Aberystwyth stands on a prehistoric site at the mouths of the Rheidol and Ystwyth rivers. The town’s importance began in the 13th century with the building of the castle, later destroyed by Cromwell. The ruins remain on the seafront, the precincts laid out as public gardens. Opposite stands a Victorian Gothic building, the nucleus of the University of Wales, whose campus on Penglais Hill includes the National Library of Wales. This houses the unest existing collection of Welsh manuscripts and books, as well as maps, prints and portraits relating to Wales. Many are in Welsh one of the five Celtic languages, and spoken in this part of Britain since the 6th century. The collection contains the manuscripts of the 12th-century Black Book of Carmarthen, the White Book of Roderick, and the Book of Taliesin. Part of the collection deals with Welsh migration to America, indeed the Library’s interior was refurbished by Welshmen in America. The university has produced many talented scholars, particularly of the Welsh language and literature. The funicular railway on Constitution Hill is a further reminder of Aberystwyth’s Victorian heritage.
Cardigan is a delightful town that used to be a prosperous seaport until the River Teifi silted up. It is a town steeped in the culture of Wales. The first national Eisteddfod was held here in 1177. The castle was built by the Welsh in an attempt to safeguard their independence. The fact that it is now in ruins is the price the town had to pay for its support of Charles I. In 1645, Parliament determined to exact a penalty – turned its guns upon it. Nowadays the most imposing architectural feature is the bridge over the river, which dates from the 17th century.
Lampeter, once famous for its horse fair, has had a market since 1284 and is still an important centre for the sale of the disease-resistant cattle bred in the area. It has a Victorian town hall and a parish church which was completely rebuilt in the 19th century, though some 17th-century memorials are preserved in the porch. St David’s College (now part of the University of Wales) is noted for its library containing some 80,000 books, ancient manuscripts and first editions. The 19th-century building is an unspoiled example of early Gothic revival, and a nearby mound marks the site of a medieval castle.
Newcastle Emlyn is a long street of pleasant houses leading down to the Teifi. The first printing press in Wales was installed here in 1718 by Isaac Carter and the first printed Welsh book produced in 1719 an achievement recalled by a plaque mounted on the side of a house near the river. The castle, founded in the 13th century and extensively rebuilt in the 15th, was ruined in the Civil War. Felin Geri Mill , 2 miles away, is one of the last commercially operated water-mills in the country producing stoneground flour regularly.
Visitors can see all stages of production and there is also a mill museum.
The village, its huddle of colour washed cottages a reassuring sight against the wild beauty of the hills that surround it on three sides, is set well off the main road in the Teifi valley. The mound on which the 13th-century church stands is said to have risen miraculously beneath the feet of St David as he spoke against the Heresy of Pelagius in the 6th century. A modern sculpture by Mancini shows the saint as a barefooted traveller with a stout staff and the dove of peace on his shoulder; St David’s Staff is one of five carved Celtic stone crosses which survive. The ‘dewi’ of the village’s name is the Welsh form of ‘David’ and ‘Brefi’ refers to a little stream which flows through it to join the Teifi.
Strata Florida was a great Cistercian abbey built in the 12th century in an isolated valley 10 miles south east of Aberystwyth. Remains of a church and delster, and gatehouse survive.
Tregaron is a relatively big village for its situation in the remote heartland of Wales, by the River Teifi. It is a centre for the sheep farms in the surrounding hills and for visitors, especially ponytrekkers. The Bog of Tregaron, a raised bog, 4 miles long and still spreading, on either side of the River Teifi, is a National Nature Reserve: the habitat of rare plants such as sundew, bog rosemary, bladderwort and sedges, and a refuge for pole-cats.
Yr Hen Gapel, a branch of the National Museum of Wales, run by the Welsh Folk Museum, specialises in religious life in 19th-century Wales. From Tre’r-ddol you can explore (with a permit for the first two areas) the Dyfi National Nature Reserve, the Dyfl Estuary, haunt of Wildfowl and migrant waders -but keep an eye on tides and mud; Borth Bog, fascinating to botanists; and the Ynyslas Dunes.