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!)
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!).
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.