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.
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.