A Change Is As Good As A Rest: Uprooting, Relocating Or Staying Put
For Dylan Thomas, surely one of Wales’ most famous sons and a writer who enjoys such strong associations with his homeland, much of his work paints a vivid picture of life in various parts of Ceredigion, the county which includes much of the west coast of Wales. Nestled head and shoulders against Snowdonia National Park and the Cambrian Mountains, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Ceredigion, unlike Dylan Thomas, was Wales’ long forgotten relation, existing very much in the shadow of its more impressive neighbours. On the contrary, Ceredigion boasts some of the most fascinating and picturesque towns in Wales, both inland and along the impressive stretch of Heritage coastline which makes up Cardigan Bay. In addition, property prices in Ceredigion compete very favourably with the affluent, more obvious holiday destinations in Pembrokeshire at the craggy southwest tip of Wales. So, whether dead Welsh poets are your cup of tea or not, we think the time is very much nigh to go, like Thomas maybe, and take a closer look at what Ceredigion has to offer.
Less remote than Scotland (and no midges) and less expensive than Cornwall, west Wales nevertheless seems like a curious hybrid of both. Stunning mountains loom on every horizon and award-winning beaches are never more than a short car ride away. Even inland, the mass of lakes and rivers offer a range of sports and activities to rival the coast. Ceredigion is also surprisingly accessible. Despite the more or less total absence of motorways in Wales, an efficient network of ‘A’ roads will transport you from the noisy crowds of the West Midlands, relatively traffic-free, to a county whose population barely scrapes the 70,000 mark in approximately two scenic hours.
The Ceredigion coastline stretches fifty miles from the tiny fishing community of Borth in the north, where I recently stayed, to the old county town of Cardigan. A third of this coast is now officially recognised as “Heritage Coastline” and since last year, the beaches at Borth, together with those at New Quay, Aberporth and Tresaith have flown the much-coveted Blue Flag, a standard for European beach quality. They are certainly amongst the cleanest and tidiest in Britain, making them clear favourites for a growing number of holiday makers. Out to sea, Cardigan Bay is also home to a population of 130 Bottlenose dolphins, lending Ceredigion international renown as an area for marine wildlife, conservation and research. If you do miss the dolphins, fear not, for you may well spot one of the resident red kites instead. Meanwhile the coastline alternates dramatically between ambitious walking terrain and glorious, altogether less taxing beaches.
Travel south from Borth and you’ll soon hit Aberystwyth, the principal town of Ceredigion and a surprisingly cool microcosm for all that the visitor will find on offer in the area as a whole. Aberystwyth seems to have something for everyone, attracting as many young first- time daytrippers as those die-hard fans who return each year for a week of peace and quiet beside the seaside. But what may at first seem like a deceptively sedate little seaside resort is also home to a 7,000 strong student community. That ’s 10% of the whole population of Ceredigion, remember. Such youthful residents lend Aberystwyth an unexpected all-year-round vibrancy more often associated with Britain’s larger towns and cities and inject a distinctly cosmopolitan flavour into what is otherwise a fiercely Welsh town. It is certainly no accident that Aberystwyth boasts no fewer than 50 pubs and a range of international restaurants to satisfy even the most particular of tastes (for the best food, try the wonderful tapas bar of Ultracomida - ultracomida.co.uk).
It ’s also worth name-checking some of the town’s other leading attractions. These include an impressive 13th century castle; the Aberystwyth Arts Centre, the largest venue for music and drama in Wales whose galleries regularly exhibit a range of contemporary painting, photography and sculpture; also the National Library of Wales, housing amongst its treasures the illuminated “Black Book of Carmarthen”, the oldest surviving Welsh manuscript.
The property market in Ceredigion continues to hold up relatively well, despite the doldrums, placing Ceredigion safely in the middle of the league, way above such notoriously difficult to market neighbours as Neath, Port Talbot, Bridgend and Merthyr Tydfil, but equally way short of the overpriced Pembrokeshire next door. There’s certainly value-for-money to be had.
Travel 15 miles south of Aberystwyth and you’ll soon reach the charming Aberaeron, a finely preserved example of a Georgian town where one in every four buildings is now listed. Step back and the architecture still conjures up vivid pictures of Aberaeron in its former glory as a busy seaport. The best property is very much in demand, but there are literally hundreds of bargains to be snapped up by eager investors, and case-loads of enticing conversion projects.
