“When people come to Aberystwyth they never leave.”
These were words repeated to me nearly every time I introduced myself to someone when I moved here just over a year ago. I must admit I could not quite believe it. I had no life ambition to move here, why would I want to move to the middle of absolutely nowhere, I naively thought. Well a career opportunity presented itself and I decided it was not something I could turn down. So having only lived in Worcester for six months, my then girlfriend, now fiancée and I decided to move here having never been here nor found a house, as we camped out in the Travelodge and Marine Hotel for over a month.
Today I was sat on a bench on my descent from the top of Constitution Hill, perspiring after wearing a big fluffy coat (you can never tell in Aber even with 20 degree temperatures recorded in the car) with the sun scorching and the quite wonderful sound of the flow of the waves. And that phrase spoken to me came to mind. This weekend happens to be moving-in weekend and I wonder how many times the university’s new students will hear that phrase.
Now you will either be pleased or gutted to know I will one day leave Aberystwyth but I can understand over a year on why people choose not to. But you could be forgiven for not understanding this at first glance.
Firstly, it really is in the middle of nowhere. It takes ages to get any anywhere and if you have to travel with work, then the winding A-roads (B roads to a standard anywhere else), 2.5 hour drive to Cardiff, 75 minute drive to Carmarthen, often longer when getting stuck behind a lorry and poor reception, you are in for quite a treat.
Secondly, job prospects aren’t particularly great. The university, hospital and local authority are big employers but beyond this it is tourism and hospitality that the local economy depends upon. It is not the number one destination to pursue well-paid work.
Thirdly, aesthetically Aberystwyth isn’t the prettiest by way of buildings. The town centre seems particularly empty, in terms of people and shops occupied, but hardly surprising. I spoke to one small business owner the other day who has to pay £27,000 annually on rent alone to the council. It feels quite run-down in parts and in the winter months can feel rather gloomy.
But all this feels so irrelevant when you settle here. The great and the good of Aberystwyth far outweighs the grumbles. The pace of life is slow and gentle which feel like important attributes in this year of slowing down and realignment of priorities. Only yesterday after work I decided to take a five-minute stroll to head to a beachside diner with newspaper, cider and ice cream in hand. It was perfect. And there are so many days like this- it really is its own little bubble which you do not want bursting and it is so far away from anywhere else you do not want to visit anywhere else. And because of its geographic isolation it is pretty self-sufficient too- it has the broad plethora of eateries and entertainment, sporting activity and the local nature on the doorstep whether coast or woodland also.
The synergy of the seasons is also apparent- in summer, in Easter and other half-term holidays Aberystwyth welcome the tourists, from the Midlands, the north and south of Wales and beyond, it then moves to a period of eerie silence and then welcomes thousands of students to the town. There is a sort of orchestral structure to the year- you experience all of it- the cold winds on the seafront on a November day or the warmth resembling something of the Mediterranean in June.
Moreover it may not be the most diverse of places by way of ethnicity (albeit highly visited by people of all faiths and all races) but it is certainly diverse by way of lifestyle. Students; graduates who never left; Ceredigion-raised, first-language Welsh speakers; people from the Midlands who found themselves holidaying here as youngsters who go onto settle here; professionals who come to research and work at the university and the hospital, and people who retire and move to Aberystwyth- it truly is an eclectic mix of people, all with immense charm and hospitality.
In summary, Aberystwyth is a truly great place- it is one to tick off the visiting bucket list and maybe like me, you could find yourself accidentally moving here. But be careful- you may never leave.
I leave you with some of various pictures and videos from adventuring around the town: