By bus to see the red kites – and some other sights!

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions
an ordinary bus travels an un-ordinary journey

an ordinary bus travels an un-ordinary journey

There I was, about thirty minutes into the bus journey and two red kites flew overhead. If I had been driving, I couldn’t have watched their graceful soaring on the thermal currents. If I was driving and watching I would probably be lying in a ditch with a written-off car. Maybe there was something to bus travel after all.

Readers will recall that last week was Catch the Bus Week  and I committed myself to catch one of the suggested ten bus routes that were supposed to be spectacular. I chose the X-50 from Cardigan to Aberystwyth which takes about 100 minutes, give or take, as it diverts through some country villages and seaside towns.

Leaving Cardigan just before lunchtime there were few people on the bus. It’s an ordinary bus, nothing special but nothing uncomfortable either. Many people know each other and chatter to each other. It might almost be a social gathering as much as a journey.

The best views are to be found from the left hand side of the bus travelling north and right hand side coming back. And sit up the back of the bus where you are slightly higher and that way you can see over the hedges sometimes. In places you think that being on a double-decker bus would improve the views. It certainly did when I travelled from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Melrose a few years ago on a school run timed bus!

Cardigan Bay

Cardigan Bay

The 38 mile journey diverts past the local Tesco’s to collect those laden with the morning’s shopping and drops them off at some of the quaint and not-so-quaint villages as we go. It’s mostly rural around here and the fields are still full of rapidly growing lambs, timber that has been cut after the January storms and remaining daffodils on the banks. Odd sites abound like a chimney stack and aerial clingfilmed together as though both would collapse but for the Christo style wrapping. Further on there is an old cement mixer trying to hide behind a solitary flagpole in Cross Inn, a small hamlet on the way to Newquay. I wouldn’t have seen either from a car.

Aberporth and Newquay are similar villages. Both have narrow, winding, hilly streets that curl around inlets from Cardigan Bay. The sandy beaches and fishing vessels give a picture postcard feel and, as with all seaside places, cafes and fish and chip shops are everywhere. Boat tours take you into the bay to see the dolphins but they come quite close so you can see them from the shoreline some days.

How a normal sized bus gets through the roads without damaging houses, hitting other cars or even pedestrians is a surprise. But it does explain why the journey is so long. The other surprise is how one minute you are driving through woodlands carpeted with bluebells and the next there is another beach.

the harbour in Newquay

the harbour in Newquay

In any field that is not wooded there seem to be endless holiday villages with static mobile homes or spaces for caravans and tents. This is holidaying country be it to lounge on the beaches, go dolphin watching on the bay or rambling over the hills. So you pass Brownhill and Pencwnc Holiday Parks,  Quay West and Aeron Coast. There must be hundreds of mobile homes and I wonder how long it takes to do the journey in the middle of the summer when all these homes are full with holidaymakers and they are out sightseeing in the cars, on bikes, or just walking. Or do they take the bus?

Eventually and just over half way the bus reaches Aberaeron, a town justly well-known for its colourful Regency houses. No pallid colours are here but deep reds such as on The Castle Hotel and dark blue and vibrant yellows on others. As the bus goes around the square off the main street (almost twice as the bus stop is just on one side of the road regardless of which direction you travel) you also pass the Black Lion Hotel with its traditional white fascia but with decoration in contrasting black. Down the hill into the town  you have a long view of the town, it’s small harbour and the pebble beach but the best view is from the Aberystwyth side on the return journey. Like Llanarth before it, you sweep down a hill into the town and up the other side with the bus using the lowest of gears to chug to the top. The views and the colours of the these towns come as a sudden and pleasant shock after the endless green fields, the sheep, cows and horses.

and there are dolphins in Cardigan Bay

and there are dolphins in Cardigan Bay

And then you do have a site to behold for this is red kite country. I saw them on both legs of the journey, just gliding on the thermals and upsetting a flock of seagulls disturbing a recently ploughed field. The redness of their wings was clear to see and a glass roofed bus like they have on trains with observation carriages would really have made the day. There is no bus stop here, no way to get out and take some photos to crow over (pardon the attempted humour) over I returned home. Lots of visitors come to this part of the world to watch the red kites and they don’t disappoint.

From here, the bus tends to travel inland and it is only from the top of the hills you see the coves of Cardigan Bay. Into Llanon we go – nearly in Aberystwyth now – and there is another popty to stare through the windows at. A popty is a bakery and almost every village seems to have one. That and a cemetery. These are dotted in every small village and town and since most places are built alongside the main road with few houses elsewhere, the cemeteries line the road as well. But Welsh cemeteries have grand headstones, tall and slate or granite like, some cylindrical, all august as reflected in high Victorian style.

A sole thatched cottage comes into view – the only one I have seen for these are quite rare on this route – only to be replaced by the seashore with men still shoring up the sea defences from the winter storms.

Up the hill again and from the top the hill-fort of Pen Dinas comes into view or rather than tall Wellington monument that is on top of it. Aberystwyth isn’t far away now but the bus ride has still one little twist. Instead of dropping down into the town it turns right and heads for the retail park that has mushroomed since my day as a student at “Aber” in the mid-seventies.   Retail tourism is just as important as heritage, adventure or seaside tourism so many passengers that we have collected from the villages get off here.

Aberystwyth: the banstand survived the storms after all

Aberystwyth: the bandstand survived the storms after all

A few minutes later and the journey ends as we park opposite the railway station in Aberystwyth and my memory jogging visit to Aber begins.

As for the bus journey, I saw much more than I would driving. There are no train services nor have there ever been any.  Even the Victorian railway boom didn’t link these two towns. The bus and the car are the only way to see this route through pretty countryside and cove after cove of Cardigan Bay unless you like walking or are an ardent bicyclist. By allowing you to gaze at the scenery, watch the wildlife and gaze at the sea, the bus must win over the car.

But I have one moan. It’s really difficult to take photos through bus windows. Now if only the driver would let me out for a few minutes, keep the bus there and let me jump back on. But how long would the journey then take ?

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