AT PORTHCAWL you can be on the lookout for everything from a stick of rock to the King of Rock and Roll himself! It’s a leading holiday resort in southern Wales, famous for its sandy beaches, seaside amusements and its very own Elvis festival.
In addition to the beaches, tourist attractions include a Grand Pavilion, a miniature railway leading to Coney Beach (modelled after Coney Island in New York City), a watersports centre, museum and a magnificent championship golf course, one of three in the area. Porthcawl has a traditional funfair, running from March to October, and is home to one of the largest trailer parks in Europe.
The 11½-mile stretch of coast boasts watersports, dramatic sand dunes, blue flag beaches, a bustling seaside town and National Nature Reserves.
If it’s a beach holiday you’re looking for, Porthcawl boasts not one, but seven beaches – from peaceful, sheltered bays to expanses of white, powdery sand filled with water sports, amusements and more.
Coney Beach hosts a seafront pleasure park where rides, rollercoasters, stalls, games and arcades are the order of the day.
A town and community on the south coast of Wales in the county borough of Bridgend, Porthcawl is situated 25 miles west of the capital city, Cardiff, and 19 miles south-east of Swansea.
Historically part of Glamorgan and situated on a low limestone headland on the south Wales coast, overlooking the Bristol Channel, Porthcawl developed as a coal port during the 19th Century, but its trade was soon taken over by more rapidly developing ports such as Barry.
North-west of the town, in the dunes known as Kenfig Burrows, are hidden the last remnants of the town and Kenfig Castle, which were overwhelmed by sand around the year 1400.
Porth is a common Welsh element meaning ‘harbour’ and the cawl here refers to ‘sea kale’, which must have grown in profusion or even been collected here. Local folk etymology holds the cawl to be a corruption of Gaul, and that the area was an ancient landing point for Gaulish and Breton, or later Frankish and Norman knights.
Porthcawl has an extensive promenade and several beaches, a tourist-oriented beach at Trecco Bay, at the east end of the town; a sandy beach at Rest Bay, which lies to the north-west of the town; and the quiet and sandy Pink Bay leading out towards Sker Point where a tarmac-covered car park serves a sandy beach.
Porthcawl’s large static caravan park at Trecco Bay, is owned and operated by Parkdean Resorts. There are many hotels, including the prominent Seabank Hotel, and guest houses as well as a funfair at Coney Beach.
Built in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, Porthcawl’s promenade runs along the seafront from Lock’s Common in the west to the harbour, before joining the Eastern Promenade and leading to Coney Beach and Griffin Park. The promenade was restored in 1996. There are many cafes, bars, restaurants and hotels along the promenade, which offers views across the Bristol Channel.
The Grand Pavilion, built at a cost of £25,000 in 1932, is the venue for popular shows, including the annual pantomime. The singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson once performed ‘live’ at the Pavilion via a transatlantic telephone link.
Like many British resorts, Porthcawl has experienced a decline in its holiday trade over recent years, especially since most of the south Wales valleys coal pits closed. A major feature of the summer was the miners’ fortnight, when large numbers of miners took their annual break.
Luxury flats now dominate the seafront on the site previously occupied by the Esplanade Hotel, which dated back to the late 1880s. The Royal Society of Architects in Wales awarded ‘Esplanade House’ a Welsh Housing Design Award in 2006, although the architecture has proved unpopular with many local residents who have nicknamed it ‘the bottle bank’.
Porthcawl Lifeboat Station, purpose-built in 1995, is situated near the harbour. The station operates an Atlantic 85-class lifeboat and a D-class IB1 inflatable lifeboat.
Just behind the seafront Esplanade are a wide range of independent shops and cafés, alongside high street brands.
‘Cosy Corner’ is a park area, which over the years has housed a theatre, cinema, roller skating rink and ballroom. The Jennings Building, built in 1832, is a Grade II listed building and Wales’s oldest maritime warehouse. The building was identified as a potentially important facility as part of the Porthcawl Regeneration Strategy and is now a bustling waterside spot with cafés and restaurants.
At the end of Porthcawl jetty stands a white lighthouse built in 1860. The lighthouse is in use as a navigational aid. Porthcawl Lighthouse was the last coal and gas-powered lighthouse in the UK. It switched to being powered by North Sea gas in 1974, before becoming powered by electricity in 1997. The jetty and surrounding area are popular spots for sea fishing.
The historic ships the PS Waverley, the last seagoing paddle steamer in the world, and the MV Balmoral sail from this area during the summer months.
Porthcawl Museum is housed in what used to be the town’s police station, where it is possible to explore the old police cells, plus a diverse variety of fascinating exhibitions ranging from World War II to archaeology.
