The goings on in and around Bridgend

Monthly Archives: August 2015

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.

#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!).

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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! 

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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! ;-).

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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

A review of #DigitalBridgend

Really looking forward to blogging about this, it's a new app that unearths the hidden heritage of a town and county that I've become very familiar with over the last few years, well, at least I thought I was familiar with!

This app was going to teach me so much more, and take me to places that I didn't even know existed. All in all, there are 17 trails to follow all related to heritage and they are trails that you can't cheat with, you have to be there to experience it, you have to find the places of interest and you have to complete them too. Great. Will get me out and about that's for sure.

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The way it works is that there are 6 'hubs' or central places which are themed in a certain way. For example, there's Bridgend and its Castles, which has two trails to follow, and this is where I'll start. Before I do though, it maybe worth pointing out how this thing works. It's a big app, and its one that's a little bit cleverer than others I've been involved with or tested before. It doesn't require a mobile reception to work, it relies on the satellite signal itself, so that's going to save me a lot of money and not frustrate me if the signal dips (and this is mountainous Wales after all!).

The app also intelligently locates each place you need to find, points you in the right direction and tells you precisely how far away the place you need to find is located. When you walk within 20m of the place, something happens - usually some commentary, sometimes a game, a quiz or a scavenger hunt (requiring you to 'mop' up points of interest in that locality - you'll see what I mean when you get there). Once you find the first one, it then tells you how to find the next one and so on.

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So, it's big, it's clever, and has information on over 300 places to find throughout the county of Bridgend. Because of this, it works best on the most recent and latest smartphones. I'm using an iPhone 5 for this (other smartphones are available.

To begin, search for Digital Bridgend on the App Store (Apple) or on the Play Store (Android), and then download the app from there. It takes a while, but it is worth it. You may want to free some space on your phone too. It gave me an opportunity to get rid of all the apps that I no longer use, because I'm going to be using this one a lot over the next few months . Once you've downloaded it, selected one of the 6 hubs that you want to explore, it then tells you to download the information that you need. So make sure you're in a place where you can get wifi initially.

Ok. Its Bridgend and its Castles to start. Watch this digital space

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


Innovative new app brings history to life

Innovative new 'Digital Bridgend' app brings history to life for the whole family

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Bored by the same old history tours? An innovative new 'Digital Bridgend' app from Bridgend County is set to revolutionise how visitors to the South Wales destination uncover its fascinating history.

The app, which is available to download to both Android and Apple smartphones, utilises the latest augmented technology to offer visitors to Bridgend County hours of unique and exclusive content including videos, games, interactive treasure hunts and more.

There are a total of 17 'experiences', set across six locations throughout the county, from the golden coasts of Porthcawl to the rugged Llynfi Valley. Simply download Digital Bridgend and the hub of your choice to your smartphone before you arrive, head to the hub start point and open app to get started. It will then act as your own personal tour guide, teaching you about local history as you track dinosaurs, smelt iron, uncover lost treasure and hunt ghosts.

Digital Bridgend App

There's also a separate 'History Window' feature, which allows users to gaze directly into the past to see how some of the destination's top attractions would have looked hundreds of years ago.

The app is free to download and is the perfect way to keep children entertained during the summer holidays - tapping into their love of technology while also helping them explore the great outdoors and to learn a little something along the way.

Karl Schmidtke, Chairman of the Bridgend Tourism Association, said: "We are really proud and excited to unveil this innovative destination app. We hope it encourages families to delve into our fascinating history whilst having a great deal of fun at the same time."

The Digital Bridgend app was created by Bridgend County Borough Council in partnership with Visit Wales, the European Regional Development Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund, while over 40 heritage organisations and community group were involved in the app's development.

To download the app, search Digital Bridgend on Google Play or the Apple App Store.