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My Britain: Cardigan Bay

BY Alice Gawthrop

27th Nov 2023 My Britain

7 min read

My Britain: Cardigan Bay
The wild west of Cardigan Bay boasts beautiful beaches, craggy cliffs and wonderful wildlife. Here's what life is like on the edge of the world
Sweeping up the west coast of Wales you’ll find the beautiful Cardigan Bay. Craggy cliffs offer a sense of wild freedom, where you can stand on the edge of the world and see dolphins and seals out to sea.
The legendary sunken kingdom of Cantre'r Gwaelod is said to reside under these wild waters; one version of the story says it was submerged by an overflowing well. The myth has appeared in folklore, literature and music since at least the 13th century, although so far there have been no confirmed sightings of this Welsh Atlantis. But certainly the Bay holds some remnants of a bygone world—winter storms in 2014 revealed parts of the lost ancient forest of Borth, which had been buried under layers of peat, sand and saltwater.
These days, Cardigan Bay is home to beautiful beaches, fertile farmland and seaside resorts. The rich marine life includes harbour porpoise, grey seals and bottlenose dolphins, known as the “Big Three”, as well as puffins and basking sharks. Meanwhile, feet firmly on dry land, some locals share what life is like for humans in Cardigan Bay.

Jethro “Jet” Moore, managing director of Adventure Beyond

Canoe Teifi Gorge
I’ve lived in West Wales since I was a few months old. You’ve got everything you need here. Hills, stunning beaches, nice coastal paths. As someone who loves the countryside, I’ve never wanted to leave. 
I was lucky to find work I could do in this area. A lot of people do have to move away in order to find work. I started Adventure Beyond about 30 years ago and we work all over the UK. We go up to Scotland, we work along the Thames. We’ve also taken groups to Canada, the Himalayas, places like that. But honestly, West Wales has got everything, just not on a massive scale. We can do everything we need right here.
"We’re lucky to have these incredible sandy beaches, pebbly beaches, beautiful rivers, hills"
I live on a tenant farm right on the coast. It’s a working farm, it’s got between 80 and 90 pedigree Herefords and 60 sheep. And it’s close to where we do quite a few of our activities. We do have some camping and basic accommodation here, too.
Cardigan Bay is pretty huge, but I find having grown up here there’s a definite sense of place. There’s an awareness that we’re lucky to have these incredible sandy beaches, pebbly beaches, beautiful rivers, hills. It’s peaceful, and it’s not overdeveloped. Of course, there’s periods where it gets busy, but then the second school’s go back, you pretty much get the beaches to yourself. There’s a sense of community too, with a lot of good community-based clubs and assets. We’ve got the Poppit Sands Surf Lifesaving Club, and the RNLI.
Coasteering cave jump-2
I set up Adventure Beyond to make my own work in the area. I love the outdoors, I wanted to be in Cardigan Bay, so it was perfect. I’ve tried to always keep that personal touch. The clients will pretty much always meet myself and all the staff. We took a lot of people on through the Kickstart scheme and they’ve now been employed with us for a few years. And Rhod, my sort of number two, has been with me since we went to college together. And a lot of our clients have been with us since we started, too. So there’s a sense of family, which is quite special. 
I won’t mention a specific favourite spot because it’s already a little too busy half the time, but in general the beaches are just amazing. It’s just a sort of wild west really. In the winter it’s stormy and in summer it’s beautifully calm, and you can see seals and dolphins. 

