You’ll never walk alone in Prestatyn, North Wales
By Alistair Ceidiog
Walkers are flocking to the North Wales holiday town of Prestatyn for health, history, wildlife and scenery – not to mention good company. Prestatyn and Meliden was the first community in Wales to be accredited with Walkers Are Welcome status in 2007 (and the third in the UK), and its successful Walking Festival in May – this year on the weekend of May 13-15 – attracts well over a thousand visitors. The 47 Walkers Are Welcome (WAW) towns and villages in the UK go out of their way to welcome walkers and show them where to walk, places of interest to visit and pointing out the cafes and pubs which will be particularly glad to see them.
Apart from being the gateway to North Wales coastal resorts, Prestatyn is the beginning (or end) of the Offa’s Dyke National Trail which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and also the North Wales Path and Clwydian Way. Offa’s Dyke is one of the most popular long distance walks in Wales. The 182 mile long walk follows the man-made dyke constructed by Offa, King of Mercia between 757 and 796 as a boundary between England and Wales. But more than this Prestatyn is making a huge effort to engage the entire community in making the town a Mecca for walkers.
Malcolm Wilkinson, who lives in Prestatyn, is a former national chairman of WAW and is still on its executive, and involved in most things to do with walking in North Wales. “We also have a walking your way to health scheme called ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ which has been going since 2001, it’s all voluntary, aided by Prestatyn Town Council and Denbighshire county council and which has been used by 15,000 people so far. It runs up to twice a day, all year round with walks of between 10 minutes and two hours,” he said.
It’s also pulling in not just local people, but visitors from neighbouring Flintshire and Conwy. The walks are part of a properly structured and insured scheme, with volunteer leaders. The scheme is also about social interaction. “After the walks we encourage people to go to a local cafe and in that way they can network with other groups.
“We are looking to help people who may be disadvantaged in some way, for example someone who might have lost a partner and finds them self alone and might have lost contact with the community, or people who are recovering from heart problems or a wide range of medical issues. It’s an all-year-round scheme because to be effective the key is to walk regularly. We provide the means for people to get through the barriers. We also take people on coach trips to other places for walks, places outside the area which they might not know about or cannot get to. It’s an exciting world out there and people should not be excluded. For many years I felt walking organisations were too fragmented and too elitist, people sticking in their own little groups.”
For Malcolm, WAW is about the community recognising the need to promote their town or village as a place which has something of interest and bringing in walkers and giving them information about where to park – or better still how to get there by public transport – and where to walk. “We have a Roman history here which few people know about, we have the remains of a Roman bath house, but people do not know how to get to it. We have the Coed Bell ancient woodland, so we show them how to walk there. We engage with local businesses and cafes, rambling associations and environmental organisations, youth clubs – the whole community. We want people to come to the town, enjoy themselves and come again. We are helping the local economy, increasing visitor numbers, working with our local assets, sun, sea, sand and hills, our local Tern colony and a unique sand dune system – there is so much to go at! Our main theme is that we have something special to offer walkers. They don’t have to be bobble hats and beards, walking is for the visually impaired, the handicapped, we want everyone to enjoy the fun of walking.”
Although there are lots of good books on walking in the area, Malcolm feels there are many who will welcome simple diagrammatic leaflets about where to walk, rather than grapple with an Ordnance Survey map. “The idea is to break down barriers and get people to feel more confident. The development of the A55 was no doubt a good thing and a lot of people from Merseyside, Manchester and the Midlands head down the A55 to Snowdonia, which is a fantastic place. But if that is the only place they head for they are missing out on so much culture and history which they cannot get in Snowdonia. There are fantastic places if people just head off the A55. I sometimes hear people in places off the A55 complaining visitors do not come and see them. Well, if they are waiting for things to change they will have a long wait. You have to reach out and tell people, there is much, much more to the richness of Wales. Very often local councils are unaware of some of the things they have to offer which is why on the WAW website there are links to tell you about the villages and towns.”
The three day Prestatyn Walking Festival each Spring offers graded, themed walks, led by trained leaders with probably the most demanding being a two-day 40 mile Offa’s Dyke Challenge Walk. Information about the festival and details of all its walks can be found on www.prestatynwalkingfestival.co.uk or ring the Town Council on 01745 857185.
For details of You’ll Never Walk Alone walks you can visit www.healthyprestatyn.org.uk or ring the town council on 01745 857185. There are more details on walks around Prestatyn on www.rhyl-prestatyn.co.uk