Prestatyn still offers a seaside holiday but the town is working hard to offer so much more
PUBLISHED: 11:56 12 September 2013
Prestatyn still offers a seaside holiday but the town is working hard to offer so much more. Walking breaks are just one of many assets on offer
I first came to Prestatyn as a baby, spending family summer holidays with my aunt and uncle - who had moved to the town immediately after the Second World War - and their children.
Long before we owned a car and light years before any of us even dreamt about jetting off on a package holiday to the Costas, we’d take the train along the coast of north Wales on which, of course, the sun always shone. For a small child there was the lure of the beach, the park by the main railway line and, as an added bonus, a steam locomotive used to chug twice daily past the end of my uncle’s back garden hauling quarry wagons on the branch from Dyserth.
A globe-trotting lifetime later, I find much of Prestatyn still recognisable after half a century. The long awaited retail park near the station incorporating Marks & Spencer, Tesco, River Island, Next and Boots superstores among others is new, as is the bus station (to me, at any rate). But the spectacular backdrop of the Clwydian Range behind the town is as beautiful as ever and much of the High Street, rising beyond Christ Church towards the village of Meliden, is gratifyingly intact and full of character.
Prestatyn grew from a community of around 500 into North Wales’ first seaside resort when the railway came in 1848 and brought thousands from the industrial grime of the cities and towns north west England and the Midlands to enjoy the miles of sandy beach and bracing fresh air. The resort’s Victorian and Edwardian eras fascinate local historian Harry Thomas whose Memory Lane columns in the Rhyl & Prestatyn Visitor newspaper filled 13 books. His latest, Prestatyn Through Time (Amberley Press, £14.99), contains a wealth of evocative period photographs from his vast collection.
‘Many of the early visitors suffered from chest and bronchial complaints, brought on from the smoky industrial areas where they lived,’ said Harry. ‘They came to Prestatyn on the advice of doctors who told them the ozone-filled seaside air would cure their complaints – and for many it did.
“In 1920, Mr E T Williams, chairman of the public health committee wrote this ditty: ‘So if you are ill, don’t take a pill; I’ll tell you something better still. For sunshine and air, weather that’s fair and health giving rest – Prestatyn is best’.”
Harry added: ‘Prestatyn has grown to around 20,000 inhabitants these days, but it still retains a village quality and a great sense of community.’
Prestatyn is still a seaside resort: Pontins’ Prestatyn Sands Holiday Park is popular and there are touring and static caravan sites in the area, but one senses that the town’s focus is turning away from the Liverpool Bay shoreline and the North Hoyle wind farm – the UK’s first major offshore renewable power project which dominates the northern horizon - and looking inland.
David Turner, Mayor of Prestatyn and Meliden, agrees that Prestatyn is reinventing itself from traditional bucket and spade seaside resort to major centre for activity tourism. It’s no surprise that Prestatyn is officially designated a ‘Walkers are Welcome’ town – the first in Wales - for it stands at a key crossroads of routes that are attracting thousands of ramblers from all over Europe.
The All Wales Coast Path, last year hailed by the influential Lonely Planet guide as the world’s Best in Travel, runs east to west along the shoreline and Prestatyn is the starting (or finishing) point of 176 mile-long Offa’s Dyke Path, one of Britain’s premier Nation al Trails which runs north to south to Chepstow on the Severn estuary.
He added: ‘The hills of the Clwydian Range at the back of the town are designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and there are areas of Special Scientific Interest and nature reserves. Our Walking Festival this year was named ‘Walking through History’ because of the fascinating heritage in the area, from Bronze Age hill forts and the Roman baths to the Norman castle and the more recent industrial archaeology.
‘The Scala Cinema and Arts Centre, for which the council provided financial support, was a key driver of the town’s redevelopment and we’re proud of the new retail park – coming for years but still quite a coup – while working to promote the traditional shops in the High Street.’
Prestatyn’s big events of the year is the traditional street carnival and the town also hosts a classic car show and a popular flower show – the latter given a major fillip by last year’s victory in the ‘Town’ category of the Wales in Bloom competition. This year Prestatyn is competing for Britain in Bloom.
Malcolm Wilkinson, who lives in Prestatyn, a former national chairman of Walkers Are Welcome is involved in most things to do with walking in North Wales. ‘We have a walking your way to health scheme called “You’ll Never Walk Alone” which has been going since 2001; it’s all voluntary, aided by Prestatyn town council and Denbighshire county council and which has been used by 15,000 people so far. It runs up to twice a day, all year round with walks of between 10 minutes and two hours,’ he said.
‘The walks are part of a properly structured and insured scheme, with volunteer leaders. We are looking to help people who may be disadvantaged in some way and provide the means for people to get through the barriers. It’s an exciting world out there and people should not be excluded.’
The rebirth of the High Street’s Scala Cinema has been a crucial to Prestatyn’s community. The original, which opened in 1913, was forced to close in December 2000, due to neglect and the high cost of much needed repairs. Friends of the Scala, first led by local resident Sandra Pitt, worked tirelessly from 2001 at ensuring the town, its residents and visitors to Prestatyn could enjoy a quality, sustainable modern replacement cinema and theatre facility.
Mrs Pitt said: ‘The Scala was the hub of Prestatyn, I feared that without it we would become a ghost town. In my eyes the campaign was symbolic of Prestatyn’s regeneration and the public agreed and backed me all the way. This really was an exercise in people power.’
Construction of the new Scala behind its original arched facade began in February 2007 and it was completed in late 2008. When the Scala re-opened on Friday February 13th in 2009, its state of the art facilities – Wales’ first digital cinema - provided residents and visitors the very latest blockbuster films, quality exhibition and meeting space and an exciting theatre venue.
Prestatyn’s residents are determined to promote the town’s new direction in every way they can and the Friends of Prestatyn Railway Station intend to advertise its assets to the 18 million train passengers who pass through it each year on the north Wales coast main line.
The group’s secretary, Sherry Edwards, a member of the town’s Wales in Bloom committee and a local councillor, said: ‘They are all potential customers.
‘The station was given a massive refurb by Network Rail but we want to realise the potential of the Offa’s Dyke Path and the other routes so we can rival Betws-y-Coed and the Lake District as a walking centre.’