Family travel – A week in a caravan in Borth and Ynys Las
Recently made famous by BBC Wales’s crime detective series, Hinterland, Borth is a seaside village a few miles north of Aberystwyth in Ceredigion.
We’ve been heading there pretty much every year for the last 10 years, as my parent-in-laws have a static caravan there which they kindly let us stay in.
I must admit, not all our holidays have been worth writing about. We’ve had some pretty difficult mini-breaks with breastfeeding/teething babies keeping us up all night, over-tired kids unable to sleep in a roasting hot caravan, kids suddenly developing an aversion to sand and refusing to walk on the beach, not to mention being washed out by the typical rain that often characterises British caravan holidays.
But this year, we had the most amazing few days there over the May half term. It was the perfect family break, partly because of the glorious weather, partly because we are out of the baby zone and things are getting easier, and partly because after going there so many times, we’ve discovered some fantastic places really worth visiting. And lots of them for free too, which suits our limited budget.
We arrived late afternoon, had some quick sandwiches for tea, unpacked a little and headed straight to the seafront for ice creams. Despite it being almost 6pm, it was so hot and sunny and the sun looked gorgeous shining on the sea. My children started paddling in the sea… and the next thing I knew, they were in the water fully-clothed declaring this “the best holiday ever”.
Borth beach itself is a part-pebbly, part-sandy (when the tide is out) small stretch of coast. It’s certainly not as touristy as the likes of Porthcawl or Barry Island, and neither does it have the sandy stretches of the Gower. But we can easily pass a few hours here, looking for crabs in the rocks, collecting pebbles, paddling in the sea, building sand castles and so on. There are toilets and a few shops selling beach gear and small restaurants/cafes, as well as a couple of pubs.
It’s a complete contrast to Ynys Las, just down the road. The even smaller village is famous for its national nature reserve, made up of three parts – the sand dunes of Ynys Las, the Dyfi estuary, and the peat bog of Cors Ochno.
The dunes are incredibly beautiful and ever-changing, thanks to the strong coastal winds. They are home to rare plants, insects and other wildlife, including rare wild orchids. We saw lots of beautiful blue butterflies while we were there and small birds darting around.
The Dyfi Estuary includes large areas of mudflats, sandbanks and saltmarsh that are home to wetland birds.
Cors Ochno, to the south east of the dunes, is an internationally important peat bog. It 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. The area is now home to rare plants and insects. 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 car park on the beach itself, which costs around £2 for the day, payable in the visitor’s centre (which has lots of information about the importance of the area, as well as a small gift shop and toilets). We quite often see people pitched up in front of their cars, and from here, you can play in the sand and paddle in the sea. It’s worth noting you can only park here during low tide, as when the sea comes in, your car is at risk of being submerged!
The real beauty, however, is found by walking over the dunes to the sandy stretch of sandy beach on the other side. The walkways through the sand dunes are not great for buggies, and the beach isn’t the best place to spend a day with young children because it is a long stretch from the toilets. However, if you’re looking for a close encounter with unspoiled nature then this is perfect. We had great fun searching for shells and other beach treasures, paddling through the small ponds and rivers left behind while the tide was out. It’s not advisable to swim in the sea due to the strong currents.
Borth is also home to the Animalarium, a small but growing zoo featuring lots of endangered species and rescue animals, including lions, meerkats, reptiles, marmosets and much more. It’s a good way to pass a couple of hours, with various meet-the-animals and feeding sessions throughout the day (adults £9.50, children £6.95, under 3s free, £30 for a family ticket).
My children love Uncle Albert’s Ice Cream Emporium, which serves all manner of ice cream sundaes as well as a range of vegetarian and vegan meals. Its opening hours are a little limited (usually around 5pm, even in peak season, which is a shame for families looking for an early-evening treat during the holidays).
When it rains, there’s Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth (free admission). Housed in an old theatre/cinema, the interior is quite striking. There’s quite a lot packed into such a small building, but some of our favourites are the old-fashioned toys, clocks and Victorian costumes, as well as the old-style puppet theatre you are welcome to play with.
On the seafront, there’s a family-friendly arcade with 2p and 10p machines in the pier building – the restaurant here is also worth trying out, not least for the stunning views over the sea.
