Welshness is essential to the Aberystwyth experience: why I love ‘Aber’

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The sun doesn’t always shine, but when it does the town’s idiosyncratic seaside cheer and remote feel make a train trip worthwhile

Along the promenade come the crowds: drag queens spouting one-liners, farmers gossiping in Welsh, a choir out of rehearsal but still singing, and a man who raps to himself and the heavens. There seem to be as many dogs as humans, and twice as many gulls, all eyeing the fish and chips. The funicular railway up the cliff has a queue of Hasidic Jewish families clutching ice-creams, and the pier is packed with good-humoured Brummies enjoying the snooker tables and push-penny machines, waiting for the nightclub, Pier Pressure, to open. By the ruined castle a party of Australian fans of TV crime series Hinterland are gazing around in bemusement: is this really a gritty murder capital? Behind the town rise the mountains of mid-Wales; out front is the sparkling sea. This is Aberystwyth on a sunny afternoon.

Far from large population centres, down a long slow railway line, and with a climate that strips paint faster than a Tom Jones audience used to remove its underwear, Aber, as locals call it, has taken some knocks. But that adversity has bred something unique among British seaside resorts: a place that is proudly cultured, often comedic and always quirky. There’s a university and a national library, but there may also be a muddy tractor with a straw-filled trailer parked outside the pub. After many visits, in all weathers, I’ve grown to love that independent spirit and eccentricity. (Those Hinterland fans might, however, get a little closer to the atmosphere they expect on a wet November Wednesday.)

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