IT IS BETTER TO TRAVEL THAN TO ARRIVE
Over a pleasant lunch, some Cardiff friends asked what plans for adventure I had this year? They knew I had arranged four pilgrim walks last year and they may have been winding me up on the back of a glass of wine or more. Truthfully, I had no real plan in mind, but I replied that I would see how far I could go in a day on my bus pass.
We all know that people of a certain age are eligible for a bus pass issued by Transport for Wales. The pass is correctly called the Welsh Concessionary Travel Card and is available to people in Wales over 60 years of age for use on business, socialising or leisure travel. While it is primarily used for bus travel on all Welsh buses it can also be used for some train journeys in Wales.
As the weeks went by, I made a plan to travel to Aberystwyth and, as it is so far, I would stay the night and return the next day. When I told my friends how the plan was developing one of them said he had never been to Aberystwyth and that he would like to join me. Well, I soon get bored with my own company, so I readily accepted David’s suggestion.
A great website for planning travel in Wales is Traveline Cymru and I began to look at bus timetables but noticed that some trains also offered free travel with a travel card. In particular, the Heart of Wales line could be used between October and the end of March. So rather than going up and back the same way by bus, we decided to travel north using the Heart of Wales railway and then we would return by bus.
The Heart of Wales line runs between Swansea and Shrewsbury, though purists would say between Llanelli and Craven Arms. The line was originally built for freight but is now mainly used by passengers. The route is scenic and delightful passing through the most rural parts of mid-Wales and most notably through the old nineteenth-century spa towns Llandrindod Wells, Llangammarch Wells, and Llanwrtyd Wells. The train consists of one or two carriages, and it moves at a gentle pace stopping at twenty-nine stations on the route. Some days there is a refreshment trolley service, but the best advice is to take a good picnic as the journey takes just about 4 hours from Swansea to Shrewsbury. The train runs four times a day in both directions. It is a single-track railway with passing loops in four places. I am pleased to report that the single carriage we took did have a lavatory! To continue from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth there is a third train with takes another two hours.
At Shrewsbury we had a wait of 2 hours for our connection, so we had ample time to explore.
Shrewsbury Castle and Military Museum is a short walk from the station, and we soon made our way there. The Castle is built with red sandstone, and it stands on a hill in the neck of the meander of the River Severn on which the town originally developed. Of relevance to Welsh visitors is the fact that the castle was briefly held by Llewellyn the Great, Prince of Wales, in 1215.
Scuttling back to the station to get our connection we were soon aboard and arrived in Aberystwyth at 5.30 pm. We had left Cardiff at 8.06 am so it had taken over 9 hours to travel 74 miles as the crow flies. This is not a journey for the impatient.
Aberystwyth would fit the Dylan Thomas description of a “lovely, ugly town”. It is not an ancient town, but it is the capital of Mid Wales. It has an elegant esplanade that is regularly battered by Atlantic storms. The Cambrian Railways line from Machynlleth reached Aberystwyth in 1864, closely followed by rail links to Carmarthen, which resulted in the construction of the town’s impressive station. The Cambrian line opened on Good Friday 1869, the same day that the new 292 meters Royal Pier opened. Although it was originally 50 meters longer than Penarth pier much of it was washed away by storms over the years and it is now much shorter. In Victorian times the new train line caused a boom in tourists and the town was even called the Biarritz of Wales.
We spent the night in a seafront hotel, of which there are many, and enjoyed a good supper in the nearby Baravin restaurant which is linked to the celebrated Harbourmaster in Aberaeron. In the morning we chose to visit the National Library of Wales where there was an excellent exhibition of contemporary Welsh art. This magnificent building was opened in 1915 but construction continued until 1937. The main purpose of the National Library of Wales is to collect and preserve materials related to Wales and Welsh life and those which can be utilised by the people of Wales for study and research. The building and grounds are both well worth a visit.
There is also a funicular cliff railway at the north end of the promenade. This was opened in 1896 and rises 237 meters from sea level to the top of the cliffs. It is the second-longest in the UK and it is a fun thing to do, but we did not have time to visit it.
After sightseeing, we bought a picnic for the rather long bus journey home. Conveniently the bus station is adjacent to the train station, and we caught the 1305 pm X47 bus which left on time for Llandrindod Wells arriving at 1445 pm, a relatively short journey of an hour and 40 minutes. The scenery on this route, especially from Aberystwyth to Llangurig is spectacular as it winds up and down the Cambrian mountains. To the north, you can see the lower slopes of Plynlimon which are the source of both the rivers Wye and Usk. While on the south side of the road there are massive wind farms as far as the eye can see. It may be worth adding that the buses carried very few passengers so we were not depriving anyone of a seat.
At Llangurig our bus met another service and we got off for a leg stretch, and the smokers quickly lit up! Then on towards Llandrindod and now on the more familiar A470. We arrived at the rather bleak bus station on time but our connection, the T4, was about 20 minutes late. The journey to Cardiff takes a surprisingly long 3 hours so we were happy to arrive at Greyfriars’s road at 6.20 pm after roughly 5 hours on the road.
We had enjoyed two full days away thanks to Transport for Wales. We had enjoyed seeing the wonderful mid-Wales scenery; you miss so much when driving a car. And we had appreciated a fleeting visit to the iconic town of Aberystwyth. We could have gone both ways on the bus at no cost, but by choosing to use the free Heart of Wales line we had to buy single tickets to Swansea and from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth but with Railcards these only came to about £20.
So – to the retired people of Wenvoe and for that matter anyone over 60 – pick up your Concessionary Travel Card and board a bus – the hidden gems of Wales await you.