We’ve previously been swimming in Plascrug leisure centre, and Jungle Jo’s soft play in Llandre, while Aberystwyth Arts Centre sometimes has children’s theatre performances and family films in its cinema.
Last week, we made the most of the sunshine and once again headed to Bwlch Nant Yr Arian. This tranquil nature reserve is based around a beautiful lake and the daily highlight is the feeding of the red kites at 3pm (2pm in winter). Red kites used to be endangered in Wales, but through careful conservation, some days 150 or more come to feed. The site of the kites circling overhead and descending down on the other side of the lake to feed is quite incredible.
Bwlch Nant Yr Arian also has two wooden playgrounds – one for younger children, one for older children – which really fit in with the environment. The one for the older children has stunning views over the lake. There are a few woodland walks you can take around the lake (although some are sadly closed due to the felling of infected larch trees), including a buggy-friendly animal sculpture hunt for children. There’s also a café, visitor centre and shop, plus toilet facilities. It’s free to visit but parking cost £2 for two hours.
We’re National Trust members, so Llanerchaeron has been one of our favourite places to visit over the last couple of years (adults £7.60, children £3.80, family £18.80). The elegant Georgian villa was designed by John Nash – before he became one of the most important architects of the early 19th century, conceiving the Brighton Pavilion, Regent Street in London and parts of Buckingham palace for George IV.
The house is perfectly preserved with plenty of period charm – clothes, furniture, ornaments and more, right down to the Coronation day Western Mail newspaper on one of the arm chairs. The downstairs servants’ quarters and the kitchen are particularly fascinating. Each time we’ve visited there’s been some kind of trail for the children to take part in, and sometimes even volunteers cooking up Welsh cakes in the kitchen.
The grounds also feature a working farm with chickens, horses, cows and sheep, as well as the immaculately beautiful walled gardens, growing vegetables, herbs and flowers. But the highlight for us is walking around the beautiful lake. It’s well-shaded, so was a welcome break from the blazing sun. Last year, we got followed about three-quarters of the way round by about 20 ducks!
Other day trips we’ve enjoyed in previous years are taking the steam train along the Rheidol railway (although this is not cheap at £50 for a family of four) from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge. You could just as easily drive to Devil’s Bridge and enjoy exploring the waterfalls and nature walks (adults £3.75, children £2, under 5s free).
There’s also the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, which explores sustainability in a fun and hands-on way (adults £8.50, children £4, under 3s free; cheaper prices if you book online in advance); and the Magic Life of Butterfly House near Aberystwyth (adults £7.50, children £5, under 3s free).
We kept our holiday cheap and cheerful by mostly eating in the caravan, and having chips at the seaside one night. However, we have had lovely family meals at The Wildfowler near Machynlleth. There’s a restaurant area, a more casual bar area and a couple of tables outside. Mains cost around £10, children’s meals around £4. The portions are generous and the food lovely. We highly recommend it.
Places to stay:
There are plenty of campsites around Borth and Ynys Las for tents and trailers, as well as guest houses, holiday lets and caravan parks with vans for hire as well as static vans.
Click here for more information on camping and here for other accommodation.
How to get there:
From Cardiff, it’s around a 2.5 hour drive via the A470, and about the same from Birmingham (we see a lot of Brummies in Borth!).
There’s a small train station in Borth, with trains running to Aberystwyth. It takes round 3 hours 45 to get from Cardiff to Borth, with one change at Shrewsbury.
Have you ever been to Borth or Ynys Las? Where are your favourite places to visit? Do let me know in the comments section below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page, or you can tweet me on @cardiffmummy
You can see more photos from our trip to Borth on the Cardiff Mummy Says Instagram gallery.
I grew up in Aber and one of my favourite places in the whole world is Ynys Las, can’t wait to take my own little one for long days on the beach there! Great write up, sounds a fab holiday!
