the 1974 reform. The castle ruins have become a park today, a change Edward II might have liked better than his father.Aberystwyth Castle, one of the towers
But it was not Edward I who started the castle building at Aberystwyth, it was one of the Gilbert de Clares who erected an earthen and timber ringwork castle down at the river Ystwyth in the 12th century.
In the early 13th century, after he ousted the de Clares and other Norman chaps, Llywelyn ap Iorweth 'the Great' decided a hill by the sea was a better place for a castle than a valley and built the first one in the present spot. Makes one wonder why he didn't chose Pen Dinas, either. Like so many castle at the time, the one of Aberystwyth changed hands several times after Llywelyn's death as the Norman/Welsh wars moved to and fro. Aberystwyth Castle, remains of the inner bailey and hall
Edward I was the one who got really serious about the castle thing once he conquered the Welsh, and turned Aberystwyth castle into a structure as formidable as Caernarfon or Conwy. Our friend Master James was the official overseer though he soon left his associate Master Giles of St. George in charge and returned to north Wales. The modernising of Aberystwyth castle according to the standards of 1294 cost 'only' some 4,300 pounds.
The reason the castle is damaged much worse than Ed's other biggies lies in the fact that the sea is only a few yards away, and on a bad day not even that. Add to that the gales and torrents of a typical Welsh day, and even stone and mortar will crumble within time. The castle was beginning to succomb to decay as early as 1343, and the Civil War saw the end of it. Old College with Constitution Hill in the background
What we got here is not a castle or cathedral, though it looks a bit like a mix of both, but the Castle Hotel, built 1872. It soon went bancrupt and was bought by the University College of Wales. It still houses some departments of the university, besides the newer locations at Penglais Campus and Llanbadarn Campus. The students surely got a pretty place to work in, but I wonder how often they'll find the Atlantic in the cellar. Let's hope they at least have a functioning central heating, something the Llywelyns, Owains, Henrys and Edwards will have sorely missed. Maybe that's the reason the Romans stayed away from the rain- and windswept Ceredigion Bay.
I was lucky, I had a nice day when I visited Aberystwyth.