The goings on in and around Bridgend

#DigitalBridgend Review: The ‘Bridgend & its Castles’ Trail

#DigitalBridgend is a new and innovative smartphone application that challenges users to find almost 300 places of historical interest throughout the County of Bridgend. Using augmented reality to find your way around, there are no less than 17 trails to follow, games to play, quizzes and scavenger hunts to unearth the unique heritage of this fascinating part of Wales. This series of blog posts reviews each trail in turn on location. The app is now available on Apple and Android platforms.

A good place to start is Bridgend. It doesn't really matter where you park for this trail but the app suggests the Recreation Centre, which is as good as anywhere (and quite a good café there to catch a quick cuppa too - I'll be doing a lot of that being a bit of a caffeine and chocoholic!).

Newcastle 2

So,I click on the app, select the 'Bridgend and its Castles' icon and then select one of the trails (in this case it's the map icon for this town centre trail that I'm eager to start). I press the play button, and the viewfinder on my phone opens, I rotate on the spot to find where the small hexagon is, which will point me in the right direction and tell me how far I am from the first point on the trail. Ah, it's 400m away in a northerly direction and I must find somewhere called St Mary's Church in Nolton.

So, I begin my trail and immediately get some strange looks en-route through the streets of Bridgend as I walk with my iphone held up in front of my nose (I discovered later that you don't have to do this, you can actually turn your screen off to save the battery and avoid looking ridiculous!). 

St Mary's Church, at the end of a street called Merthyr Mawr Road would be difficult to find without this app, and not somewhere where a visitor to the town would stumble across but a must see. So the app has already taken me off the beaten track which is precisely what it says on the tin. The church is a dominant and impressive sight and the commentary that 'kicked-in' as I walked within 20m of the place told me the history. I wont spoil it by regurgitating the facts, but this church is historically significant as its believed that there was once an old castle on this site which was actually a pre-name for Bridgend (the Newcastle part of the town we will visit later).

Across the road from the church there is an excellent example of a tithe barn which would have been very significant in the history of the town of course. Great, First point done, now where's next?

The commentary finishes, I press the play button again and I'm told to find the Old Bridge in the town, that gave Bridgend its name. I'm also 'warned' that it's a 10 minute walk which is useful to know. From the church, I walk through the town centre of Bridgend keeping a watchful eye on my viewfinder and that ever-present hexagon that tells me if I'm going in the right direction. The metre count is decreasing as I walk so I'm on the right track.

The bridge is located just off Dunraven Place, a nice well-presented open space marking the centre of the town.Half way across the Bridge the commentary kicks in again. I discover the history of the bridge (originally built in 1485), the town and the fact that there has been a market in Bridgend since the 10th century! A major flood demolished part of the bridge so it was rebuilt lopsided in 1775 that you can clearly see today.

Onwards, next stop across the busy road around 150 metres away where I must find the Unitarian Chapel in the part of the town called Newcastle. (The Welsh were of course the original non-conformists. I'm not saying that we're an odd breed, it's just that we sometimes go about things a little differently I suppose!).

The Unitarian Chapel in Bridgend is testimony to this as by the mid 1980s 80% of the population of Wales was non-conformist. The commentary on the app tells me that one of the chapel's most famous and charismatic preachers was Rhys Price, son of the moral philosopher Richard Price who is synonymous with this are and someone we will learn a lot more about a we explore this app I'm sure! 

St Johns Hospice 1

Next stop, St Johns House, again, only a short hop away (around 100m according to the app) but I can see it's located on quite a steep hill that winds itself up and around the corner - which is no doubt where I'm going to be heading! I can see what I think is St Johns House half way up on the right, the medieval building standing out in the street, a dominant feature on a hill that feels it belongs in a period drama. Again, this area is one that most visitors will not stumble across, but it's a must-visit for sure. St Johns House, is sometimes open to walk around but currently undergoing renovation. It's a little bit of a mystery locally as historians are puzzled over what it's original purpose was but it does provide a unique insight into medieval living. There are some features inside that suggest it was a building of some political standing and significance, and is certainly one of, if not the oldest houses in the town dating back to 1500.

Upwards and onwards, to St Illtyd's church. It's quite steep this so St Johns was a welcome break! The Church is located almost at the top of the hill and it's the same church that dramatically greets you on the cliff face when you first drive into Bridgend from the M4. I'm told through the app that prior to the Norman conquest, this church was probably a Celtic Church before they dedicated it to St Leonard in the 12th Century, and in the 16th Century, Owain Glyndwr and his army marched up the hill and attacked the place. The churchyard is interesting and certainly worth wondering through (and not just to earn another break from the demands of 'the Hill'!).

Next door to the Church is probably one of the best kept secrets in Bridgend, the outstanding ruin of Newcastle, a Norman castle which gives this part of the town its name. It first gets a mention in the annals of history in 1106 but there may have been an earlier castle on this very site given its strategic position overlooking the River Ogmore below.

The app at this stage kicks into its first Scavenger hunt. For this you basically have to follow the hexagon icons that appear on your screen, and walk around until the commentary plays and some imagery and photographs appear.

A little tip for you, if you are unable to find the scavenger hunt items, come out of the app, and go back in to the trail and it should remember where you are and move you on to the next point if interest - (don't tell anyone that I told you that! ;-).

20 4 09 007

That next point to find, is back down the town, over the Bridge to Dunraven Place where you find out a little bit more about the significance of this square, and its history as a centre of local politics and commerce, the latter of which it still is today.

From here, I was guided to something that I had never actually noticed in Bridgend before, the Randall Memorial Fountain. I must have walked passed this place a hundred times over the years and not ever noticed it. I guess that's the beauty of this app, unearthing the hidden stories. This grand Victorian fountain in the town centre was erected in 1860 in memory of John Randall who was so popular as a manager of the local Dunraven Estate, that hundreds turned up for the unveiling of the fountain.

The last stop of this trail, fittingly is the Bridgend Railway Station. It's a pleasant walk from the fountain up to the station taking in some interesting buildings that today house many of the town's solicitors and accountants. The commentary kicked in just as I arrived outside the station and again learned something new - that Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed the station and was aboard the first train to arrive to mark the opening of the platforms in 1850. The significance of the railway locally in the industrial and social heritage of the area was massive, as I'm sure we will discover as we embark on the 16 other trails packed into this impressive and innovative mobile application.

A review of the new #DigitalBridgend App by Andrew Lloyd Hughes

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