Local schools include Porthcawl Comprehensive, previously attended by popular entertainers Ruth Jones and Rob Brydon, St Clare’s, a co-educational independent school located in the village of Newton, Nottage Primary, West Park Primary, Porthcawl Primary and Newton Primary.
The Porthcawl Male Voice Choir, or Côr Meibion Porthcawl, is a male voice choir formed in 1980.
The nearest railway station is Pyle, although Bridgend is the nearest mainline station. Porthcawl’s own railway station at the top of Station Hill closed in 1962.
LIFE’S A BEACH!
Porthcawl has a total of seven beaches. Newton Beach on the eastern edge of Porthcawl is a long sandy and rocky beach, backed by the Newton Burrows and Merthyr Mawr sand dunes, a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, and ending at the mouth of the River Ogmore at Ogmore-by-Sea.
Trecco Bay is a large, sandy and rocky Blue Flag beach. Trecco Bay holiday park is situated alongside the beach. Sandy Bay, with the area in front of the fairground known as Coney Beach, is a large, sheltered and sandy beach.
Seafront Beach, also known as Town Beach, is a rocky beach in the centre of Porthcawl which was partly tarmaced over in the 1980s to repair sea defences. Rest Bay is a sandy Blue Flag beach situated in the west of Porthcawl.
Pink Bay has a steep pebble bank down onto a flat beach edged by a rocky shoreline. These rocks have a unique pink marbling effect – hence the name Pink Bay.
Sker Beach is the most westerly beach in Porthcawl and is accessible only by walking from Rest Bay or Kenfig National Nature Reserve. A plaque, in memory of the 47 lives lost on the SS Santampa, capsized and wrecked in heavy seas, and the Mumbles RNLI lifeboat which attempted rescue on April 23, 1947, is visible at low tide.
Five rocky points line the Porthcawl shore: From east to west these are Newton Point, Rhych Point, Porthcawl Point, Hutchwns Point and Sker Point.
There are three scheduled monuments in Porthcawl Community area, including a prehistoric site and a Roman villa.
Hutchwns round barrow is an only partly-surviving mound from the Bronze Age, Dan-y-Graig Roman villa is a rare feature in Wales, dating mainly to 3rd-4th centuries and is in Newton, while Nottage Court inscribed stone is a Roman milestone with three Latin inscriptions. It was moved to a garden at Nottage Court during the 19th Century, from Port Talbot Docks.
Newton village dates from the 12th Century. St John’s Church, founded by the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem 800 years ago, and originally built as a fortress, overlooks the village green. To the south of the church lies St John’s Well, the water from which is reputed to have healing properties.
Porthcawl Town Carnival takes place annually in July. A procession of themed floats and acts make their way around the town, collecting money for charity, and competing for the prize of the best float. The procession makes its way to the carnival field where there are stalls, a fun fair, and live acts to be enjoyed.
The Porthcawl Jazz & Blues Festival is held annually in April hosting a variety of musical performances, workshops and family events over a weekend.
But Porthcawl is perhaps best known for The Elvis Festival which runs every September and attracts Elvis tribute artists and devotees from across the world. The Elvis Festival was selected as one of the UK’s top 20 summer festivals by The Times in 2008.
The festival features a whole range of events including competitions, live acts and celebrations of Elvis. In addition, The Hi Tide hosts over 100 shows over the weekend, many with free admission.
Over 20 venues in and around the town form the Fringe Festival, making Porthcawl the largest Elvis event in Europe.
The Official Shows take place in the magnificent Grand Pavilion, one of the best preserved 1930s dancehall theatres in the country.
Porthcawl is one of the top locations in Wales for surfing with both national and regional competitions held at Rest Bay.
The Rest Bay Watersports Centre is a state-of-the-art facility overlooking Porthcawl’s Blue Flag Rest Bay beach, providing the perfect base for adventure-seekers eager to sample south Wales’s outdoor activity.
Local experts Porthcawl Surf School use the centre as a base to offer year-round surf lessons and hire as well as stand-up paddle board lessons. There is also a fleet of vehicles for hire including mountain bikes, fat bikes, e-bikes, California cruisers and a beach wheelchair. Visitors can join bike tours to points of interest throughout Porthcawl and Newton, as well as a tour based on the legends of Kenfig Dunes.
The centre also promises to benefit the local community, acting as a base for beach cleans and courses on environmental education, outdoor learning and ocean literacy. It also acts as a training centre for lifeguards and surf instructors and as the base for the Welsh Coast Surf Club.
Surf Cult runs for a week in September. Events include surf contests, music, art, fashion and film, plus an outdoor market. The festival ends with the legendary Surfers’ Ball.
In addition to surfing, the area offers other types of excitement, such as kitesurfing, wind surfing and paddle boarding, while, back on dry land, skateboarding and rollerblading are among other popular activities.
