I like Porthcawl, a seaside resort on the south coast of Glamorgan in Wales. It’s no Blackpool but I love the bracing sea air, the ever-changing view of the rocks and the waves as the tide goes in and out, the little shopping streets – and lunch at a traditional fish and chip shop. In Welsh the name Porthcawl means “harbour with sea-kale”.
Porthcawl developed as a coal port with a railway link from the mining valleys to the town’s stone pier in the 19th century but it was soon overtaken by other ports along the coast, such as Barry. After World War I it became a seaside resort and flourished for decades on the back of the miners’ annual holiday fortnight. With the loss of heavy industry came a decline in Porthcawl’s fortunes.
When I was a child in the early 1960s we went on an annual “Sunday school outing” by bus to the seaside and usually it was to Barry Island, but one year as a special treat we journeyed much farther afield to Porthcawl, which always seemed “posher”.
A promenade was built in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and I think this is the concrete walk between the road called the Esplanade and the sea – it was restored in 1996.
According to Wikipedia there has been a hotel on the site of the Seabank since 1860, but half the structure seen today dates from the 1870s and half from the 1930s. I have a soft spot for the place as I remember the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team used to stay here on their tours in my youth – I would think that was in the 1960s and 1970s.
In the middle of the Esplanade is a small theatre called the Grand Pavilion. According to Wikipedia it opened in 1932 and is well known for its octagonal dome and striking frontage. It took only a year to build as it was made of reinforced concrete – a new material at the time but it’s still standing.
It was originally intended as a Palm Court for hosting tea dances, balls and civic functions, but now it hosts everything from live theatre, concerts and ballroom dancing to conferences and the Christmas pantomime.
A modern landmark on the Esplanade is a block of apartments known locally as “the bottle bank”.
The real name of the building is Esplanade House and the blue-green colour comes from patinated copper cladding. According to the Guardian in 2007 the design won an award for architects Stride Treglown Davies, although the Civic Trust didn’t like it at all. The original building here was the Esplanade Hotel, dating from the late 1880s, but it was deemed unsalvageable.
At the opposite end of the Esplanade from the Seabank Hotel is the pier, which I featured in more detail in this blog post.
Next to the pier is the harbour.
Beyond the harbour is the Eastern Promenade, a place of cars and parking alongside the sandy shore and leading to Coney Beach. But also in that direction is our favourite chippy. Beales Fish and Chip Shop is on the Eastern Promenade (read a review here), although we usually walk to it from the opposite direction, through the shopping streets, bus station and an underpass.
Pulling back from that area, at the heart of Porthcawl is John Street, a pedestrianised shopping area. We love it here, as mostly it is lined with small, traditional shops and we particularly like one vegetable shop that sells strings of onions. Sadly I can’t recall the name!