Wide Meadows wooded slopes and rugged mountain scenery surround the Vale of Rheidol Railway. It climbs 200m on its 11 3/4 mile route, from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge and the line twists and turns as it clings to the hillside. Opened in 1902 to carry lead ore and timber, as well as passengers, the narrow gauge track lets the railway follow the landscape’s curves and steep gradients. In summer you can ride in open carriages to feel the wind in your hair and, getting off at one of the intermediate stations, you can walk through the valley and visit dramatic waterfalls.
Aberystwyth’s South Beach is a good place to stop and unwind for a few hours, and the beach at nearby Borth is a popular spot for adventure sports such as surfing and kite boarding. The nature reserve at Ynyslas, a short walk or bus ride from Borth national rail station, is famous for its extensive sand dunes and rich wildlife, including rare orchids. www.bit.do/Ynyslas
Rheidol Riding Centre, a short walk from Capel Bangor station, offers horseback experiences for all ages, from half hour rides on quiet ponies for little children through to all-day treks in the Cambrian Mountains. www.rheidol-riding-centre.co.uk. Kids also enjoy Aberystwyth’s funicular cliff railway (Britain’s longest!) up Constitution Hill, overlooking the town. On a good day, you can see 26 mountain peaks from the top. www.aberystwythcliffrailway.co.uk
Three of Wales’ finest way-marked mountain bike trails, with challenging runs and views over forest and sea, start from Bwlch Nant yr Arian visitor centre; the lunchtime café offers soup, sausages and cake to refuel afterwards. There are play areas featuring slides, climbing walls and giant swings, and the spectacular red kite feeding, which sees up to 200 birds fly in for lunch every afternoon, is free to watch. Half hour ride from Aberystwyth on bus 525, www.bit.do/Bwlch.
Every evening between October and March tens of thousands of starlings fly in huge “murmurations”, whirling through the darkening sky above Aberystwyth, before settling to roost for the night under the Victorian Pier.
A fifteen-minute stroll from Aberystwyth station, the imposing National Library of Wales overlooks the town. It is one of five copyright libraries in the UK and is the best place in Wales for people tracing their family history. Its 6.5 million volumes mean Aberystwyth has a higher number of books per person than any town in the world! It’s open all year and admission is free. www.llgc.org.uk
The devil himself is said to have built the oldest bridge across the deep, wooded Mynach valley, a short walk from Devil’s Bridge station. According to the story, the devil met an old woman, whose cow had wandered over the river and got stuck. He promised her a bridge spanning the ravine in exchange for the soul of the first living creature to cross it. Once the bridge was built the devil told the old woman to keep her side of the bargain, whereupon she took a loaf from her pocket and threw it over the bridge. Quick as a flash her little dog (whose soul was no use to the devil!) ran over the bridge, and the devil, furious at being outwitted by an old woman, disappeared.
On the Rails
The Two Hoots café at Devil’s Bridge serves a wide range of hot and cold food. The Aberystwyth gift shop sells hot drinks, rolls and ice creams.
Off the Rails
The Tynllidiart Arms in Capel Bangor is an award-winning pub and restaurant and home of the world’s smallest commercial brewery. 10 minute walk from Capel Bangor Station, www.tynllidiartarms.co.uk
YHA, Borth is a small friendly hostel a short distance from the national rail station at Borth. Dorm beds from £18pp. www.yha.org.uk
The Glengower Hotel, on Aberystwyth’s seafront, is well placed for enjoying sunsets over Cardigan Bay. They have good food and real ales and are dog friendly throughout. Doubles from £75, B&B. www.glengower.co.uk
Five-star Gwesty Cymru, about 10 minutes’ walk from Aberystwyth station, is also on the seafront. Doubles from £90, B&B. www.gwestycymru.com
The Hafod Hotel, very near Devil’s Bridge station, is built in the style of a Swiss Chalet and featured in hit TV crime series Hinterland/Y Gwyll. Doubles from £100, B&B. www.thehafodhotel.wordpress.com
Keen walkers can get off the train at the Rheidol Falls request stop, where various paths lead to the valley floor. You can visit the hydroelectric power station www.bit.do/rheidol (free tours), the butterfly house and other local attractions, or follow a wooded track up to an Iron Age hill fort, with panoramic views, before heading for Aberffrwd station to hop back on the train. For more scenic footpaths in the Rheidol Valley, see: www.rheidolrailway.co.uk/walks.htm
The return ticket (for the full length of the line) is actually a “day rover” so you can catch any train, all day, and break your journey to walk in the valley.
For a great family outing, catch the train from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge and stroll around the famous waterfalls. The longer walk takes about 45 minutes and includes the 100-step Jacob’s Ladder. Alternatively head for the Devil’s Punchbowl, 15 minutes away, before returning to the station for tea with bara brith or Welsh cakes.
The Vale of Rheidol Railway is right beside the National Rail station at Aberystwyth on the Cambrian Line. It’s also served by the T2 TrawsCymru bus from Bangor.
Photos courtesy of John R Jones.