Abersoch is as popular as ever with Cheshire holidaymakers
We popped down to the coastal resort out of season to find out why it remains so popular WORDS BY RAY KING PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS
Abersoch – or ‘Cheshire-by-the-Sea’ –is loved by generation after generation of holidaymakers who flock each summer – and increasingly the year round – to this most beautiful corner of Cardigan Bay. But its appeal confounds others.
‘You either get it or you don’t,’ said John Robinson, brand development manager at the long-established Stockport brewers Frederic Robinson.
‘And to get it, you have to have been brought up with it. If you’ve always been there since childhood, as I have, you will absolutely love it.’
The Robinsons most certainly do ‘get it’. Family members have no less than three homes in the area and their brewery owns both Abersoch’s village pubs, The Vaynol and St Tudwals.
‘My grandparents came to Abersoch; my father, who is now 73, has never missed a summer there except perhaps when he had whooping cough aged about ten. I haven’t either.’
It’s a sentiment echoed again and again when people talk about the one-time sleepy farming, fishing and mining community that played absolutely no part in the great seaside holiday boom of the Victorian era and the first half of the 20th century.
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In the 1920s, when the resorts of Blackpool, Rhyl and Llandudno were at the height of their popularity, Abersoch consisted of just 50 houses. The railway, which ‘invented’ the British seaside holiday, never reached Abersoch – the Cambrian, later the Great Western line, which meanders its way along the coast from Shrewsbury and Aberdyfi, gave up when it reached Pwllheli, seven miles to the east.
Neither is Abersoch a particularly pretty village and certainly not quaint in the manner of Looe and St Ives In Cornwall; neighbouring villages of Llanbedrog and Llanengan boast fine, ancient churches, whereas Abersoch has a brace of severe functional chapels. To this day there is no hotel with more than 20 bedrooms; good restaurants are a relatively recent phenomenon and the night life is pretty limited.
And the weather is a law unto itself. When it’s good it’s brilliant, when it’s bad it’s awful.
So what is Abersoch’s secret? Well, its beaches are stunning: the sheltered east-facing bay is ideal for watersports and boating and there’s the coastline of dunes, sheer cliffs and romantic islands. St Tudwals Island East is owned by Liver Birds and Bread writer Carla Lane and St Tudwals East was bought by television ‘survivalist’ Bear Grylls who converted the lighthouse keeper’s cottage into a holiday home. ‘It’s a little private paradise,’ he told the Daily Telegraph in 2008.
Abersoch also has magic, according to Rob Middleton who opened his deli in the village’s main street in 2000 and his popular bar Zinc two years ago, whose riverside terrace has just been doubled in size.
The former surveyor, originally from the Sheffield side of the Peak District, explained: ‘Abersoch magic – you have to feel it. I think it has some of the best beaches and views in the world. Those who love this place begin to feel the magic at different points on their journey here. It’s a feeling like being the first to spot the sea when we were kids. Many come here as young people, then perhaps go elsewhere, then come back – especially when they start their own families and want to share their fondest childhood memories.’
Across the road the Vaynol Arms has undergone a mini refurbishment, but the Robinsons are determined that it should retain a casual character, loved by the boating community, quite distinct from the food and family orientated St Tuds. Barman of five years Ben Holland has made a permanent home in the area, sharing his home in the nearby Welsh-speaking village of Mythyno with his wife, Julia, and their 14-month-old son.
Ben followed in the footsteps of his parents, who after years and years of holidaying in Abersoch, settled in the village ten years ago. ‘I’m originally from Disley so I suppose I have a village mentality,’ he said. ‘But we have an amazing view from our house over Abersoch, the bay and the islands.’For many devotees, their first taste of Abersoch came at the Warren Holiday Park, flagship among Haulfryn’s five sites on the Llyn Peninsula and set among the dunes behind the majestic sweep of beach from the Soch’s estuary to the heather-clad granite mass of Llanbedrog head.
The story began in 1910 when Frank Minoprio, the son of an Italian immigrant who founded a prosperous Liverpool cotton business, arrived in Abersoch via train and horse-drawn carriage and built Haulfryn House (the name means ‘sunny hill’) in the centreof the village as a holiday home.The philanthropist built Abersoch’s village hall and primary school, founded South Caernarvonshire Yacht Club and became High Sheriff of the county in 1934.
But it wasn’t until 1948 that his three sons, Anthony, Bill and James were granted a licence to site 350 caravans on the Warren just ahead of the boom in car ownership that saw their venture prosper.
Today the spectacular vista remains unchanged but the caravans have been replaced by more than 500 luxurious lodges renewed every 15-20 years.
New beachfront lodges command prices of up to �550,000. Haulfryn sales executive Dyfed Williams is starting a golf society and developing ‘Warren Mobile’ to keep owners up to date with events, weather and tidal conditions and events information.
Businessman Tony Hunt and his wife Sue, from Middlewich, realised a long-term ambition to buy a holiday home on the Warren last year.
‘Our love affair with Abersoch began in 1989 when we bought our first static caravan at Bottwynog followed shortly by our first boat. Our boys, Chris and Rob, were nine and six at the time and couldn’t believe how lucky they were to have nearly every weekend at the seaside. Once Sue and I had mastered skiing it was time to teach the boys.
‘We now have our grandchildren joining in which has added even more magic to the place. It’s a fabulous spot and will always be special to us.’At Abersoch Land and Sea, established in the 1960s, where boats for sale range from �2,000 to �1.5m for a 64ft motor yacht, managing partner Trevor Bethell said: ’It’s a wonderful place to sail, but like everywhere there are hazards for the inexperienced. It’s not wise to buy a boat and then take straight to the water, but too many people do.
‘That’s why we have set up a sea school here to offer training from the basics at day skipper status.’
Abersoch fact file
In the 1770s, there were only two properties on Penbennar headland separating the river from the main beach. The 1861 Census identified just 25 families in Abersoch. Even in the 1920s there were only 50 houses, but the fine beach and sailing water has seen the village expand to more than 600 houses. The first tourists came in the early 1900s, but it was another half century before it became a popular holiday destination.
Where pleasure boats are now launched by tractor from the beach, locals used to bring coal in handcarts from three-masted colliers in the bay.
Abersoch boasts a number of surfing shops but has no surf. Surfers buy their gear in the village and head off to Hell’s Mouth where there no shops.
The sale of a beach hut with no running water or electricity for �85,000 in 2008 prompted one local politician to call on the Welsh Assembly to impose a “beauty spot tax”.
Since its beginnings in 2000, Wakestock, staged just outside Llanbedrog, has become Europe’s biggest Wakeboard/Music Festival. This year’s event in July, with Dizzee Rascal and Ed Sheeran headlining, is expected to draw 25,000 people. The first attracted 800.