Penarth is a delightful seaside town, full of charm and character. Today, the town, with its traditional seafront, continues to be a regular summer holiday destination, predominantly for older visitors. It is now a dormitory town for Cardiff commuters.
Penarth’s Victorian and Edwardian founders created an elegant resort with fine public buildings and ornate houses. It boasts a number of splendid parks that link the seafront to the quirky independent shops in the tree-lined centre. Because of the growing popularity of the beach, the Cardiff Steam and Navigation Company started a regular ferry service to Penarth in 1856 which continued until 1903. Boats were loaded and unloaded at Penarth using a landing stage on wheels which was hauled up the beach. In an attempt to find a safer way to unload passengers, a permanent pier opened in 1895. In 1907, a small wooden “Concert Party” theatre was built at the seaward end. In 1929, a new pier-head berthing pontoon was added and in 1930 the current art deco pavilion was built. In 2013 a revamped pier was reopened, complete with art gallery, café and cinema.
From the late 1890s Lavernock and Swanbridge were popular holiday locations for day trippers from the valleys of South Wales. Beaches were packed with visitors throughout the summer. There was an ice cream parlour, two busy cafes, the Golden Hind public house and a hotel. Most travelled by steam trains that stopped at Lavernock and Swanbridge Halts until they closed in the 1960s. Today, Swanbridge is a mostly rocky beach at the end of a narrow lane. A popular seafront pub, The Captain’s Wife, has outdoor seating and a car park which doubles up for the beach. Offshore, Sully Island can be reached via a causeway at low tide, not that there’s a lot there..
There are several distinctive parts to Barry Island but an island is now not one of them, even though the peninsular still goes by that name. It was an island until the 1880s but it became linked to the mainland as the town expanded and the Barry Docks were constructed in the gap of water between the two. The docks were originally built in 1889 to export coal and although coal is no longer shipped out, the docks still handle a variety of chemicals and goods. Tourism has now become the town’s bread & butter. This took off in 1896 when a rail link connected the two via a 250-metre long causeway. Before that, the only access to the island’s beaches had been either on foot across the sand and mud at low tide, or when the tide was in, by ferry from the shore at the Old Harbour, which is now hardly used as it is no longer dredged and it has become silted up.
The recently refurbished seafront offers a sweeping promenade along the entire length of the beach, against a backdrop of cafés and restaurants, a climbing wall, mist feature, adventure golf and landscaped gardens. Amusements and rides can be found in the Pleasure Park.
The Knap marks the edge of Barry a strip of pebbled beach squashed in by apartment blocks, cliffs and a large park with a boating lake in the shape of a harp. It also has a line of parking spaces right by the shore. When I was there, a van was doing a brisk trade in teas, bacon sarnies and ice creams. Along the promenade at Cold Knap Point, there used to be an outdoor swimming pool. Despite a campaign to reopen the Knap Lido, it was filled in and turned into a tourist trail. The Romans used the spot as a port and the remains of Roman buildings are now scheduled as a monument.
In the 16th century, the port of Aberthaw, was a small but thriving harbour. By the 1840s, it had declined as a port but the cement works and the lime works till operated near the shore. At that time the River Thaw was diverted and the old port effectively disappeared. In 1963, the ‘A’ Power Station opened, followed by the “B” station in 1971. The former was demolished in 1998 and the latter closed in 2019.
Its medieval streets exudes history with shops, cafes and inns dating from the 12th century. The beach of large pebbles and cubed boulders is close by, a gentle walk along the banks of a gurgling stream. Excellent café here.
The Romans built a fort on the cliff here. In the 1700s it was replaced by a manor house, Dunraven Castle, now in ruins. It is an excellent spot, best explored at low tide, for fossil hunting and rock pooling.
A narrow, paved road leads down to the car park & toilets at the beach at Southerndown, known as Dunraven Bay. The road that runs along the headlands through the village, provides wonderful views of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast.
The village itself is set back on the raised land, overlooking the shore. The River Ogmore enters the Bristol Channel here and combines with the sea to create a large sandy beach at low tide. But watch out, it is easy to become cut off by the incoming tide. The small caves and rock pools are a magnet for those who enjoy exploring a varied coastline, like beach walkers and fossil hunters. The higher ground around the village hosts a large Pay & Display car park, along with a toilet block. Sheep graze on the cliffs, happily ignoring any activity on the beach or road above