The goings on in and around Bridgend

Monthly Archives: November 2015

Digital Bridgend – The Nantymoel 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.

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Now that the rain has finally stopped after much of Britain caught the tail end of 'Storm Barney',  I can continue my journey through the Digital Bridgend app, and today, it's back up the Ogmore Valley to the village of Nantymoel.

I start once again in the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet just off the M4, yet another coffee and of course wifi (although my iphone already has the information downloaded as I have previously completed an Ogmore Valley trail some weeks ago). It's great that that information once downloaded remains on the phone so no need for wifi this morning after all. Coffee, I do need though.

From the Designer Outlet, it's easy to select one of the three valleys heading north from here. The valleys are all well signposted so I follow the brown signs to the Ogmore Valley, but not before activating the trail on the app which tells me that the first place I need to find is over 12km away.

It takes about 20 minutes through familiar territory for me, including passing through Ogmore Vale, which we covered previously. Arriving at Nantymoel, a useful tip, don't follow the signs to the village when you get to the clock tower in the middle of the road, take the mountain road to the right and head up towards the valley head. It's a lovely drive taking in some great scenery and waterfall features before zig-zagging your way to the top of what is known locally as 'the Bwlch'.  There's a parking stop at the top, where usually you will be greeted by some ice-cream loving sheep (the ice cream van is not there today though!), and in front of you, there is a spectacular and typical Welsh valley view taking in the community of Treorchy in the world famous Rhondda Valley.

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This view point has to be one of the must visit places in Wales, and parking the car I'm directed up a path looking for the first point in the trail 'Bwlch Y Clwdd'. It's quite a steep walk and about 400m from the layby, but worth it when you get there - as well as the view of the Rhondda, in front of you now, if it's clear, you can see the entire Ogmore Valley and in the distance, the sea at Porthcawl. An amazing 360 panorama.

Despite the pleasant view, the commentary on the app eventually triggers at what must be one of the highest points in Bridgend County, we learn about a tragic event where two military planes crashed at the summit here within 90 minutes of each other in 1940. There is a memorial stone on the side of the road commemorating this sad event.

For the next point, we head back down the valley to Nantymoel itself and search for the 'Miners Federation Memorial'. I park the car on the side of the road near the Clock Tower, and head off on foot passing the rugby field along a well maintained path through a park. After a very pleasant walk, I soon find the memorial that marks the tragic fact that 308 men and children have lost their lives in local collieries. The memorial also lies over the shaft of the former Wyndham colliery, which today has been reclaimed by the valley and is now a popular community walk and park. 

From this point on, the app tells me to find Dinam Street which is around 350 metres away back into the village. Once I get there, I'm told (via an interactive timeline on the app) of the fascinating commercial history of this street. The mine owners also owned the stores here, and as in other parts of industrial Wales, would have paid their workers in tokens only to be redeemed in these premises forcefully retaining the spend and profits. This led to the founding of the Nantymoel Industrial Cooperative Society which eventually acquired property in the street, opened stores of their own, including the very first self service grocery store in 1951, which at its peak grossed £1m per annum!

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Leaving Dinam Street, I'm guided by the app back towards the Clock Tower, and to a landscaped vacant plot in the centre of the village where once stood the famous Berwyn Centre, the former miners institute funded by the generous contributions from local miners, this became the centre of all political and leisure activity in Nantymoel and it even included a 1000 seater auditorium.

The next challenge is to find the Ocean / Western Colliery. Another short walk away where I encounter a treasure hunt in the app, which provides us with a quick and brief history of the colliery. It explains the role that this colliery played in the development of the valley and the village of Nantymoel at its head.

Onwards, now the app instructs me to find 'Station Road' which was a bit of a challenge if I'm honest (but that's only because I didn't read the text instructions on the app. It clearly says to bear right but I went left!). Anyway, the icon on the viewfinder that we must follow soon told me that 'Station Road' was within 50m, but what was confusing me was the fact that I had to walk up a steep path to the road looking down on the river and valley floor. I got there in the end and discovered why the icon for this trail is indeed a running shoe - Station Road was the birthplace of famous Olympian Welsh Athlete and World Record Holder 'Lyn the Leep' Davies.  It was great to learn that all Nantymoel children were given a free commemorative mug in honour of the achievement of their local hero, whose world record long jump in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics stood for over 30 years!

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The final two points in this trail take us back down the steep path to an interesting treasure hunt on the green valley floor below Station Road. This was once the site of the old station, and finishing up on another street of terraced houses called Nantymoel Row, where the app recalls a story of another local hero, James Llewelyn Davies who lived at number 8. He was a WW1 hero who due to his brave efforts in France, where he was sadly killed in action, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery.

