This article was written by JW, who grew up in Porthcawl, moved in her teens and returned to live in the area in 2005:
Let's do the time warp again...
On the South Wales coast, nestled between Bridgend and Swansea like a snail desperately clinging to a rock, lies the small seaside town of Porthcawl. The beautiful, rugged coastline swells it's way around the resort - making it a haven for surfers all year round. However, if when you visualise surfers, you imagine a hip and happening town, full of bustling wine bars, cafes and trendy shops, then prepare yourself for a little bit of a shock - because this is a place that is stuck in the past. It simply refuses to join the rest of us in the twenty first century.
But there is a kooky quirkiness to this town that draws thousands of visitors year after year, and ensures that property prices here have seen one of the steepest rises in the UK over recent years. Something must be right, but what is it exactly that draws people to Porthcawl and why do people want to live there?
Porthcawl is home to over 18,000 residents. The average age of the Porthcawl resident ten years ago was probably around fifty (we shall call these the old money, because a lot, but not all, of them are comfortably retired local business people, determined to prevent change - any change). However, in recent years among the odd OAP, younger residents have started to move in. Huge plans for regeneration constantly hit the planning department, only to be bounced back for 'suitable alteration' to be made; 'It's not in keeping with the tradition of the surrounding buildings' (i.e. rundown, paint - cracked Victorian relics) is a favourite objection. And so it goes on. The locals are splitting into two camps - and the war for development, and ultimately the survival of Porthcawl, is well and truly on.
Spring is a time of rude awakening in the town. The first inkling you get that things are about to perk up - after the howling winter - is the emergence of the dreaded 'road train'. This is a road vehicle, with an engine about the size of your average lawn mower, which miraculously manages to pull around five carriages full of what the locals affectionately call 'trogs' (otherwise known as holiday makers) around on a unique thirty minute excursion.
Much loved by the trogs and universally hated by the locals, this yellow and green painted being crawls its way from the Eastern Promenade up to Rest Bay and back again. It is a journey that would take three minutes in the average car, but takes this vehicle some thirty minutes! It has a crew of two; one to drive, and one to give the guided tour talk (although what on earth the commentator can find to talk about over half an hour defies belief!). The first part of the journey takes in various sites: Coney Beach on the Eastern Prom, the ancient harbour where fishing boats in varying stages of decay compete with brand-spanking new schooners, Pietro's - the home of the industrial strength cappucino - (which you will need if you are yet to face the excitement of the twenty or so existing shops in the town centre) and the excellent relatively new bar, the Waterfront.
The highlight of the first part of this tour, and on a scheduled stop so that the punters can get their cameras out, is Esplanade House - known locally as 'The Bottle Bank'. This aqua and grey building (complete with porthole windows) stands, like a shining beacon in a sea of cr*p, bang centre on the main promenade. So named because it provides hour of fun for local teenagers, who try to see which of them can successfully land their bottle of cheap scrumpy cider on the highest balcony. This building caused the old money to practically riot (complete with walking frames) when it was built to replace the rapidly crumbling Esplanade Hotel, which had stood for hundreds of years.
This article continues on part-two of the posting.
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