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.
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.
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!).
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!
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.