Oh, I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside: memories of Colwyn Bay, North Wales

Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside – and while we are all stuck at home we thought it would be good to take a trip down memory lane and share stories of our trips to the good old British seaside from Blackpool to Brighton and everywhere in between.

2021 could be the year of the staycations with travel restrictions in place so we hope it provides so light relief and inspiration for future holidays.

Here reporter Gill James shares her memories of Colwyn Bay, North Wales.

Gill on the beach

“It was always exciting, that first glimpse of the blue, blue sea and the gorgeous flat toffee-coloured sands.

“Can you smell that sea air?” Dad would always say as we got off the coach. Maybe, though, the main point was that you couldn’t smell it. It was fresh and sweet in comparison with what we experienced in the industrial, smog-prone Midlands.

“Dad had to take what was known as the “industrial fortnight” – the last full week in July and the first week in August. Mum insisted that we had a good holiday every year. We lived with my paternal grandmother and Mum had saved up for a deposit on a house so this was to be used for holidays.

“We had quite a good time by 1950s standards. We rented a self-catering apartment right on the seafront with a fabulous view of the sea. Just during that fortnight, there were so many treats: tomato ketchup with breakfast, milkshakes, one ice-cream a day, and a couple of drinks at the end of the pier on fine evenings.

“For five years in a row, we spent that fortnight at Colwyn Bay, North Wales.

Gill on the beach

“There were certain rituals. The level crossing signalled that we were leaving the town and that we would soon come to fields with cows and sheep, then the mountains, and finally the sea. Swimming every day was a must and that included a couple of times before breakfast. I was allowed one ride on the ponies a day. There were no donkeys at Colwyn Bay. It was proper posh. It had real ponies. A little train, too small for adults, ran along the seafront. Dad would sprint up to the end station and Mum would see me onto the train. There would be a couple of rides on the mechanical elephant that made its way along the promenade. There was a small funfair that had a carousel with prancing horses, bumper boats, and a small Ferris wheel. The first time I went on the Ferris wheel I wanted Dad to come with me. However, it just wouldn’t go round. “It’s the balance,” said the operator. He meant that Dad was too heavy. I just had to be brave and go on my own. I loved it! There was also a park with boats you could hire. You accessed it from the beach by walking along the Dingle, an enticing little path – a bridleway in fact – bordered by pretty cottages.

“Of course, as this was North Wales, the rain was also a feature.

“If you can see Rhyl, it’s going to rain,” said the man at the paper shop. “If you can’t see Rhyl, it is raining.” We could nearly always see Rhyl from our big bay window.

“With the rain came the smell of plastic macs and the aroma of coffee in cafés with noisy frothing machines. After the café visit, we would stay inside the apartment completing jigsaw puzzles or reading books. The rain never lasted long. Rhyl soon reappeared.

“And anyway,” said Dad. “Even the rain’s nicer here than it is at home.”

“Always at least once we would walk up to Rhos-on-Sea where there is the tiny Chapel of St Trillo and the Holy Well. There was also Fortes which sold the best ice-creams and had the most dramatic of all the coffee-machines.

Gill in Colwyn Bay

“We would also take a trip to Llandudno, where Mum and Dad had had their honeymoon. I never liked it as much though. The beach isn’t as nice, and the pier runs parallel to the headland so you don’t get the feeling of walking out across the sea.

“The sand at Colwyn Bay is fantastic for making sandcastles and Dad was really good at them. He was a trained artist and he also made the most brilliant sculptures in the sand.

“How much do you charge to look at them?” one woman asked him.

“I was really disappointed when he laughed and said he didn’t charge a thing. I thought we could have become rich.

“We had to stop going to Colwyn Bay when I was seven as we acquired a dog and they weren’t allowed in the apartments. Yet it has remained the benchmark seaside place for me. Even now, I measure every holiday resort we visit against it.

“Later, I realised there was a teacher training college at Rhos-on-Sea and wondered whether I might go to it. I never did. However, at the tender age of fifty-five, I got a PhD from the University of Bangor. A few times on my way home I stopped off at Colwyn Bay for a nostalgic walk along the prom. It’s more of a residential place now. The little train has gone but you can see where the tracks used to be. They’ve built an express-way across where the funfair was. The seafront apartments are now some sort of hostel. I doubt that ponies or even donkeys come to the beach. My husband and I visited once recently in August and there were just two other people on the sand. Llandudno has fared better; it is an active conference centre and has a plethora of thriving guest houses.

“And yet. The toffee-coloured sands are still gorgeous. Fortes still sells fantastic ice cream and has the zissiet of coffee machines. The sea air smells good too.”

Share your memories in the comments below or email [email protected]

4 COMMENTS

  1. What a wonderful piece Gill, it captures Colwyn Bay and the North Wales coast in the 50s.
    It brings back many memories of my childhood – we spent our summer holidays there up until when I was about 11 years old when we started going to a caravan in Rhuddlan. We stayed in the same guest house every year….the son of the landlady worked as a fireman and sometimes the engine would stop at the end of the street and he would run down the street to jump on the back with his helmet and jacket unfastened. I remember some days on the beach when it was raining and yet somehow we were there making sandcastles. And going to Rhos….I seem to remember they had these chairs and settees with high wicker backs typo protect you against the wind…an upgrade on deck chairs. And often grandparents came along for part of the fun…sitting in deckchairs in their Sunday best…at least they were warm. Pauline Smith.
    PS and knickerbocker glory at Fortes.

  2. One thing that I’ve been doing this week is rummaging through a box of loose photographs that I inherited from my Mother, many of which featured me at an early age (1947-1952). In those days most people who had a camera used them mainly for trips to the sea-side or perhaps at family gatherings in the garden. I suppose unless it was a bright sunny day, there wasn’t much point in getting the camera out. Fortunately my Mother often wrote the year on the back of the photo, so with that and numbers printed on the back at the developer / printers, I’m managing to reconstruct the sets. I also have some old albums up in the loft, so I’ll need to link the loose photos up with them soon. I’m scanning a lot of the pictures and although the quality of the images is inferior to the originals, I’m able to build up an easily navigable file of photographs that I can keep on my computer alongside my more recently taken digital ones before I reconsign the originals back to the loft.

    I know that Blackpool was probably the main destination for trips from around Manchester and I’ve already identified several pictures of myself on the beach there, although I do also have memories (if not so many photographs) of trips to North Wales, Southport, Morecambe and New Brighton. I’ve also been reorganising another set of pictures from the Isle of Man (when I was 3), which was a bit more of an exotic holiday in those days. Trips to Cornwall and beyond came a little later in life, when I reached my teens. Blackpool wasn’t only good for a week’s holiday but for a day trip, especially at the end of the season when the Illuminations were on. The tradition when journeying there was to establish who made the first siting of the Tower in the distance.

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