Oh, how lovely! It’s such a special place, so beautiful. Hope you make it there with your little one soon x
Ahh many a happy day was spent in Borth. We used to take the caravan to Cambrian Coast caravan park. I used to love going to Devil’s Bridge and I can only remember going on the train once and now I know why!! Haha! And then the Centre of Alternative Technology was always good with their “water lift”. And King Arthur’s Labyrinth. x
Glad to hear it is a place of so many happy memories. I think it will always be a special place to my children too. Not made it to King Arthur’s Labyrinth yet, but it’s on our list. x
I have never been to this area but it looks beautiful – with the beaches and the countryside. Borth sounds particularly lovely and it looks quiet unlike where I live Porthcawl. I will have to explore this area and I’ve always wanted to go to the centre of Alternative Technology too.
I grew up in Barry so I know exactly what you mean. It is the complete opposite to our towns – but so lovely in its own way. x
Some gorgeous photos here Cathryn! Especially love the sand dunes ones.So glad you managed to have a great time and were very lucky with the weather. It looks a lovely place to visit. x
We were so lucky with the weather – it was gorgeous there. x
Never been to Borth but loved Aberystwyth and everywhere around there also love Hinterland 🙂 I would love the chance to holiday there as your pictures are so tempting 🙂
Hope you get to visit some day soon. It really is lovely x
What gorgeous photos – Ynys Las looks stunning. And sometimes it is all about the dimple things with kids: ice creams and beach!
Absolutely! We were so lucky to be able to enjoy the beautiful outdoors for the whole week. x
Looks like Such a lovely family holiday place. I love your photos by the way
The gorgeous scenery and the sunshine made it easy to take the photos! It’s a gorgeous place. x
What a wonderful post – I do love Wales when the sun shines. So glad to hear you had a successful caravan holiday this year and lots of fresh air and time on the beach.
We were so lucky with the amazing weather. We spent pretty much the whole week outdoors. x
Oh wow, these photos have made me want to go and visit Borth! The sand dunes – amazing! You could be in the middle of a desert. It looks a wonderful and stunning part of wales. A real haven #countrykids
It really is beautiful. Hope you make it there some day! x
Caravanning holidays are transformed by a good week. I have meany happy memories of all my summer’s in a caravan in Cornwall, the weeks that rained vs the weeks with sun really do make a difference when you only have a small indoor space. Half term was amazing this year for Wales and the South West, and enjoying a week as you did sounds perfect. All those lovely beaches, soft sand and a beautiful nature reserve. The peat bogs remind me of geography field tips of years ago, I’m sure I remember wading through one in wales with an overly enthusiastic teacher!
Thank you for sharing a glorious week on #CountryKids
Yes, it would have been a completely different week if it had rained! Caravans are not the easiest place to be with kids in bad weather. I wonder where it was in Wales that you went on your geography field trip! x
Wow! Such a beautiful place. Your photos are stunning that made me want to go as well. Nothing beats a good fun in the sand dunes, right? xx
So glad you liked the photos – in fairness, I think it was the amazing beauty of the area, rather than my photo skills! The dunes are lovely to explore. x
Wow those photos are amazing! The place looks so gorgeous too and well it looks like a perfect trip with the perfect weather! #countrykids
We were so lucky with the weather! It’s never usually that nice over half term! x
So much useful information. I think I would HAVE to visit the Ice cream Emporium, I am a big fan of ice creams. There are so many brilliant places in the UK to go, Borth sounds like it has some amazing bits. I’m pinning this to pinterest to remind me that Id like to visit one day. #countrykids
Haha, yes, the ice creams are fantastic! We are so lucky in the UK to have so many amazing places to visit… it’s just shame we don’t always get the weather! Thanks so much for pinning x
That looks lovely, the beach almost looks like it could be in another country! Holidays definitely get easier as the kids get older!
Yes, I noticed a real difference this year compared to last year! The beach is stunning, especially when the sun is shining x
It’s such a beautiful part of the world, and really not that discovered! Lovely images #countrykids
Lovely post and photos, I grew up nearby so it’s lovely hearing about the area from a holidaymaker! Ynyslas is one of my favourite places in the world 🙂 xx
Wow what an amazing holiday! Those sand dunes look incredible. I’ve only been to Wales once when I was really young but I remember loving it x
So glad you finally had such nice weather and to be in such a wonderful place! Sounds like a fantastic break. Gorgeous, gorgeous beach!!