Continuing down the coast, we pass through the quaint seaside towns of New Quay and Aberporth en route to Cardigan, on the mouth of the river Teifi. Once an international seaport to rival even Bristol, these days Cardigan is more a maritime centre for tourists. The town is also a haven for shoppers and claims extensive recreational and entertainment facilities, including the Theatr Mwldan, a multi-purpose complex which offers a regularly changing programme of film, art, theatre and music. Because Cardigan is an ideal location from which to explore both Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire, property is sought after, so holds its value well.
West Wales Estate Agents
Aled Ellis & Co Ltd
Alexanders Estate Agents
Bridgend House, 1 Market Street, Aberaeron
Jim Raw-Rees & Co
Lloyd, Herbert & Jones
Morgan & Davies
Morgan & Davies
Philip Evans Estates
Shearer & Morris
Further up the Teifi valley from Cardigan is Lampeter, another of Ceredigion’s noteworthy and most affluent towns. A small but busy market centre, Lampeter’s famous university is also the oldest in Wales. Once again, the town’s perfect location ensures that residents and visitors alike are able to take full advantage of all the local places of interest, such as the National Trust ’s Dolaucothi Gold Mines (I recently had a slate mine experience and it was great fun, as well as educational). Property here is not so expensive as might make you weep. As London fails to maintain a monopoly on its reputation as “the only place to be”, so decentralisation in mainland Britain continues unabated. Increasingly, more cities are able to compete with the London experience, but, where they now begin to have an edge over the capital, is in their ability to offer it at a price that is more affordable. For many people the bottom line is that London is just too expensive, so it just makes good sense to take a fresh look at cities we might previously have dismissed out of hand. Alongside these developments is a new appraisal of life in more rural areas. Certainly more and more town folk are choosing the green belt as an attractive place in which to re-root. And we’re not just talking those who’ve reached retirement age. As crime, pollution and the cost of living all continue to soar in our premier city, so the countryside offers a safer, cleaner, cheaper place to live. Additionally, the wonders of modern technology now mean that increasing numbers of us are able to work from home. Faced with a choice between a cramped, 4th floor apartment overlooking an endlessly congested main road, or a house with a garden and maybe a sea view and very few neighbours at half the price, it ’s easy to see why the countryside idyll is fast becoming a real possibility and not the pipe dream it once was.
In many respects Wales is the perfect choice. As suggested, it offers some spectacular scenery but without that miles- away-from-anywhere feeling which typifies much of Scotland or Cornwall. Even with your nose pressed right up against Cardigan Bay, remember that you’re no more than a two-hour drive from four international airports.
In exchange for life in the city, Wales can offer the quality of life and sense of community which ironically prompted our exodus to the city in the first place, but which, alas, was so frequently absent from city life. And it ’s perhaps because the Welsh are so proud of their country that they’re so welcoming to outsiders and keen to show them around. What better place to start than Ceredigion.
Head To North Wales For Value
Think of North Wales and I’ll hedge my bets that you conjure up the grand scenery of Snowdonia National Park or perhaps the rugged Isle of Anglesey. At your peril you might faintly recall daytrips to one of the perpetually rain-soaked seaside resorts which punctuate the North Coast, amongst them Llandudno, Colwny Bay and Prestatyn. But what I wouldn’t expect you to name-check is the Lleyn Peninsular, the largely overlooked area which borders both Snowdonia and Anglesey. Although this slim finger of land points a mere 30 miles into the Irish sea, it is, for all its stirring beauty, a strong contender for the jewel in the Welsh crown. Guarded inland by the towns of Porthmadog and Caernarfon, each a gateway to more familiar areas, the Peninsular traces a southwesterly route and encompasses a clutch of interesting resort towns, really beautiful sandy beaches, isolated coves and a lengthy stretch of designated National Heritage Coastline. In doing so, it also creates Cardigan Bay to the south and Caernarfon Bay to the north.
