The Aeron valley stretches from the colourful harbour town of Aberaeron on the Ceredigion coast, to its source at Llyn Eiddwen on Mynydd Bach. It tumbles through deep gorge to the village of Llangeithio, and then meanders through a glaciated landscape of steep wooded slopes and broad watermeadows from Talsarn to Ystrad and Ciliau Aeron.
Llanerchaeron - the woodland glade of Aeron
Archaeological surveys have discovered that there was once a large medieval settlement at Llanerchaeron, which is also mentioned in documents about the Welsh princes in this period. All that now remains of the settlement is the late 13th century church, dedicated to St Non.
Now owned by the National Trust, Llanerchaeron has a fine example of an 18th-century gentleman’s villa and grounds. The mansion was designed by Anglo-Welsh architect, John Nash, who went on to design several buildings, including Buckingham Palace and Brighton Pavilion for the flamboyant Prince Regent. Llanerchaeron’s gentleman’s villa is more modest, but displays many features of Nash’s distinctive style.
Llanerchaeron villa also has a complete service courtyard with dairy, laundry, brewery and salting house. The grounds include walled kitchen gardens, an ornamental lake and parkland. The working farm, complete with original farm buildings has a collection of vintage agriculturla machinery as well as Welsh Black cattle, Llanwenog sheep, poultry and Welsh pigs.
The clue is in the name
‘Aeron’, translated into English means ‘berries’ , suggesting the fruitfulness of the Aeron valley. The shape of the valley is also suggested by local names Ciliau Aeron is where the river has several narrow bends - ciliau - whilst ystrad (from the latin 'strata' as in Strata Florida, and the same as 'strath' in Strathclyde indicates where the valley is wide.
The steep slopes of the Aeron valley are covered in woods. A 'llanerch' can be translated into English as 'a woodland glade' - an apt name for the lovely setting of Llanerchaeron - one of several small estates along the Aeron valley. The area still has several dairy farms, some with names that include the Welsh word for ' white', 'milk', or one of several words for woods or trees. Could it be that these names inspired Dylan Thomas - he knew the area well - to call his most famous play for voices Under Milk Wood? He also named his daughter Aeronwy.
The former railway line that enabled Dylan Thomas to travel between London and the Aeron Valley is now a pleasant walking and cycling route linking Aberaeron and Lampeter.
The Aeron - a fruitful valley
Visit the walled gardens at NT Llanerchaeron and Tyglyn Aeron. Not far are the RHS partner gardens of Cae Hir, and check too for National Garden Scheme open days at Llanllyr and other gardens in the area. You can also visit Llaethliw - one of Wales’ newest vineyards at Neuaddlwyd, just across the valley to Llanerchaeron.
The Aeron valley is been home to some of the country’s first organic farms, who continue to produce organic vegetables, milk and cheese as well as beef, pigs and lamb. The natural springs that rise from the sands that form the valley floor of the Aeron, are the source of water for Llanllyr Source bottled water. On the gentle rhos landscape of the Mynydd Bach, is the source for Ty Nant water, bottled in distinctive blue and cranberry coloured bottles.
Llanllyr was once a Cistercian nunnery, established by the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth as a daughter nunnery for the Abbey of Strata Florida, some 15 miles to the east in the Cambrian Mountains.
Mynydd bach - the little mountain
The Mynydd Bach ('small mountain') is a series of ridges that stand between the sea and the higher moorland ranges of the Cambrian Mountains to the east.
Like many of Ceredigion’s rivers the Arth (the bear) has a short, steep course through a wooded valley from its source on the Mynydd Bach. Hidden in the woods is the mound of an abandoned medieval castle - Castell Dinerth. The monks of Strata Florida used the valley as a route from Aberarth, where they had fishtraps, to the abbey in the hills.
The river Wyre flows through another deep wooded valley between Llanrhystyd and Llangwyryfon on the slopes of the Mynydd Bach. The deep rift of the valley continues inland to Lledrod, where the iron age hillfort of Y Gaer Fawr (the great fort) occupies a commanding position, with views across Cardigan Bay and into the Cambrian Mountains along the Ystwyth Valley.
The Mynydd Bach has an intriguing history:there are remains of Bronze Age cairns on Trichrug ridge, overlooking the Aeron valley. It is the place to find the cottages of families that emigrated to North America to seek a better life, and where a rebellion took place in the 19th century against the enclosure of common land.