It’s a cloudy week in the school holidays, and I’m being Mam of the Year by taking my son away for two days of fun. His wish-list feels unrealistic: he wants a beach to run about on, trains, boats, rides, sea creatures, bright lights, water to splash in. I’d like a few nice views if I’m lucky, some nature, a good meal, a family-friendly hotel. And hey presto: I strike lucky with all of them on the wide, sandy coast of North East Wales.
Welcome to Rhyl and Prestatyn, two famous Welsh resort towns enjoying a thoroughly modern makeover down by the sea. The last few years have brought the brilliant SC2 indoor waterpark to the seaside in Rhyl, with the high-speed Anaconda, three-lane Speedster and Boomerang flumes for the thrill-seekers, plus the Piranha Play area, Water Wheel and Splash Pad for little paddlers. Rhyl Harbour has also been sensitively redeveloped for boat-lovers and holidaymakers, with the lovely Harbour Hub Café sitting in the middle of it. We start our break very happily here, my son enjoying the hubbub of dog-walkers and cyclists, as we eat lunch. I can also recommend the delicious blue cheese and pear doorstop sandwich, parent-boosting strong coffee, and tasty beans-and-toast lunch deal for kids.
After lunch, we have a run around Horton’s Nose Nature Reserve at Kinmel Bay a few minutes away – literally in my son’s case, as he barrels over the beautiful new wooden boardwalks. It’s particularly lovely at the viewing platform here, with stunning views west towards Llandudno’s Great Orme. Then we go down to the dunes, my son leaping over them; together, we spot colourful butterflies, moths, even a lizard.
But kids being awkward, this creature isn’t quite sea-monstery enough for my son. So we jump in the car and head to the eastern point of Rhyl’s beach, where an old pearl of the seaside, SeaQuarium sits. We have a joyful hour here, boggling at the mad beauty of the lionfish, watching the recently-arrived starry smooth hound sharks swim above our heads, and spotting glowing jellyfish lighting up darker rooms. We’re also here in Pirate Month, where storytelling and flag-making workshops weave around the regular attractions; there are sea explorers’ events and Easter egg hunts here in other holidays too. We finish our trip with the seal show, my son going nose to nose with Betty, who ducks and dives happily in the centre’s 33,000-gallon pool.
The rest of the day is a riot of old-fashioned fun: carousel and ladybird rides in the Children’s Village on the seafront, then a scoot around the two-penny machines in The Bright Spot (one of Rhyl’s many old-fashioned, neon-lit amusement arcades). We have a grown-up dinner in Rossini’s just off the front, where my son demolishes his kids’ portion of Bolognese (and me a lovely seafood risotto), then retire to our hotel for the night, the Berwyn Guesthouse, a few minutes’ walk away. Its family-friendly touches are sweetly old-fashioned: homemade cakes for the guests, childrens’ board games and books speckling the lounge. There’s even a family suite of two rooms, so parents can put the little ones to bed and have a night of relative peace. Before a five-year-old jumps on your head at 4am, anyway, excited to get going again…
Our second day in Rhyl promises rain, so we’re Welsh about it: raincoats on, and going out with gusto regardless. I’m pleased to report that the Rhyl Miniature Railway near the town’s main station is wonderful even in the showers. The oldest of its kind in the UK, its gorgeously preserved trains, station signs, punched tickets and flags make the experience especially magical for my son, who beams as we toot around the Marine Lake, and waves to the Virgin Intercity that speeds by overhead. We enjoy the small indoor museum afterwards too, taking Jack The Station Cat’s Quiz, and enjoying the interactive exhibits. We plan to come back one day in the sunshine, as we hear the lake’s a great place for crabbing, as well as sailing and canoeing.
The clouds depart for a few hours and we head out past Prestatyn, past the holiday villages and caravan parks, to the beautiful Talacre Beach. Here we wade out through flat muddy sand to the Grade II-listed Point of Ayr Lighthouse (top Mam tip: don’t forget sturdy boots or wellies). It last shone its light in 1883, but it remains a magical, incredibly atmospheric building. And my son pretended to be its lighthouse-keeper, of course, calling out from its steps to passing invisible seafarers.
There are several good cafes nearby, but we decided on one last adventure elsewhere before heading home: the Dyserth Waterfall between Rhyl and Prestatyn is meant to be at its best on a rainy day, after all. We grab some tasty homemade rolls at the tiny retro Waterfall Café just before we see it, and try their Unicorn Hot Chocolate, which has to be seen to believed (a circus of rainbow colours and marshmallows that soon turns a very kid-pleasing bright blue). Then we’re by the Ffyddion River torrenting water downstream, splashing us both until my son squeals with joy. Up past the waterfall we find a secret wonderland too. The woodlands here are fairytale-like, twisting and unfurling into different pathways, as we walk. We also find caves that we sneak into, “looking for treasure”, my son tells me, brightly.
A few hours later on our drive home his imagination is still racing. He tells me of sea creatures playing two-penny machines, eating pasta, and riding boats down waterfalls. Rhyl and Prestatyn have done their job brilliantly – and Mam’s had a wild old time too.