Ellen Wakelam, owner of In The Welsh Wind

Ellen Wakelam In the Welsh Wind Distillery
I moved to Tresaith, a tiny village right on the beach, with my family when I was 6 weeks old. So I wasn't quite born here, but close enough! I went to school in Cardigan, and like most kids here, I spent a lot of my spare time down at the beach. 
I did leave the area to go to university. After 18 years living in a small coastal village, I did want to see more of the world. I completed teacher training in Aberystwyth and then spent a few years in the Midlands. However, Wales, and Cardigan Bay, always had a strong hold over me and my partner, and I returned in 2012. Now I have no desire to leave! I think the sea and the coast is really powerful. It always draws you back—the feeling of being at the edge of the world.
Cardigan Bay itself covers a wide area, and there's something different at every point. Where we are at the southern end of the Bay, the coast is made up of gorgeous coves and hidden beaches. As you head further up the coast, you get longer stretches of sand or even pebbly beaches. Then there's the spectacular Dyfi Estuary, and on round to the towns at Criccieth and Pwllheli. As you go further north, there are the mountains of Snowdonia overlooking the coast—we can see them across the water on a clear day too. 
"We have an incredible natural playground on our doorstep to enjoy"
I think the Cardigan Bay spirit is pretty independent and resilient. Even in 2023, we feel quite “apart” from the rest of the UK, and even the rest of Wales. The motorway ends about 35 miles away, so you really have to want to come here. And once you're here, there are challenges; we don't always have great internet access, logistics are trickier.
But on the flip side, we have an incredible natural playground on our doorstep to enjoy. As Cardigan Bay residents, we feel there’s also an element of responsibility for the coast, to keep it special, and to make sure we're contributing to the community and the local economy so that we all thrive. The other thing that makes us resilient is the weather. When it's sunny, it's quite literally the best place in the world to be. We do also get long stretches of rain and storms, and that can grind you down a little—you just have to cling on to the fact that the sun will always come out again!
My partner Alex and I started In The Welsh Wind in January 2018 after being inspired by small craft distilleries in north west Scotland. We now employ 15 people and have moved into an old pub on the main coast road that runs between Aberystwyth and Haverfordwesr. We make premium, award-winning spirits—mainly gin, but also vodka and rum. We are also producing a grain to glass single malt Welsh whisky which uses grain grown locally to the distillery and which we malt on site.
LFP05212
We've worked really hard to create an environment where people can come and be creative in what they do. We don't always follow the rule book and that's allowed us to create some really exciting spirits—the whisky in particular. Although I'm no longer a teacher, I've always maintained my interest in encouraging young people, so we run an apprenticeship scheme, and also provide work experience and other opportunities for those who don't perhaps want to continue in education beyond 18. Young people growing up here don't always see as wide a range of opportunities and career paths as they might in other parts of the country, and I hope that we can show people that there are other options—including setting up your own business!
There's a really wild area of cliffs on the coast north of the village of Llangrannog called Ynys Lochtyn. (Ynys means island in Welsh—and although it's not strictly an island, it can feel like it!) It's a little peninsula that sticks out into the sea and you can walk onto it perched high up on top of the cliffs. It feels like you're really part of the coast when you're standing there, almost surrounded by the sea, listening to the call of the gulls and tasting the salt spray.

John Trott, volunteer at the Eco Shop in Cardigan

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I’ve lived in Cardigan Bay for 25 years. I was raised in North Pembrokeshire on a smallholding, but moved away at 21 in 1980. I returned in 1998. My parents still lived in North Pembrokeshire—in fact, my mother is also a volunteer for the Eco Shop at the age of 85.
I love the landscape, coast, nature, relative freedom and lack of crime compared to most areas. As I’m getting older, I’ve found that it’s a much more pleasant place to grow older than more urban areas. My social life is low key but I always seem to strike up a conversation on a daily basis, so it’s hard to feel lonely in Cardigan town. There is a lot of community spirit, at least in Cardigan, and in the surrounding areas.
"I always seem to strike up a conversation on a daily basis—it’s hard to feel lonely in Cardigan town"
The Eco Shop where I volunteer is run by like minded volunteers and really is a shop like no other. There is a camaraderie between the volunteers, and the public seems to enjoy and appreciate its existence. The proceeds of the shop fund the Naturewise Forest Community Garden based on the Parc Teifi estate. This is a permaculture project run by more volunteers, which grows herbs, fruit bushes and trees. It also contains a round house and compost toilet. It runs a volunteer day on a Tuesday where much work and maintenance is done. It also runs education and fun days for local children and is generally an excellent community resource.
Poppit Sands Cardigan Bay
There are so many beautiful spots in Cardigan Bay that it’s hard to pick a favourite, but I’ll pick Poppit, my local beach, as it’s easy to access. I usually walk there, and it has quite a large, long flat beach, dunes teeming with wildlife and a view of Cardigan Island. There are rock pools, stepping stones, salt marshes, and an estuary for the Teifi river.
Cover photo by Danny Thomas on Unsplash
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