This trail provided yet another insight into the history and culture of this proud valley. Allow yourself around 2-3 hours maximum, and it is best done by car for the first point, and then easily achieved on foot for the Nantymoel section once you return down the valley after visiting the spectacular viewpoint from the Bwlch.

Digital Bridgend, Porthcawl

Digital Bridgend: Porthcawl and Coast - the Railway and Resort 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.

This week, sees us back in Porthcawl again, to discover yet more hidden heritage in this still ever popular Victorian seaside resort.

From the app home screen, select the 'lighthouse' icon (for Porthcawl) and then from the four options you have available, chose the 'steam train' icon and this will take you to the beginning of the DLPR and Resort Trail.

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DLPR by the way stands for the famous Dyffryn Llynfi Porthcawl Railway, which we have come across so may times on other trials in this app. It was clearly one of the most important industrial heritage developments that shaped the area and I'm sure today we are going to learn a lot more about its role in the evolution of Porthcawl from an industrial port into one of Wales most popular seaside resorts.

What I like about this trail is that it neatly combines walking with driving and it's quite easy to complete if you have a little over two hours to spare.

To begin with, I started on foot leaving the car in one of Porthcawl's many car parks or roadside parking. Fortunately, it's October at the moment and easy to park on the side of the road, and then to head off to the start of this trail. The app tells us that we are searching for the 'DLPR memorial' along the town's harbour wall, towards the lighthouse. So this first one, was very easy to find.

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We learn that Porthcawl as a town can trace its very beginnings to precisely 22nd January 1825 which was the date that an Act of Parliament was granted to allow the construction of the DLPR.  This was pioneering at the time and made Porthcawl Britain's first railway port.

Next it's a short walk, around 30m to the Jennings Building, which we are told is one of the oldest maritime buildings in Wales, built in 1832. It was used to store iron awaiting shipment at the terminus of the DLPR.

After listening to the commentary, we are then challenged with a game to complete, that's fortunately not too difficult. It's a game where you must make sure the right trains are directed  down the right railway line, which would have been a challenge back in the day for sure at this busy railway port. Best advice I can offer when you arrive at the game, is to read the instructions of course, and you'll sail it (no pun intended!).

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We are now directed to the opposite side of town and are guided through Porthcawl's busy John Street, crossing the road at the end to find the site of the 'Old Station'. The commentary triggers just outside the pub the Royal Oak, and it refers to the former station site just across the road from there.

Next point, is the 'New Station', which takes us back along John Street but not before I stop by at one of the many cafes in this area for a much needed coffee. There's one or two traditional cafes around here that don't necessarily look good on the outside, but are great on the inside. These are certainly cafes as they once were and cafes as they should be! The same old adage applies to Porthcawl as other holiday destinations, if it's full of locals, then it must be good! These places always look busy.

Anyway, after finding the site of what was known as the 'New Station', you may be surprised to discover that despite its name, there is no station to be seen! It's a car park today but nonetheless we are told some interesting facts about the latter role of the railway in bringing thousands of visitors to the resort in its heyday. A scavenger hunt follows that takes you all around the car park to discover images of the former station and some additional interesting facts and figures. For instance, in the 1930s more than 70,000 visitors a week arrived in Porthcawl and a ticket from here to London Paddington once cost just a little more than £1! How times have changed.

We are now close to the harbour again and the next point to find is called 'the Rest' and located around 2.7km away to the west. So, it's back to the car for this one!
'The Rest' as the name implies is located at Rest Bay, one of the best surfing locations in Wales. It's a beautiful sandy beach and a must visit site in Porthcawl. 'The Rest' itself is the large ornate building located on the other side of the car park, near the Royal Porthcawl Golf Club. It was one of the country's first convalescence homes established by a Dr James Lewis who even wrote to Florence Nightingale for her advice!

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The last four points of interest are all related to the growth of tourism in the post industrial period of Porthcawl's history. The trail takes us back into the town by road passing the Seabank Hotel, the Grand Pavilion, the Promenade and of course Coney Beach. The commentary for the first three was all triggered from the car as I drove passed these points, and by having Bluetooth active on my phone,  I was actually able to play this commentary automatically through my car stereo speakers, which was great quality and very convenient. The last point is a little different though, this one triggers right on the beach in front of the fun fair that Porthcawl is undoubtedly still famous for. (So roll up your trousers if the tide is in!). It's here that I learn that Coney Beach Pleasure Park was originally built to entertain American troops returning from WW1 and was named as a tribute to the amusement park on Coney Island in New York.

So, another trail done, an excellent way to explore Porthcawl if you're short of time and learn so much in the process. Definitely one of the less demanding trails in the #DigitalBridgend series that can be done on foot or by bike or both. I do advise taking the car out to Rest Bay though especially if the weather is not too nice. Really enjoyed this trial today, I'm already looking forward to where the app takes me next week.