The goings on in and around Bridgend

Archive for tag: Porthcawl

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.

Digital Bridgend, Short Trail No. 2

Industrial Times: The Bedford Park Trail

Another well kept local secret, Bedford Park Ironworks is a little out of the way from the main drag but is one of the best examples of an industrial heritage anywhere in Wales. It's also a well managed park in a beautiful natural setting alongside the route of the former Dyffryn Llynfi Porthcawl Railway that played such a significant role in the industrial success of this area.

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This tour begins just outside the car park, as the app tells me to walk west around 40m to the first point of interest. The commentary 'triggers' and I'm introduced to a gentleman from the past known as John Bedford. Mr Bedford was the business owner who experimented with some unusual ideas (to say the least!) to smelt iron ore in these parts in the late 1700s.

Next point to find is the aforementioned Dyffryn Llynfi Porthcawl Railway (DLPR). I'm guided around 150m along the former route which at this location is now a well maintained cycling and walking route. I came across the DLPR during the Porthcawl trail and the Bridgend trail previously, so it was obviously an important industrial asset at the time, and its great to see it remembered today and put to some other use too.

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John Bedford

The railway was used to transport raw materials to the ironworks in the 1800s and gave it a new lease of life under new ownership of William Bryant. At this stage before we even get to the ironworks site, the app challenges us with a game that shows the importance in getting the raw materials delivered in the process of iron smelting. It's a little bit more difficult this game, you have to tap the screen at the right time to ensure that the iron ore is delivered into the furnace when it should be. Nice graphics, and once again the app teaches us something without even knowing it - by playing a game on our smartphones!

After numerous attempts to beat my highest score, I decide to move on. Pressing the 'continue' button on the app takes me to the first industrial relic - the well preserved calcining kilns. From this point on, the app takes us on a journey throughout this remarkable site starting with an impressive view of the industrial ruin from the top of where the furnace would have been loaded. We are led through the process of iron smelting whilst given a local history lesson, and another game too - the Blast Furnace game. This one I liked more I think (as it was a little easier to complete!) and requires us to tap the screen on our phone to stoke the fires in the blast furnace. Again, it teaches us something - the importance of the right temperature for the smelting to be successful. Probably one of the best features of this app is its variety and its ability to inform and teach through instruction, listening, watching, engagement and play. Really enjoying it.

Anyway, when I get to the bottom of the site, I'm presented with a useful timeline reminding me of the key dates and events that happened in the history of this unique place. There's also a scavenger hunt that takes me back up the hill and eventually back to the car park where the app teaches me about the former brickworks that accompanied the ironworks. Without the app, I wouldn't have known they had even existed at this site. You can learn something new everyday.
The final part of the trail was a very pleasant surprise. Another scavenger hunt challenged me to find a place around 400 metres away, along the former DLPR route in the opposite direction to the ironworks. After a 5 minute walk I arrived at a perfectly preserved junction box, the likes I had only seen previously on model railways. Occasionally, you can be lucky to get a tour of this place but the app provides a very interesting insight into yet another little known historical asset in the county of Bridgend. Loved it. Great trail lasting a little over an hour on foot.

The ‘Maritime Porthcawl’ Trail

In and around Porthcawl there are four trails on the Digital Bridgend app to enjoy, the first one we are going to experience is the maritime one, a theme which is of course synonymous with this seaside resort.

I was fortunate to have prior knowledge where this trail starts from, so I headed over to Newton Beach. This is a natural non-commercialised bay to the east of the town on a beautiful sweep that extends a few miles towards Ogmore by Sea (worth a visit just to do the famous stepping stones across the river by the castle in the eastuary). So, I arrived at Newton and turned on the app, clicked on the Porthcawl icon and then disaster. I forgot to download the additional content required so needed to find a wifi spot. Blue Seas café nearby was ideal. Free wifi and the staff, sensing my urgency, even told me politely that I don't have to buy a coffee to access the wifi!' - great customer service, so I bought one anyway (other cafes are available!)

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App fully loaded, I click on the lighthouse icon (which is the trail for the maritime coast) and press the play button and begin the journey. The hexagon icon pops up on my screen and together with the directions that appear, the apps tells me that the first place for me to find is Newton Point, 300m away along the seafront walk in front of Trecco Bay Holiday Park. As most of this trail is along the seafront, its best done by bike or on foot (if you enjoy the exercise - it's around 7-8km from the first point to the last, but takes in the town centre too) . Being in my usual rush, I take the car.

