Contd/... The road train then heaves itself up from the blue-and-gold-painted promenade to Rest Bay: one of the best beaches in the UK (usually with a further trail of at least thirty local vehicles crawling behind it). Overlooked from the hill by a huge nursing home for OAP's (my rebellious late Father, then aged 71, got himself banned from here in 1998, for stealing the gardener's quad bike and driving it across the huge lawn singing 'Rawhide' at top volume) this stretch of prized beach is much loved by young and old alike. It hosts many a surfing competition, and is probably the jewel in Porthcawl's crown. The road train does a U-turn here, and takes the (much quicker) downhill journey back to where it started at Eastern Promenade, where it splutters and takes a deep breath before leaving on it's quest to p*ss the locals off for a second time.
Travel half a mile towards the East of town and you will stumble across Coney Beach - land of candy floss, toffee apples and fish and chip stalls. These stalls surround the fair-ground and face the huge sandy beach, the rickety engines of the park whizzing and creaking their way through the spring season into high summer and beyond. It has been rumoured (for at least ten years now) that this piece of Porthcawl history has just seen it's final season, and will be replaced by yuppie flats (the plans have gone in to the council - I won't hold my breath).
The six weeks of school summer holidays see a huge increase in the number of visitors to Porthcawl; the 400 metre stretch of Eastern Promenade (known locally as 'Camper Alley') fills to capacity with tourists trying to avoid paying extortionate parking fees by parking their recreational vehicles on this road. This is another source of great despair for the locals, and is the subject of many a letter to the Glamorgan Gazette from 'not happy of Nottage' and co.
Autumn brings cooler weather to Porthcawl, and with it comes the famous Elvis festival. Elvis mania grips the town like glandula fever, and hundreds of fans from around the world flock here for just three days. There are endless hours of Elvis tribute artists, Elvis surfing, Elvis face painting, Elvis speed dating, Elvis karaoke - and the chance to meet Elvis's sacked backing artists plus Elvis's fourth cousin twice removed. The Brentwood Hotel becomes the Heartbreak Hotel, and normally completely rational people walk around Somerfield supermarket wearing white rhinestone lycra and jet black sideburns!
In winter the locals reclaim Porthcawl. At Christmas it is not unusual to go to a bar and bump into someone you haven't seen since last Christmas! I don't know why that is, but that is how this place is. People who have managed to escape the town for civilisation and careers always come back for Christmas. It is a time to brave the howling seafront winds and socialise.
New Year is a bit of a letdown, but the phenomenon known as 'Twelfth Night' more than makes up for it. Whereas the Elvis festival is a great opportunity to laugh at the trogs, this is a chance for the locals to embrace costume - whether it be Lara Croft, Snow White, or the Rocky Horror Picture Show stylie - do the pub crawl (round all five of them), get extremely drunk and dance like you ain't never danced before! A ha, so this is why people hibernate for the rest of the year... to escape the repercussions of the last Twelfth Night!
I spent the happiest years of my childhood living in this town. I escaped in my teens, but I always knew that some day I would be back, and it took me over twenty years to do it. I am 40 now, still a 'nipper' by Porthcawl standards. This town has an effect on you - it draws people back year after year. It has fantastic beaches, great people, a few good cafes, pubs and restaurants and huge potential - despite the old money!
JW, August 2008.
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