After a harsh and soul challenging winter lockdown, the reopening of the Welsh border on April 12th allowed a welcome return to one of our favourite locations. Once a popular Victorian resort, in recent decades Rhyl had fallen into decline with its battered seafront looking like a warzone for large parts of the 2010s. Now it feels like the town is on the up again with a new sun centre (SC2) smart new hotels replacing derelict builds, and an £11 million new market development on its way.
The first sight on arrival in sunny Rhyl is the now standard Covid Testing site on the car park next to Marina Quay. Originally a much larger development, at the time, grandly named “Ocean Plaza” featuring an Asda, hotel, commercial and office space, the plans were downgraded following the 2008 financial crisis, The retail park which followed features big names including Aldi, The Range, Greggs and a new B&M (with garden centre) which opened recently: “dozens” queued on opening day reported North Wales Live. The shops are busy with people enjoying their new freedom to buy non essential goods.
Walking into town , a double decker bus passes with “Rest in Peace Prince Philip” on its destination sign. A nice touch on the day of the Royal funeral. On Wellington street I see a tree in blossom, its beauty contrasted with the mundane crapness of a dumped vacuum cleaner. A charity shop provides further interest with an eerie plastic wrapped baby toy, but the coolest find is Plastic Crack Collectables ( next to the shop called “We Sell Simply Be and Jacabo” . The compact but well stocked store features a wide range of vintage toys and collectibles, Lego, 1980s action figures in mint on card condition, toys from cereal packets, Ghostbusters, Thundercats, Robin Hood prince of thieves sticker packets etc. The shop is brilliant, the kind of quality independent that you’d like to think would do well in Chester. York has a similar retro store, nowt similar in Chester. The young staff member is knowledgeable chatting to a steady flow of customers about their favourite toys of their youth . “I’m mainly into Lego” I tell him after browsing the cabinets of childhood memories.
Passing another shop, I remark “this looks like a good shop!, too loudly. The owner hears me and says “YES it is a good shop and its a long shop! The longest in town” he says cheerfully as we enter. One of the many discount stores in Rhyl, I purchased a garden ornament and some confectionery, “we’ve been busy since Monday” says the owner to me when I try to chat to find further things to write about. He tells me he has been standing out on the street beckoning customers into the cut price emporium. Another good one.
The main shopping street has a carnival atmosphere, a far cry from past bleak winter time visits. Family groups linger and old women dance to an energetic busker, colourful flags trailing between the buildings and a large queue builds outside McDonalds. I can’t work out the exact lyrics but its a positive message adding to the day’s feel good factor. The street, with its mix of personalities and characters would be a street photographers dream. I’ve never felt confident even to photograph strangers in the street so blatantly. The singer is performing outside the former Burtons’ menswear store ( now a charity shop) , the art deco building which once housed the Regent Dansette in the 1960s. It was here that The Beatles performed in 1962. An upscaled poster advertising the concert of 59 years ago is in the charity shop’s window, proudly marking the historic event, the group’s first performance in Wales.
“Enter! into a new world of discount shopping ” says the sign above Discount World. Try saying that in movie trailer man’s voice. The Chester snobs would turn their nose up at these shops, but they are all busy. Sadly I don’t have enough coin (cash only) to get a hanging “Live Laugh Love” ornament from Price catcher (opposite the town’s second branch of B&M) . Another new store is a Sports Direct in the White Rose shopping centre. The smart store, packed with customers, which opened in December will no doubt be a popular destination in the town. Before the beach we turn left onto the West Parade to look at the ongoing demolition of the Queen’s buildings. Formerly a hotel/nightclub/ theatre/ market at various stages of its life( Laurel and Hardly performed here in 1952) the crumbling site is being replaced by a new market place with stalls, a food court, event space and residential units. Visiting the ghostly indoor market that was inside these buildings until recently felt like a slip into some strange parallel world ( see The visit to Rhyl – The Chester blog). The regeneration is much welcomed and further evidence of Rhyl’s New Hope.
Despite the many changes to the seafront over the years ( look at the old pictures of the massive domed Pavillion theatre and the swimming pool! ) the perfect sandy beach has always been a mainstay. Today, the first weekend post lockdown, the beauty spot is predictably busy, giant seagulls soaring over the donut and ice cream queue-ers, dog walkers and kite flyers and a solitary metal detectorist. I imagine Rhyl how it was in its heyday, even in the 1980s it was a top childhood destination with the now demolished Floral Hall/ butterfly garden and the now replaced Sun Centre. I see much to admire in the town, banishing previous memories of walks past derelict arcades, faded signs and half destroyed buildings. The defunct sky tower has been repurposed as a light up beacon, even Tom bloody Jones is performing at the events arena in the autumn! I left Rhyl with a smile feeling strongly that the town is on the up and that its time for the old clichés to be binned. A happy day.