Newton Point, a small headland that offers great views west and east so an ideal place to start to get my bearings (also a handy spot to park the car too - which you can access through the Trecco Bay Holiday Park ). As I get to the centre of Newton Point, the app activates the commentary and I'm told about the history of maritime trade in this sheltered inlet, and its importance offering a respite to many a ship from the rough seas that surround Porthcawl.

 I also learn that near this point in the 1700s that there was once a luxury hotel of sorts that was frequented by many famous people including Josiah Wedgewood, the English potter who funded the world renown pottery company. You learn something new every day I guess!

The commentary and slideshow of images on my smartphone finishes, I press the play button once more and I'm reliably informed that my next challenge is the lighthouse, 2.5km away. I did say this is best done on the bike, but I return to the car and drive towards the harbour. A walk or bike ride would have been best on a day like today, that's for sure.


I find a parking spot on the road by the side of the harbour and head off to the lighthouse. Be careful along here, the wind is sometimes fierce but it's worth the walk for the view alone. The commentary activates on cue metres from the light house on this narrow strip surrounded by sea. It's here thaIMG_7680t I discover that Porthcawl was indeed named after its rough seas. The word 'cawl' meaning 'soup' in Welsh reflects the state of the currents in this area (it's also why the resort is one of the best places in Wales to surf and partake in various other watersports - off Newton Point today for instance, there's around a dozen wind surfers bouncing around in the high winds and waves). The lighthouse was the last coal and gas powered lighthouse in the UK and has no doubt helped many a vessel to safe waters, though some over the years, weren't so lucky as we will discover later.

Walking back from the lighthouse, the app presents me with a new challenge. A game! Before I can proceed to the next point of interest in Porthcawl, I must tap my screen and guide some boats to safety avoiding many of the rocks in the sea. Very fitting and entertaining. Frustrating though, I found this quite difficult to achieve. (Anyway, here's a tip, guide the ships down to the bottom of the screen and you'll be able to get them to safety easily and then you can move on!)

Around the harbour area, there are a number of other maritime trigger points that you must find including the lifeboat, the lifeguard station and the harbour itself. It did at one point take me back towards my car and to a place known as Salt Lake. This is now a car park but the app informed me that this site was once a bustling 7 and a half acre inner dock, and it shows some photographs of bygone years accompanying the commentary. Following this, the app presents a timeline for the user to click on different dates which provide additional information about life at the docks.

Eventually, the app guided me to Porthcawl Square, somewhere that I had been to previously but never realised the significance until now. The Square is located down a backstreet and its hard to believe than in 1846 with the docks booming there were no fewer than 35 pubs around this area alone, a few of which still exist today. One of these pubs is the Ship & Castle and its alleged that in the cellar there is a smugglers tunnel that linked the town to the docks. A scavenger hunt is activated at this point which challenged me to find some of these pubs on a kind of digital pub crawl. Dangerous, but very welcome! :-)

During the Scavenger Hunt, by following the hexagon icons on my screen, I was able to locate most of the pubs around the Square but the last one was a little out of town. The Rock Hotel was more of a challenge but I got there in the end (and actually called in for a cheeky drink too!).

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Suitably refreshed, I head off to complete the maritime trail which takes me on another walk, around 2.5km away to a place called Sker Rocks where I'm told the sad story of the ill-fated SS Samtampa, where 39 crew and 8 RNLI volunteers perished after braving the atrocious conditions in a gallant rescue attempt.
The footpath along the promenade is a must in Porthcawl and so is my final destination, near Rest Bay, a natural and renown surf beach near the world famous Royal Porthcawl Golf Club. If that place is open, it's definitely worth a walk around the bar just to view the photographs showing the famous players both past and present. There's a nostalgic and traditional feel to the Royal Porthcawl, no wonder it's one of the best courses in the UK.

This trail is definitely best done on bike and it has provided me with an excellent and entertaining insight into Porthcawl that I was largely unaware of before today. Thoroughly enjoyed this one, especially the game and my first ever digital pub crawl! It has whet my appetite for the next trail that for sure.

MV Balmoral sailings from Porthcawl harbour 2015

Great Days Out & Afternoon Cruises in the Bristol Channel with the MV BALMORAL

Balmoral 2015 (2)

Come with us for an exciting day to the famous seaside resorts of Ilfracombe, Glorious Devon, with time ashore to enjoy the fabulous holiday atmosphere.

