Colwyn Bay is easily accessible no matter where you are coming from in North Wales, thanks to its easy proximity to the A55. But, says Steve Goddier, there is more to this seaside town than first meets the eye…
Many years ago I used to help an old lady called Mary by cutting her grass each week in the summer months. For her entire adult life she had holidayed in Colwyn Bay for two weeks every July. I asked her why she went back to the same place year-on-year when there were so many other locations in North Wales she could try? She told me that when she wanted a relaxing break in a traditional resort she knew well and enjoyed spending time around, then it was Colwyn Bay for her every time – she had even stayed in the same bed and breakfast establishment for over 20 years! It was a tradition for her and she never changed her routine for all the time I knew her.
And Mary knew her stuff – because ‘traditional’ sums up Colwyn Bay nicely. It’s probably fair to say that as a beach resort the town has passed its heyday but, like so many coastal locations, it has adapted and changed to appeal to a wider audience. In Victorian times Colwyn Bay was an incredibly popular summertime seaside location and even today, standing on the promenade, you can easily visualise what it must have been like with suited Victorian gentlemen escorting beautifully dressed ladies holding parasols over their heads to protect them from the sun as they took the sea air. There would be horse drawn carriages too for the elderly or those who just didn’t fancy going on foot and the atmosphere would be happy and light.
The passing years obviously brought changes – cars have replaced the horse drawn carriages alongside the promenade and joggers, cyclists and dog walkers make up a large percentage of the visitors to the ‘prom’, but there are many who still like to just stroll along it. And it’s a great walk too.
The Wales Coast Path passes along it on its mammoth journey of 870 miles from Queensferry in the north to Chepstow in the south but, for those who like a good stretch of the legs on something perhaps not so gigantic, Colwyn Bay’s promenade runs for over three miles and makes a superb seaside walk and is a ‘must do’ activity for any visitor to the area. Many locals walk it regularly and have never tired of it after years of wandering along its length from Old Colwyn to Penrhyn Bay – it’s wide and has a designated cycle path too. It has been pointed out on more than one occasion that this promenade is actually longer than Rio’s Copacabana in Brazil – although the weather is possibly a little different on the North Wales coast! On gentle summers days it is a delight to stroll by the sea here, but at times of storm it can be a different story with waves being lashed over the railings onto the road by the wind.
The famous Victorian pier was finally closed to the general public in 2009 and the lower end of the pier partially collapsed into the sea in January 2017 before the pier was demolished in May 2018. However, plans are in place to create a new ‘truncated’ pier and groundworks have already begun.
Modern day Colwyn Bay has expanded to become the second largest community and business centre in North Wales and has a permanent population of around 30,000 (if you include Rhos-on-Sea and nearby Mochdre). Its well connected by road and rail links with the A55 Coastal Expressway running right through the town and a train station located close to the town centre. The station opened in October 1849 and was known simply as ‘Colwyn Station’ but was renamed as ‘Colwyn Bay Station’ in 1876. The Llandudno and Colwyn Bay Electric Railway operated an electric tramway service between Llandudno and Rhos-on-Sea from 1907 and this was extended to Colwyn Bay in 1908 with the service surviving until 1956. And, if getting to the town is straightforward, then getting around it is easy too with a good bus system and numerous taxis.
Geographically Colwyn Bay is situated about halfway along the north coast of Wales and, besides a good selection of shops, the town has quite a few parks and gardens and has received a Gold Award in the Wales in Bloom Competition on eight occasions.
The best-known and most visited park is Eirias Park which covers 50 acres and was once known as ‘the park by the sea’. Eirias Park was created between 1921 and 1929 with the official opening of the playing fields taking place on 27th September 1923. Situated within the park you will find Colwyn Leisure Centre, Eirias Events Centre (which has conference and classroom facilities for business and commerce events), a sports stadium (which includes a floodlit synthetic hockey and football playing area), an indoor and outdoor tennis courts area, a children’s playground and a picnic area. Eirias Park is also a notable concert venue with the likes of Sir Elton John and Ollie Murs having performed here.
High on a hillside above Colwyn Bay you will find the world-famous Welsh Mountain Zoo which opened on 18th May 1963 and covers 37 acres. It has superb panoramic views in most directions and is a great family day out for kids of all ages and the parents seem to enjoy themselves too! The zoo is well laid out and wooded with open pathways linking the various enclosures which house animals such as chimps, penguins, sea lions, bears and lemurs. It’s a conservation zoo and home to endangered species such as snow leopards, red pandas and Sumatran Tigers. For youngsters there is a jungle adventure land and a Tarzan trail adventure playground. For the adults to unwind in there is a great café set high up with superb views of the surrounding coastline.
A more recent development located on the seafront is the Porth Eirias complex which cost £9,000,000 to build. This impressive iconic building is set in the heart of the new promenade improvements and is visible from most areas of the promenade. It is promoted as a centre for the whole of the local community as well as visitors. There is a modern children’s outdoor play area, coffee shop and restaurant on site.
Colwyn Bay has been home to some notable celebrities including James Bond actor Timothy Dalton, former Monty Python funny man Terry Jones, Coronation Street’s William Roache (Ken Barlow), footballer Mickey Thomas of Manchester United and Chelsea fame and Paula Yates. The town hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1910 and 1947.
As a destination Colwyn Bay deserves so much more than just being driven through on the A55 – its well worth a day or more of anyone’s time and the mixture of historic and modern, along with the superb seaside location, make it a North Wales ‘must visit’ location.