Take a walk on the wild side – of Wales
The Ceredigion Coast Path is ideal for novice and expert hikers alike.
Saturday 13 March 2010
Wales, in my experience, is a principality that lends itself to travel in an east-west direction: the main road and rail corridors slice from the English border to the Irish Sea, following the lines of least resistance. From the point of view of an outdoor challenge, then, it follows that a north-south journey is likely to be more challenging and, in the view of most hikers, more rewarding. But the hiker in Cardigan Bay can now try a different orientation: south-west to north-east, along one of the most splendid stretches of coast in Wales.
The Ceredigion Coast Path, which opened 20 months ago, has a strong sense of purpose: to connect the county's two notable estuaries, the Teifi to the south and the Dyfi to the north. Along the way it traces a glorious arc of shoreline, curving around from the town of Cardigan to the frontier of Snowdonia.
As long-distance footpaths tend to, the surface varies from prosaic suburban pavements to rocky scrambles, but most of it involves striding along a grassy contour above the steely Irish Sea – with the benefit of prevailing breezes on your back and the sun on your shoulders (though, this being Wales, other weather patterns may intervene).
Half the fun of a good walk, of course, involves not walking. And that is where the Ceredigion path is particularly appealing. At 60 miles long, it is not too daunting a prospect: serious walkers could tackle it in a long weekend. But better to turn it into a very comfortable week's meander.
Not many people realise Cardigan has more than a town, a bay and a useful item of knitwear named after it; there is also, just above the mouth of the Teifi, a small isle. Looking across at Cardigan Island is a good way to mark the start of the proper walking, with Pembrokeshire across the estuary and a fine coastline ahead.
Feel a moment of sympathy for the souls confined to the A487, the main coastal highway, then take your pick from the attractions along the way.
The National Trust looks after the beach at Mwnt – and presumably protects it against future invasions after a Flemish attack in 1155, which was successfully repulsed. A short way inland you stumble upon a corner of Costa Rica that is forever Wales in the shape of the Felinwynt Rainforest and Butterfly Centre.
The contours crowd in on the tiny port of Aberporth, which is a better place than most to make your first night's stop – though as a picture-postcard-perfect fishing village, New Quay is a clear winner. And the beach is close by, a half moon extending east from the centre and one of the few in west Wales that faces due north.
Personally, I would not dwell too long in Aberaeron, the next metropolis along the way; and the next stretch is when those poor motorists will get closest to sharing your experience, as the A487 nudges towards the coast path. The lovely expanse of coast past Llanrhystud was the first in Britain to be designated as Marine Heritage Coast – aimed at conserving the coastline and its wildlife. Bottlenose dolphins, grey seals and a squadron of sea birds have reason to be grateful that their natural environment is getting a measure of protection.
Aberystwyth is many things: the de facto capital of the mid-Wales coast; a custodian of culture, thanks to its University College; and the most exotic place you can reach within three hours' train ride of Birmingham New Street. But it is also a grand old Victorian resort: "bracing" often sums up the fresh weather, but with plenty of indoor attractions – and railway connections along the scenic Vale of Rheidol – there is plenty of divert you.
While most terrestrial trails climb west from Aberystwyth, you continue due north to Clarach Bay. Beyond here, the railway becomes your travelling companion, while the highlands of Snowdonia slowly take shape ahead. Time your run right and you can sometimes see two Arriva Trains Wales services scuttling along simultaneously on either side of the Dyfi estuary, to be conjoined upon arrival at Dovey Junction – beloved of trainspotters as one of those rare railway stations that you can reach only by train. Or possibly on foot? I can't wait to try.
Travel essentials: Ceredigion Coast Path
* The best online source of information is ceredigioncoastpath.org.uk ; in print, buy the official Ceredigion Coast Path Guidebook (£10).
* The town of Cardigan is served by bus, while Aberystwyth is on the Cambrian Coast Line from Birmingham.
* Felinwynt Rainforest Centre (01239 810 250; butterflycentre.co.uk ). Open April-October, 10.30am-5pm daily except Fridays, £4.50.
The Outdoors show
* The Outdoors Show in association with The Independent is being held at Birmingham NEC from 26-28 March. For tickets and information go to independent.co.uk/outdoorsshow or call 01159 934 439 quoting IND5.
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