There are three golf courses to the north of the town, including Royal Porthcawl Golf Club, which attracts players from around the world.
Porthcawl is also home to football side Porthcawl Town Athletic FC and rugby union team Porthcawl RFC.
Porthcawl waterfront was proposed for substantial regeneration as part of the 7 Bays Project. The Planning Guidance outlined proposals for the comprehensive regeneration of Porthcawl’s waterfront, stretching from Cosy Corner and the harbour in the south, to Trecco Bay in the east. The plan included the construction of new sea defences, enabling regeneration of the area to take place and also protecting more than 440 existing properties from flood risk.
Work was due to begin in the summer of 2022 on Porthcawl’s all-new community facilities in Cosy Corner following a £2.1m investment. The development is expected to be complete in time for Spring 2023.
The project is designed to contribute to the wider Porthcawl regeneration programme, by improving the local economy for the community and visitors to the area. The wider project includes the regeneration and development of the new marina, new sea defences, the recently restored Jennings Building, forthcoming improvements to the eastern breakwater and more.
The Porthcawl Placemaking Strategy public consultation revealed a strong desire from residents to have a significant amount of open space located around Salt Lake, town centre, Marina and Eastern Promenade areas to provide spaces for people to meet, relax and take part in activities which could be supported by cafes, leisure, and community facilities.
The first phase of Porthcawl’s regeneration, Porthcawl Harbourside, was launched in 2008.
Town Beach underwent a £3m sea defence scheme upgrade along with strengthening of the sea wall along the lower promenade. It runs from Porthcawl Marina and the RNLI boat station in the east to the Grand Pavillion.
Due to its primary purpose of being a flood defence for local homes and businesses, Town Beach is prohibited to swimmers and is only safe to explore during certain stages of tide. However, there are areas where rock-pooling is possible and there is a short, accessible walk situated behind the main sea wall.
WONDERFUL WELSH WALKS
The coastal beauty of Bridgend’s beaches is revealed on a three-mile walk between Rest Bay and Kenfig Nature Reserve, passing shipwrecks, rare orchids and some of northern Europe’s highest sand dunes.
Starting from Rest Bay’s car park, head West on the Wales Coast Path past the greens of Royal Porthcawl Golf Club to enjoy the fantastic views across Swansea Bay. At the rugged headland of Sker Point, sharp eyes might be able to spot the remains of the 1947 shipwreck which inspired RD Blackmore’s novel The Maid of Sker. Continue onwards to past the natural haven of Kenfig Sands, adored for its incredibly rare colourful orchids, insect population and some of Europe’s largest sand dunes.
Spend a day exploring the sandy trails of the Site of Special Scientific Interest, Kenfig Nature Reserve. Recognised as one of Wales’s top active sand-dune reserves, binoculars are a must to watch wading birdlife on the winding walk through the wild landscape. Spot golden plovers, tufted duck and gadwalls land in the waters of Kenfig Pool, the second largest natural freshwater lake in south Wales.
Follow the Sker beach circular walk for a longer journey leading back inland towards the reserve’s meadows and woodlands where dragonflies and insects can be seen hovering amongst wildflowers. Or smaller legs might prefer the Beach Academy’s barefoot beach walk, one of their family-friendly seashore trails.
If you’re looking to get the entire family out and about, consider a coastal stroll beside the sands of Trecco Bay. Soak up some sun and dive into traditional seaside fun along the Wales Coast Path. Starting from the popular family-friendly destination of Trecco Bay Holiday Park, head west along sandy paths towards the colourful rides, rollercoasters and games that overlook the sands of Coney Beach.
Little ones will love playing in the golden sands before continuing the walk along the Eastern Promenade to Porthcawl’s charming marina. End your walk with a bite to eat at one of the many coastal dining spots serving up everything from delicious wood-fired pizzas to freshly-caught fish dishes.
The Glamorgan Heritage Coast offers up no shortage of Blue Flag beaches, fascinating prehistoric geology sites and pretty lighthouses. Embark on the eight mile section between Porthcawl and Ogmore-by-Sea and pass atmospheric castles, picturesque villages and soak up views which reach the banks of north Devon.
Starting from Ogmore-by-Sea, walk inland along the banks of the River Ogmore and explore the ancient castle ruins. Rejoin the Wales Coast Path and head back towards the coastline through the wilderness of Merthyr Mawr Nature Reserve. Put your leg muscles to the test by ascending the Big Dipper and other surrounding dunes before continuing through the pretty village of Newton and onwards to the beaches of Porthcawl. Finish your adventure at Porthcawl Lighthouse, overlooking the colourful harbour, and grab a well-deserved drink.
(sources include Visit Bridgend, Visit Wales, Parkdean Resorts, Wikipedia, Wales247, Britannica)
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