Or sail to delightful Minehead with a trip on the West Somerset Steam Railway, or cruise along the spectacular coastlines of the Exmoor National Park or the Welsh Heritage Coast, past Nash Point lighthouse and on past Barry to the award winning pier at Penarth. With a self-service restaurant, buffet, lounge bar, gift shop and a large promenade deck to view the scenery, Balmoral offers a superb, not to be missed opportunity to view and visit remarkable and often remote parts of Great Britain. Let's go sailing on the 'Big Ship!'



Thursday 9th 1030 Cruise past the Welsh Heritage Coast and the Holm Islands returning to Penarth for inclusive coach return. Back 1700 £27 £13.50 £72
1030 Visit Penarth, arr 1215, dep 1600 by coach. Back 1700 £22 £11.00 £50

Thursday 16th 0900 Visit Ilfracombe, arr 1100, dep 1700. Back 1900 £29 £27 £14.50 £79
0900 All day cruise via Ilfracombe to the Exmoor Coast. Back 1900 £32 £30 £16.00 £87

Sunday 19th 1030 Visit Ilfracombe, arr 1230, dep 1730. Back1930 £29 £14.50 £79 1030
All day cruise via Ilfracombe to Woolacombe Bay. Back 1930 £32 £16.00 £87 1930
One way cruise to Briton Ferry arrive 2100 £10 £5.00 £27

Thursday 23rd 1000 Visit Minehead, arr 1130, dep 1700 by coach to re-join Balmoral at Ilfracombe. Back 2100 £29 £27 £14.50 £79 
1000 West Somerset Steam Railway. Sail to Minehead for a trip on the railway, then by coach over Exmoor to join Balmoral Back Porthcawl 2100 £46 £23.00 £125
1000 Visit Ilfracombe, sailing via the Exmoor Coast, arr 1330, dep 1930. Back 2100 £32 £30 £16.00 £87
1000 All day cruise Exmoor Coast, Clovelly & Hartland Point.
Back 2100 £32 £30 £16.00 £87

Sunday 26th 1530 Cruise Welsh Heritage Coast to Penarth, return by coach,
Back 1900 £22 £11.00 £50


Thursday 6th 1000 Visit Ilfracombe, arr 1200, dept 1930. Back 2115 £29 £27 £14.50 £79
1000 Visit Watermouth Castle by coach from Ilfracombe, dep Ilfracombe on return 1930. Back 2115 £39 £19.50 £110
1000 All day cruise to Exmoor Coast and Porlock Bay. Back 2115 £32 £30 £16.00 £87

Monday 10th 1500 Afternoon cruise to Welsh Heritage Coast and Nash Point Lighthouse. Back 1645 £15 £13 £7.50 £40

Thursday 20th 1000 Visit Ilfracombe, arr 1200, dep 1800. Back 2000 £29 £27 £14.50 £79
1000 All day cruise to Exmoor National Park Coast. Back 2000 £32 £11.00 £59

Tuesday 25th 1530 Cruise Welsh Heritage Coast to Penarth, return by coach. Back 1845 £22 £11.00 £59

Corinne's Surf Tour

Corrines Surf Tour

Calling all ladies… Embrace the surf lifestyle this summer and join UK professional surfer Corinne Evans on her female only 'Corinne's Surf Tour.' With a fun and relaxed approach to surf coaching, Corinne has developed a series of action packed surf days that will have aspiring surfer girls standing up & riding waves in no time. Taking place at various UK locations throughout June and July, Corinne will start the tour on Saturday 6th June at Rest Bay, Porthcawl.

Check out the #perfectday video

Flying the flag for women and girls that want to give surfing a try, Corinne's passion for surfing is truly infectious. Starting back in 2010, Corinne's Surf Tour has grown from strength to strength, earning her the support of UK Action Sports and Lifestyle brand Animal. With a host of additional dates in this year's calendar, Corinne is looking forward to welcoming guests old and new. 

Corinne commented 'Women's surfing is on the up with top female surfers really pushing the boundaries these days. It's so exciting to see and if I can inspire more women to pick up a board and get out on the water then great. The drive to get more women and girls into the sport is what I wake up for. I want to help them feel confident both in and out of the water.'

Corinne's Surf Tour

If perfecting the 'pop up' is on the agenda this summer then pack a bikini, leave any worries at home and join Corinne on one of her all girls surf days. Taking place at various locations throughout the UK, ladies can master the art of surfing in a fun, friendly and all female environment. Combining a pre-surf warm up with a 2 ½ hour surf lesson from Corinne & her team, the days are perfectly scheduled with a relaxing post-surf beach yoga session closely followed by a delicious lunch at one of the local beach cafes. With the promise of a surf inspired goodie bag to take home too, there's truly no better way to spend a day at the beach this summer.