Aberystwyth Mon Amour

Tonight I’m not going to post anything about my work or an article I’ve read recently: though indeed, it’s been a while since I did either of those things, and I must apologise for my tardiness. Tonight’s blog post is based on something that has happened recently in the town where I have been conducting my research for the last two years, and where I lived prior to that for eight years. A place which is as close to my heart as my home town: more so, in all honesty, because it was the place in which I grew to adulthood and where many of my best friendships were forged and my most enduring memories were created.

No-one can have escaped the poor weather we’ve been having recently. Here in my little part of South Wales the rain has been incessant, accompanied by howling winds and hailstones. But Aberystwyth, the town that captured my heart at the age of 18 and never gave it back, has been taking a beating. High winds and towering waves have combined to batter the Victorian promenade, gouging great holes in the sea wall. The shelter where I sat with my ex partner, talking and drinking wine and watching previous, less serious storms, has collapsed into the hole torn by the ferocious ocean. The bar, which hundreds upon hundreds of students and locals have kicked (a tradition that goes back many years and which is said to ensure the person kicking the bar always returns to the town) has apparently been swept away. The seafront halls, normally so foreboding, are dwarfed by giant waves and tonight stand mostly empty, the students having been evacuated to the campus.

As a former student, as a current student, as a previous “local”, seeing the pictures and the news footage has been awful. To see the places of my youth torn up and wrecked has awoken a part of me I’m not sure I knew existed. I feel fierce loyalty for the place, and immense sadness. Watching the news earlier brought me almost to tears – I feel like a part of my history has been taken away by the winds.

But the best part about Aberystwyth is its people, and they won’t let a little thing like a violent weather system tearing apart their town get them too down. Tonight they are huddled in warm, well-lit pubs and loading up songs with lots of water-based imagery in their titles on the jukebox. They are sat on top of Constitution Hill watching the waves bear down on their little town, enjoying one of nature’s spectacles. There are students evacuated to the campus eating free chips in the Union. That is not to dismiss what any of those people are going through, but they are facing down the storm in inimitable Aberystwyth style: surrounded by friends, possibly (most definitely) with a drink in hand. And they will emerge from this storm with brilliant anecdotes of bravery and idiocy, and tall tales that should be taken with a pinch of salt.

The attached picture is by Keith Morris, the Aberystwyth photographer who charts our lives in the town: the title of the blog is, of course, from Malcolm Pryce’s wonderful novel Aberystwyth Mon Amour. I apologise for the unashamedly sentimental tone of this post, but I don’t apologise for loving the place as much as I do.

Picture taken by Keith Morris, Aberystwyth
Picture taken by Keith Morris, Aberystwyth

**UPDATE: The bar is alive! Updates in my comments section and via my Twitter feed seem to confirm that the bar is still standing. Hopefully it’ll hang in there as a fitting testament to the toughness of the town and its residents.

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17 thoughts on “Aberystwyth Mon Amour

  1. I was toying with writing a blog post on this, but yours says everything I’d have wanted to say. Beautiful, heart-breaking and nostalgic yet also clearly so rooted in the present. x

    1. Sorry but the storm has been amazing. Just like you I grew into adulthood there, and I have the strongest memories from being a student there. It was amazing, the people, the place, the setting, just stunning. I have been loving these storms, as it has enabled the whole country to see the beauty and overwhelming power of nature that Aberystwyth gives you, it grips you – that incredible sky, like a moving tapestry utterly glorious, that virtual 180 degree west facing vista that gave the best sunsets you can imagine, and below that the sea. Aberystwyth, at the end of the line, always felt like the edge of the world, the correct balance between people and nature. It gave you this inner peace that everyone who knows feels truly blessed. The front will be rebuilt, it adds to the history of the incredible place.

      1. I completely agree with you Tommy, no need to apologise! I love watching storms, and there are few better places I’ve encountered in my brief travels to see one rolling in than Aberystwyth. It was just so sad to see the places of my youth disappear, but as you quite rightly say, and as I hope I’ve conveyed in my blog, the town won’t be beaten by this storm and it will come back, I’ve no doubt, better than ever, for us to continue our storm watching for many years to come.

      2. Agreed – the weather for the most part has been picturesque. Still; i’m waiting to see what replaces the last unsupervised drinking haunt (The victorian shelter reclaimed by the beach) before i agree that the storms have added rather than taken away the historical look of the seafront.

    1. I heard last night, that’s fantastic news! You can’t beat the bar, that’s got the force of a billion feet behind it. It’s the Chuck Norris of metalwork.

  2. Very very good. I left Aber in 1976 but still love the place. I wish I could have written the blog as it is pretty much how i feel.

  3. Thanks for this. As another former Aber student, and one who for 3 years lived in Ceredigion hall, just behind the shelter, I too have been left deeply moved and saddened by the damage done to the seafront. For the years I was there we often would sit for hours in the bay windows of our rooms watching the waves with all their power and dangerous beauty. The sea and the storms were always a part of life there and many a time did we wake to discover that the waves had picked up the beach and deposited it all over the road. I remember having to exit the The Bear (the marine hotel cellar) by the back door when the sea came in the front door.
    But in all my time there the shelter stood defiant against the waves that broke over it, but no more.

  4. Yes, I have travelled to many places and have yet to see as good a sunset as in Aberystwyth! So many views, from the front, the castle, Consti, Pen Dinas, the campus, Penglas Nature reserve, amazing! I do hope they sort the front out – it is so unusual for a UK seaside town with the front only just above the beach – it needs strengthening. Seeing Aber so much on the news with the storm has brought so much back! Peace to all

    1. Twitter has confirmed the survival of the bar, too! Thanks for the update Rachel. How are you coping down there on the seafront?

  5. Don’t apologise for the sentimentality. Aber gets into your heart and never leaves. I tried to get back to do a masters but illness has ended that dream. I don’t recall kicking the post but I must have done, I have returned many times, those streets are like synapses permently wired into my brain. Guess the sea decided to reclaim a few things but the town will rise again.

  6. This was so nice to read and like you I have so many fond memories there. Even took my husband there to show him what all the fuss was about. I am glad to hear of the community spirit and the fact that people are still getting on as best they can. Such a shame to see the pictures on the news of the promenade etc… What a lovely blog! Beautifully written too.

  7. I spent 1 year of my life in Aber as exchange student… and I will never forget that time when often during the sping I was playing music with my friends in front of the sunset at the seaside…My heart is sad… Ciao Aber…be brave!!!

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