I listened to a series of news bulletins forecasting a heatwave for the next few days, with temperatures expected to rise to levels more commonly witnessed in southern Europe. Back at home they were issuing warnings about only travelling on trains and the London Underground if it was absolutely essential. Lunch on the terrace back at The Monachty was stifling, and I wasn’t ecstatic at the prospect of getting back on my bike again.
The compromise was to venture on just eighteen miles to Aberystwyth, with a mental promise to make better progress the next day. As it turned out the rising temperature, and two monster climbs on yet another stretch of the A487, were plenty enough, and I descended into Aberystwyth ready to drop.
Aberystwyth was once one of the busiest ports in Wales, having served transatlantic shipping, as well as local shipping to Ireland and Liverpool. The Cardiganshire lead mines also exported from here. Today, the main marine traffic is for leisure, following the construction of a new marina in the 1990s.
During gales in 1859, a number of ships were lost off the coast of Aberystwyth, including the Margaret Lloyd, Morning Star and Swansea Trader. During the enquiry that followed, the harbour master was accused of neglect by not switching on the harbour lights to warn passing shipping. The need for a permanent and continuous light was also discussed and, while little is recorded about what was decided following the enquiry, a stone lighthouse is depicted in a painting of ships entering the harbour at Aberystwyth, dated 1864.
The current lighthouse, on the end of the south breakwater, dates from the mid 1990s, when the harbour was remodelled to accommodate a new multi-million-pound marina. It has a thirty-foot-tall cylindrical concrete tower, painted in white and green bands, with a polycarbonate lamp mounted on top. It flashes twice, every ten seconds, either white or green depending on direction.
My final descent into Aberystwyth took me straight to the harbour, and the lighthouse was the first of the town’s landmarks I spotted. A group of teenagers were wandering around at the end of the breakwater, and I felt ridiculously self-conscious taking selfies in front of the lighthouse, and then propping the bike up against it and taking several more. I waited for the baiting and jeering, which I am pleased to report never came. I didn’t exactly hang about afterwards though.
Aberystwyth harbour light. Next is St Tudwal's, about 100 miles along the coast by bike. So radio silence for a bit! pic.twitter.com/WexOJADss2
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) June 30, 2015
I cycled along the seafront, and then through the town. I had come here once before, in the early 2000s, when I interviewed a coastguard for a children’s book I was working on about water safety. I met him at the modern university campus on the edge of town, and I returned home in the belief that Aberystwyth was an unmemorable town. So it was a very pleasant surprise to find so much of interest this afternoon. It was a very much more attractive place than I had given it credit for, and it was quickly added to my rapidly lengthening list of places to return to one day. I was upset to see the original, grand university building on the seafront closed and boarded up. It appears that the move to the modern-day campus is complete. However, I soon discovered that the buildings were originally designed and built as a railway hotel in the 1860s, so if they can be repurposed once then there is hope for them to find a new purpose in the future. In fact, I found out later that plans were underway to transform them into a vibrant centre for learning, culture and enterprise.
I had made the assumption that there would be plenty of accommodation to choose from on a Tuesday evening in June, and I was not disappointed. I found a comfortable hotel on the seafront where a single room with sea view was £35. Without thinking, I ordered a ‘Full English’ when the owner asked what I wanted for breakfast. He told me pointedly that my Welsh breakfast would be ready at 8.30am.