They were putting the finishing touches to Aberystwyth this week. Council workers were carefully laying paving slabs on the picturesque prom while painters and decorators were literally putting the gloss on the bright, newly-painted fronts of a number of hotels. Down on the beach, more craftsmen were carefully pointing the rebuilt sea wall.
A few miles north, and in Borth the sun was shining and the last few sandbags were being taken away. It’s all a world away from the storms of just four months ago when both town and village along with others on the coast were literally swamped by the tide.
Some of the highest spring tides for decades hit Britain in January and Aberystwyth took the brunt of the raging seas.
Pictures of waves, higher than the Victorian seafront houses were beamed across the world as university students were evacuated from their flats and traders were forced to close shops and cafes.
The sea withdrew to leave piles of stones several feet high on the prom and the roads. And, as the debris was removed, the extent of the damage was uncovered. Paving slabs, bollards and iron benches had all been uprooted.
Today there are only a few signs of the destruction. Daytrippers sit on the benches that were covered by the stones and others enjoy a coffee at PD’s Diner which sat right in the middle of the debris.
This week visitors to the traditional seaside town were more than surprised at the extent to which Aberystwyth has been given a facelift.
There has been praise for Ceridigion Council, which moved into the storm-hit town within hours of the devastation.
However, Gareth Evans, who manages the popular Baravin restaurant on the seafront said he wondered whether the council had missed an opportunity.
“The council has done a great job in putting the prom back to how it was.
“But perhaps there should have been a look at whether the front should have been redesigned, perhaps bringing Aberystwyth up to date. I think that the powers-that-be have missed a trick here.”
The restaurant had been busy at Easter, he said, adding: “Although the first May bank holiday is usually quieter we are hoping that the late bank holiday and the half-term will be good.”
Dellen Evans, who works at the Ambassador gift shop said the storms had not had a negative effect on the town. She said the gift shop was doing good trade.
“Easter was really busy, particularly Good Friday,” she said. “When the storms hit, people were coming into Aberystwyth to see the enormous waves,” she said.
“I would never have stood on the front, it was much too dangerous.
“But I did take my three grandchildren up onto a safe path on Constitution Hill to see the waves. We watched as the Victorian Shelter succumbed to the storm.
“The council workers have done really well to get everything looking as it is now. And people are coming into Aberystwyth for the day or for holidays. Some of them saw the town on the television and decided to come for a visit.”
“It is sad that we have lost the paddling pool and the Victorian Shelter has gone – we are not sure whether that will be replaced.
Charlotte Madhar Singh, 23, runs mobile Indian cuisine business, Mama Singhs Ltd, with her family. She said: “I think the seafront looks wonderful now.
“At the time of the storms it was quite scary. We are based in Bow Street which is known for being prone to mini tornadoes. The wind came through the village out of nowhere We got all out outdoor clothes and shoes ready to grab in case our roof came off in the night, it was that windy.
“Even during the storms people came to the area. We have a stall on the farmers’ market and that was busy even though we were literally having to hold the stall down. And trade has gone from strength to strength this year.”
Members of the Aberystwyth Surf Life-Saving Club were the only ones venturing into the sea back then, a big difference from the Easter weekend when they say the beach was packed.
Tiggy Burrows, 22, said things in Aberystwyth had not been as bad as the media had made out while Pete Squires, 25, said: “I’ve been living here six years and to be perfectly honest, I haven’t noticed any affect on tourism regarding the storms.”
Tatiana Costa, 22, said: “If anything, I’d say it had a positive effect. People came from all over to see the damage, so the town looked quite busy.” A waitress in the Other Place cafe, said agreed.
“During the floods, the part of Aber where our cafe is was cordoned off but thankfully, none of the water made it into the cafe.
Overall, I’d say the effect the storms had on Aber was positive. We get a lot of people enquiring about the storms, many of whom use this cafe.”
Alison Richards, 32, owner of the Spellbound gift shop just off the promenade, said: “I think it’s incredible how quickly things were put right and back to normal.
“People never thought it’d be put right in time for Easter but as you’ve seen, it looks fine.” Holidaymaker, Alan Cearns, was visiting friend Elfynd Keiran from nearby Llanon.
“Both of them motorcyclists, Alan said: “Aberystwyth reminded me of Douglas on the Isle of Man. It had the air of a run-down seaside town, so it is good to see the refurbishment that has obviously gone on over the past weeks.” Sue Stephens from Hinkley said: “We were surprised at the work that has gone on, and how little storm damage there seems to be.”
The seaside village of Borth has also been spruced up after insurance companies moved quickly to help householders whose homes were flooded.
Ian Tomkewycz runs the Family Store in Borth, commuting, with his partner, Sara Hughes, from Pant, near Oswestry, in Shropshire.
After the storms, volunteers had set to and cleared up much of the debris, working alongside council workers, he said.
The sea wall has also been rebuilt. Mr Tomkewycz is one of many who say that there was certainly a silver lining for Borth from the storms.
Mike Pugh, whose family has run the Friendship Inn for generations agreed, saying the storms had had a positive effect on tourism.
He said: “We have had many, many people come to Borth to look at the submerged petrified forest. It has always been there, but the storms removed the sand and exposed much more of it. Of course you can only see it at low tides.”
Mr Pugh said the council was due to start the second phase of the sea defences in the autumn.
“That will protect the area from the Grand Hotel north,” he said. “They built the flood defences for Borth 18 months ago and they certainly worked. I saw Borth destroyed by the sea in 1975.
“Had it not been for the sea defences it would probably have been the same this time.”
David Lewis, 52, of the Ceiriog Valley said: “The caravan I own is on the ‘Y Fron Caravan Park’, which is quite high up on a hill, just out the village of Borth, so I wasn’t that concerned about my property being damaged. There were certainly places in Borth that got a battering. As for the effect the storms had on tourism, I suppose I’ve noticed a slight decline, but to be honest, provided the weather’s good, Borth’s a busy place.”
Marcia Wheatley, 34, owner of The Grand Hotel, said: “The devastation caused by the flooding was pretty bad here, but as a new resident and business owner, I can honestly say the community spirit during the flooding was amazing. People without homes to go to were offered accommodation, local residents helped with the clean- up effort, everyone really chipped in.”
Yasmin Dewse, 19, bar waitress at T’he Victoria Inn, said: “Our establishment wasn’t damaged, I think we have the sea defences to thank for that.
“The thing that bothered me the most were the power cuts. The longest one lasted two days, which might not seem much, but at the time was a real inconvenience.”
She added: “I think tourism’s been affected in a positive way, like lots of people came here to see the 6,000-year-old submerged forest that the storm uncovered.” In Clarach Bay the bridge over the river that runs into the sea has been repaired and there is little sign of the erosion that washed away some of the cliffs that were home to a lot of bird life.
Robert Groves, who runs the Ocean View Caravan Park in Clarach Bay said the park had been lucky and had not been hit by the storms.
“There has been a lot of investment going on and workers are moving down the prom replacing the railings,” he said. But he added: “Some people came to Aberystwyth to see the damage and are not coming back to have a holiday in the area. Many of our holidaymakers are from Shropshire and the Midlands.
“Before they return this year many of them will ring and ask us what damage has been done. We have to put their minds at rest that things are fine.”