A couple of years ago some friends and I booked a YHA in Borth for the Easter holidays. It was breezy and wet and had an off-season feel, which somehow seemed like an apt time to look around and get to know the town.
The thing that struck me most about Borth were its lines: the town is a curious narrow stretch along the sea; its main street follows the same line and continues far into the hilly distance. Its most noticeable architectural feature is a long concrete seawall that, at times, blocks the view to the sea as well as protects from the elements.
Borth was once home to herring fishermen, many of whom were lost at sea. Some daring seafarers sailed the world and returned with inspiration to build grandiose houses that still quietly stand today. I’d like to imagine that they quickly fill up with happy families or groups of friends looking for a down-to-earth holiday experience in the warmer summer months.
If you walk along the beach at low tide you’ll notice dark objects poking through the sand. They are fossilised tree stumps from a submerged forest, dating as far back as 1500 BC. Or maybe they are the remains of a “Welsh Atlantis”, an ancient kingdom lost to the sea because of its carouser and delinquent prince Seithenyn.
If you wander further along the coastline, just a couple of miles north of Borth, you’ll discover Ynyslas National Nature Reserve and its completely charming visitor centre. The reserve is known for its raised peats bogs, the estuary with mudflats and salt-marshes and the ever growing sand dunes, home to rare insects and plants.
Besides the sea, Borth’s most romantic feature is its only train station. The railway follows in the same trajectory as other significant lines of the town – decidedly straight, disappearing into the mountainous horizon. It divides the town into a residential part on one side and the unruly green fields with grazing cattle on the other. The station was built in Victorian times to promote railway tourism to West Wales and has train services running every hour. It also houses a community run museum with memoribilia from the golden age of railway travels.
Once bustling with fishermen communities and then later with holiday makers arriving by train, present day Borth may seem quiet. After many back-and-forth walks along its lengthy High street, strolls by the sea and detours into hidden lanes, I got to know Borth more intimately.
Perhaps the wind and rain plowed Borth into my imagination, its simple lines set against the hilly landscape and textured history, I remember it now with a longing to return.