We’ve been holidaying in Borth for at least 12 years now, thanks to the in-laws having a caravan there.
The small coastal village, half an hour from Aberystwyth, is quiet and low-key with a pebble beach, plenty of B&Bs, a youth hostel and caravan parks, a couple of pubs and shops, and an ice cream parlour. Travel down the perfectly straight sea front road and you reach Ynys Las, famed for its beautiful nature reserve of sand dunes and a rugged and peaceful sandy beach. Our caravan neighbours told us the previous day they had seen a dolphin swimming in the sea.
The weather was a real mixed bag when we visited over the Whitsun May bank holiday weekend, with everything from thunder storms and severe winds to 28 degree sunshine. Here’s what we got up to during our holiday.
We spent Saturday afternoon eating ice creams on the pebble beach of Borth, throwing stones into the water, and paddling in the sea. (My children – not me! The water was cold and I’m not that brave!).
The main attraction in Borth other than the beach is the Borth Wild Animal Kingdom, formerly the Animalarium. With new owners as of May 2017, the zoo is expanding and modernising. Home to ringtail lemurs, meerkats, lynx, leopards and more, admission costs £9.50 for adults, £6.95 for children and £30 for a family of four.
Also worth a visit is Uncle Albert’s Ice Cream Emporium, mid way along the high street, with it’s light meals, cakes and (obviously!) ice creams.
On Sunday morning we hid from the rain and wind at Aberystwyth Pier, playing on the 2p machines. The children had £1 each which they managed to make last for a way over an hour, pure glee on their faces each time a cluster of coins came tumbling down into the coin well. On previous visits we’ve eaten at the restaurant on the pier with its generous portions and stunning sea views.
We emerged from the arcade into the most glorious and unexpected sunshine and, after walking around the seaside town and the pier, we headed on to Aberaeron, a half hour drive away.
The charming fishing port is really popular with tourists, with its elegantly painted colourful Georgian town houses and bars, restaurants centred around the harbour.
Aberaeron is great for ‘crabbing’. My children remembered doing this on our last visit to Aberaeron two years ago and couldn’t wait to hoist down our crabbing net and catch some of the shelled crustaceans all of which were kept in water, fed raw bacon and released carefully and unharmed back into the water.
It was our 11th wedding anniversary and so we treated ourselves to lunch at the Harbourmaster (we paid for our meals ourselves) We last ate here on our third wedding anniversary, when our daughter, who is now almost eight and a half, was just coming up to six months old so we were well overdue a return visit.
The bank holiday sunshine meant the place was heaving – but thankfully for us most people were drinking rather than eating and our food came super quickly. My beetroot risotto (£11) was a gorgeous blend of delicious flavours. Miss E and Little Man enjoyed their pasta in a tomato sauce (£5.50) and Littlest devoured his fish goujons and chips (£6.50) while Cardiff Daddy opted for ham hock, fried egg, pineapple and chunky chips £12.50).
From there, we bought ice creams and headed across the quaintest wooden bridge next to the harbour and threw stones into the water. All was going well until Littlest ran into the water, fully clothed and wearing his trainers. (You can read more about ‘The unfortunate incident of the trainers which didn’t make it back from holiday’ here.)
Fairbourne Railway and Barmouth beach
With a forecast of sunshine we decided a proper beach day was in order and so headed to Barmouth. We’ve been here before and loved it – it’s a traditional seaside town with a white sandy beach, fairground and cafes. It’s kind of like a toned down version of Barry Island or Porthcawl but without the crazy numbers of tourists those places would attract on a sunny bank holiday.
The easier and cheaper version would have been for us to drive straight to Barmouth from the caravan. But we’d picked up a leaflet for Fairbourne Railway which travels two miles along the coast from the small village of Fairbourne to Barmouth and knew the children would love it. Our day rover tickets cost £9.90 for adults and £1 for children and because we gift aided our purchase, we can use our tickets to get free entry for a year.
The miniature steam trains leave every hour or so and take around 20 minutes to travel down the track to Barmouth with four other stops along the way.
At Barmouth you need to get one of the small water boats across the water to the main bay, costing £2 per person. The other option is to alight earlier and walk the 5km path instead.
The tide was quite far out when we arrived but my children wasted no time in running into the sea and splashing around. I made it up to my knees and that was cold enough for me but they didn’t seem to care. We picnicked on the beach, and made sand castles, a sand boat and dug holes. There were some lovely areas of rock pools and pools of water to explore where we found crabs and sandy-coloured camouflage fish.
We saved the fairground until last telling the children they could choose two rides each. There was no question as to which ride – the caterpillar roller coaster they remembered from two years ago. Twice. All rides are ticketed with tickets at 50p or discounted for bundles. This one cost us around £7 for the three of them per ride.
We stopped at Aberdyfi on our way home for chip shop chips for tea, which we ate on the pebbles looking across the estuary to Ynys Las.
The nature reserve at Ynys Las is beautiful and really worth a visit. It’s made up of three parts – the sand dunes of Ynys Las, which are home to rare plants, insects and other wildlife, including rare wild orchids; the Dyfi estuary, and the peat bog of Cors Ochno. This internationally important peat bog dates back to around 5500BC, when part of the estuary floodplain was covered by forest. As the sea levels rose, the forest was replaced by reed swamp and the peat bog. At low tide, you can see the submerged forest – stumps of long-dead tree trunks. It’s not safe enough to be open to visitors, but you can view the stumps from a 1.5km circular boardwalk along the edge of the bog. There’s a beach car park where you can park all day (when the tide is out!) for a few pounds, payable in the visitor’s centre, which has lots of information about the importance of the area, as well as a gift shop and toilets.
If you have a buggy, or children who struggle to walk long distances, I know from first-hand experience that the sand dunes are not the easiest to access. But thankfully now our children are older, they are happy to walk through the dunes to the beach. The sandy bay is anything but commercial, a place of raw and natural beauty. We saw a group of horses walking in the water, a few people dotted around, and not much else.
We’d only come for a little walk and had no swimming costumes or towels with us. So my children went into the water fully clothed. And why not? Isn’t that the kind of spontaneous fun that will etch upon their memories? They also played in the pools of water on the beach, and hunted for shells and unusual stones in the rocky patches left uncovered by the outgoing tide.
You can read more about our previous trip to Borth and Ynys Las and places to visit here. Have you visited the area? What are your recommendations for family-friendly things to do?
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