Alongside the lure of beaches like the famous Whistling Sands of Porthor, which is truly spectacular and whose golden sands literally whistle while you walk, the Lleyn offers a host of watery activities to rival any other British coastal area. The warm currents of the Gulf Stream ensure that sailing, angling, diving, windsurfing and water skiing are actually enjoyable pursuits, as opposed to ones endured through chattering teeth in cooler parts of the UK. Inland from the coast, the landscape of Lleyn is a typical rural picture of hedge-rowed fields and small, whitewashed farms.
As the land narrows along the Peninsular, so the scenery becomes more memorable, until the sacred Welsh Island of Bardsey provides an appropriately dramatic full stop at the very tip. According to legend, Merlin is buried here and will awaken when King Arthur returns to these shores. Alongside Merlin are reputedly buried a further 20,000 saints, so that in the Middle Ages Bardsey was a popular destination for pilgrims. Nowadays its pulling power resides more with its wildlife, in particular its seabird sanctuary, sea lions and local population of grey seals. Despite its apparent remoteness, legend and legend-making scenery are transforming the Lleyn into an increasingly popular destination with those more contemporary pilgrims, holiday-makers. And property prices in this area are most reasonable … and it’s easily accessible from the north-west.
Consequently, a tiny fishing village like Aberdaron, the last mainland town at the tip of the Peninsular, is as flourishing today as in days gone by. A kind of Land’s End, albeit distinctly Welsh, travellers still converge on Aberdaron en route to Bardsey. Owning a holiday home here would certainly seal your popularity with estranged family and friends alike. Property here is highly sought after and tends not to linger on the market for any great length of time, even in this market, and especially during the summer season. Now is a good time to buy. Anything here would be 50-75% more expensive in Devon, and it offers a similar experience.
The altogether more anglicised resort town of Abersoch, some 10 miles east of Aberdaron, couldn’t offer more of a stark contrast. Heaving during the summer season, Abersoch boasts one of the best swathes of surf beach to be found anywhere in the country, not to mention a handful of decent eateries (think of Salcombe for the Cheshire set). Offshore, boat trips steer a course around the caves and coves of the luxurious, privately owned St Tudwal Islands. Even during the winter months, Abersoch retains some of its summer buzz and enjoys a transformation into a thriving centre for the arts and a comprehensive lecture program by the WEA.
Further east is Pwllheli, a town unavoidably associated with holiday camps, National Express coaches and large family outings. Upon closer inspection, Pwllheli does also reveal its busy market and an excellent marina – very much going up in the world. In fact, venture beyond the more obvious beach destinations and some of the remote wilderness from back west still lingers on.
In terms of location, Pwllheli is certainly a good base from which to explore the Peninsular. Large amounts of property are currently on the market in here. Given its popularity, it would make an ideal location in which to invest in a holiday home or a buy-to-let venture. Property here is much more affordable area than further west along the Peninsular.
Continue east and you soon arrive at the noteworthy town of Criccieth, a pleasantly sleepy resort famed for its sand and shingle beach and the towering remains of its ancient castle. Despite the town’s fleeting size, it also lays claim to a surprising number of restaurants, some arguably the best on the whole of the Peninsular.
Like Aberdaron, Criccieth’s charm and beauty make it a much sought after area. Considering Criccieth’s popularity, it’s unsurprising that many larger buildings have been transformed into guest houses. A beautiful 3-bed lodge with extensive gardens is one such example which recently sold for £195,000.
Our brief tour of the Lleyn wouldn’t be complete without a mention for Portmeirion, the jewel of which is a purpose-built village, a kind of elephant’s graveyard for buildings which might otherwise have been raised to the ground, had they not been transported, brick by brick, and lovingly rebuilt. What results is a surreal pot-pourri of styles: cherubs, an Italian campanile, lighthouse, castle and colonnades, Mediterranean terracotta and a palette of pastel shades. Famously, the village was the setting for the cult 1960s show “The Prisoner”, a fact which the gift shops never fail to remind you. In fact I was there only last weekend. With such a high concentration of picturesque towns and award winning beaches, is it any wonder that the Lleyn gleams like a rare gem? Part of the appeal of course is its often undiscovered remoteness, but such a beautiful area cannot remain unseen forever. For the time being it treads that fine line. One only hopes that, as more people inevitably nudge their way in, they’ll also go out of their way to maintain its unique charms.