The beautifully designed Georgian town of Aberaeron centres around the harbour which dates back to 1807. The houses are painted in striking colours which enhance their splendid architecture. One house in every four is listed as being of either special architectural or historical interest. Many were owned by local sea captains; hence the proliferation of such names as Gambia and Melbourne.
A Harbour with History
In the middle ages, Aberaeron took a back seat to nearby Aberarth, through which building stone and goods were delivered for onward transportation to Strata Florida Abbey, 20 miles inland. It was not until the late 18th century that its fortunes changed with the introduction of the turnpikes.
The turnpikes of Ceredigion (Cardiganshire) were created in 1770 to link Cardigan with Aberystwyth. Then some 20 years later, a turnpike from Lampeter to Aberaeron was built to open up a route through the Teifi Valley.
By the early 1800s, seeing that its position at this important turnpike intersection could give the town potential for development, the local lord of the manor, Reverend Alban Thomas-Jones Gwynne, decided to take action by investing his own family fortune in a major project.
The Boom Years
Within a few years of his obtaining a private Act of Parliament to allow him to "rebuild, enlarge, improve and maintain" the quay, two piers had been built and the inner harbour excavated. Then developers were invited to take building leases near the harbour.
The expansion of the harbour soon led to an increase in sea trade and gave a boost to local industries such as woollen mills, iron foundries and farming. Many people flooded into the town from the rural hinterland, bringing their skills and customs with them. Ship builders set up their trade close to the harbour and warehouses were built along the quay.
Significant imports were coal, lime, slates and other building materials as well as salt for packing local herrings for export to faraway ports. Grain, butter and - towards the end of the century - pigs were amongst the other exports.
Houses - Private and Public
In the 1830s, the architect Edward Haycock from Shrewsbury was commissioned to design the layout of the town around Alban Square, making Aberaeron one of the only planned towns in Wales. Houses for many rich merchants were built in the Regency style, the symmetry of which is very pleasing to the eye.
Only 9 public houses now remain out of the 35 which thrived during the town’s heyday. One of these – known as the Red Lion until the 1950s - occupied the ground floor of The Harbourmaster’s House, which was the first building to appear along the new quay in about 1812. Its imposing height was a factor in managing the harbour as the upper part of the house could be used to keep a lookout for smugglers. See it on the far left of our header picture on this page.
After the opening of the railway in 1911, it was not long before the trains took over as the more economical method of transporting freight, meaning that many small harbours were to lose their importance as trading points.
As might be expected, the main modern-day industries in and around the town are tourism and farming. Although the cargo ships are long gone, sailing still plays a major part in the life of the town, its stonewalled harbour sheltering yachts for much of the year. Take a boat trip for the opportunity to explore Cardigan Bay’s marine ecology and Heritage Coast.
Food and Drink
There are many cafés and restaurants in the town, in particular the renowned Harbour Master Hotel and a large fish & chip shop, The New Celtic. Hive on the Quay sells a delectable variety of honey ice cream. It also has a wonderfully knowledgeable fishmonger selling the freshest most delicious seafood.
Events in the Town
In August the town hosts the Cardigan Bay Seafood Festival - one of the highlights of the year.
Another highlight and a very popular event, is the Festival of Welsh Ponies and Cobs which takes place in August. The festival demonstrates the versatility of these wonderful creatures with in-hand, ridden and driven demonstrations and exhibitions by ponies, culminating in the spectacular ‘running of the stallions’. A life-sized statue of a Welsh Cob Stallion created by the sculptor David Mayer was donated to the town in 2005 by the festival organisers.
What to do in the Area
Inland from Aberaeron, you may choose to follow the gorgeously wooded Aeron valley on a 3k cycleway along the old railway track, or by footpath through the bluebell woods and fields, to Llanerchaeron Mansion. This restored National Trust property was designed by the great classic architect John Nash and is open to the public, along with its charming walled gardens and woodland walks.
Shore anglers will be tempted by the main beach which stretches for several miles and starts just to the north of the harbour. It consists mainly of rocks and pebbles with occasional patches of cleaner ground. During the main spring/summer season, dogfish and bull huss are the two main species but at high tide you may be lucky to catch mullet, mackerel and bass as they approach the shore. There is good fishing on the river or at local coarse fisheries, too. You can get more information from Aberaeron Town Angling Club and tackle from the shop just south of the square.
Our favourite things to do in the Aberaeron area:
Enjoying a meal at the Harbour Master Hotel
Listening to live music in the Hive on the Quay
Sampling the goods at the Cardigan Bay Seafood Festival
Seeing lots of horses at the Festival of Welsh Ponies and Cobs
Visiting Llanerchaeron Mansion
See more things to do in Cardigan Bay.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Aberaeron?