Cardigan sits at the mouth of the river Teifi, between the county of Pembrokeshire to the south and Cardigan Bay and the county of Ceredigion to the north. Cardigan was the county town and administrative centre of the historic county of Cardiganshire. With a population of around 4000 Cardigan is a thriving market town and host to a number of popular festivals each year. The High Street retains much of its Victorian character. Held in the town every June is the Gwyl Fawr, the town's own Eisteddfod, and the Welsh music and language festival. This is a nod towards Cardigan holding the first ever Eisteddfod centuries ago in 1176.
The town sits in an ideal position for walkers, being midway between the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path and the Ceredigion Coastal Path. Anglers will appreciate Cardigan for the fine fishing opportunities. The Teifi is a fine salmon river and is arguably the best mixed game fish river in England and Wales. Sea trout approaching 10lbs. and salmon approaching 20lbs or more can be caught in the Afon Teifi.
Cardigan's High Street is the centre of the hustle and bustle of town life. Following a recent restoration scheme, many of the buildings have returned to their original character, with Victorian shop fronts and character. However, the Guildhall in the town centre, built in 1859, takes its character from the Gothic revival style inspired by the famous architect John Ruskin rather than the Victorian era, yet it is still a striking building. The coloured brickwork of the buildings is a trademark feature of Cardigan.
Off from the High Street you shall find Theatr Mwldan, where the annual Arts Festival is held. Also held in the town every June is the Gwyl Fawr, the town's own Eisteddfod, the Welsh music and language festival. This is a nod towards Cardigan holding the first ever Eisteddfod centuries ago in 1176.
Close to the Guildhall there is a pleasant covered market standing beneath bold Moorish arches. Here you will find anything you could possibly wish for since there are several small stalls selling all sorts of things from crafts to food, so be prepared to find a fabric stall beside a delicatessen.
Also in the town you will find many traditional shops, including craft shops, a butcher's, baker's (no candlestick maker) and a grocery store, as well as many inns and public houses where you can catch a pint and a bite to eat. Fortunately, these buildings still maintain their Gothic and Victorian fronts to provide a warm welcome to visitors and to stay in keeping with the town's period.
St Dogmael's Abbey: The romantic ruins of this old abbey, situated just 1.5 miles from Cardigan, were erected in 1115. They are a rare example of Tironesian establishment, who originated from Tiron, Western France. Excellent Shakespearean plays are performed amongst the ruins each year during the summer months. The performances are set in beautiful surroundings and more information can be received from the Tourist Information Centre found on Bath House Road in Cardigan.
The Welsh Wildlife Centre is located some 4 miles from Cardigan, where the Teifi widens out into the estuarine marshland. A large and wide nature reserve, otters and seals are often to be spotted in the river, attempting to catch the salmon and sewin for which the Teifi is renowned.
There are many species of birds to be seen, including the rare 'Cetti's warbler'. The magnificent Visitor Centre, an award-winning three-storey timber and glass building perched on a glaciated hill, houses a large gallery and a café with panoramic views of the whole reserve.
The Small World Centre is Cardigan's newest building and sits next door to Theatr Mwldan. It holds a lot of importance and significance to the people of Cardigan, as it was built by local workmen: every person who worked on the building lived within 20 miles of Cardigan, and even the materials come from the local area. So what is inside this strangely-named building Just like its neighbour, it is a theatre.
Walks, Cycle Trails and Other Activities
As the main town at the northern end of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, and the southern end of the Ceredigion Coast Path Cardigan is certainly a popular place for walkers. With the inauguration of the Wales Coastal Path due in 2012, the town can expect a boost in trade from the rambling fraternity.
The surrounding countryside also offers plenty of beautiful places to cycle. Bikes are available from the New Image Bikes shop situated in the town. The eponymous Cardigan Bay is world famous as a haven for wildlife with dolphins, porpoises and seals being regularly sited offshore.
Teifi is a fine salmon river and is arguably the best mixed game fish river in England and Wales. The river was a source of income for many locals over the years, but with over-fishing and todays over regulated society the river is now part of the leisure industry rather than the fishing industry. A few old timers can still be found however to recall the old days when they would fish the river in traditional manner, in ways passed down from generation to generation. Sea trout approaching 10lbs. and salmon approaching 20lbs or more can be caught in the Afon Teifi. The best time for sea trout is from late May to early September and for salmon from August until October. Brown trout can be taken throughout the season.
Castles and Forts
Cardigan Castle: The present ruins of the castle date back to around 1240. However, the first castle was a Norman motte-and-bailey settlement located at the bottom end of the estuary, unsurprisingly known as Castle Pool. In 1110 the second castle was erected by Gilbert de Clare along the eastern side of the pool, and this is where years later the stone castle came to stand. It was in this castle in 1176 that the first Eisteddfod was held.
The castle has seen many conflicts and invasions during the medieval period, particularly between the Norman invaders of Wales and the Welsh princes, who felt that the castle was rightfully theirs. The castle changed hands between the Welsh and the Anglo/Normans several times over the centuries. During the 20th century it was privately owned and is now still strictly closed to the public, although it has recently been purchased by Cardigan council, who it is hoped will restore it to a safe condition.
Cilgerran Castle: Situated 3 miles southeast of Cardigan, the present Cilgerran Castle is believed to have been built during the 13th century by William, earl of Pembroke. It has an incredible location sitting on a crag high above the gorge of the river Teifi and the original settlement could possibly have been the home of the famous adventurer Nest, the “Helen of Wales” who abandoned her husband and the castle in 1109 for her cousin Owain and later other lovers. Many artists have found the castle a stimulating subject, such as the artists Turner and Richard Wilson. By the 18th century, a boat would travel up and down the Teifi taking tourists to see this wonderful monument.
Cardigan and its original motte and bailey castle were founded in 1093 by the Norman Fitz de Montgomery, who probably saw the area as somewhere of economic fortune. From the Middle Ages Cardigan became a notorious trading port and ship building area, and at one time was the second most significant port of Wales after Milford Haven. Such ships as 'The Albion' and 'The Active' began from Wales, taking Welsh people across the Atlantic Ocean to begin new lives in Canada and the USA. Sadly, the arrival of the railways and the silting of the harbour ended Cardigan's days as an important Welsh port, although old warehouses still stand at the area of Castle Pool.
St Mary's church stands on the east side of the river. Although a medieval church, the tower was added to the original structure during the 18th century.
Cardigan is also the site of 'Our Lady of Cardigan', a famous Roman Catholic shrine. In the pre- Reformation times, it was renowned as the home of a statue of the Virgin Mary, holding a candle which never extinguished. It is also known as the shrine to Our Lady of Taper.
Accommodation and Services
There is a frequent bus service running from Finch Square in Cardigan all the way to Poppit Sands ensuring that those who don't have their own transport can still get about from place to place without walking!
For accommodation, there are plenty of hotels in Cardigan and the surrounding areas, as well as cosy self-catering cottages and welcoming guesthouses. If you want to stay outdoors with nature, there are plenty of camping sites and caravan parks about the town.
With all the visitor-friendly attractions open throughout the year, you can visit Cardigan whatever the weather. Just remember to bring your woolly cardigan if it is cold!