WHEN is an island not an island? When it’s Barry Island, of course!
But a brief forage around this popular summer seaside destination in the Vale of Glamorgan, south Wales, quickly reveals the truth – that Barry Island (often affectionately referred to as ‘Barrybados’ by locals) was indeed once surrounded by water.
It turns out that the name Barry Island stems from an era when the whole area was literally an island in the Bristol Channel, accessible only by boat, or by foot at low tide.
A plaque welcoming visitors at the Barry Island train station states: “In the Middle Ages, it was seen as a perfect place to commune with God and attracted several holy men.
“The most famous of these was St Baruc (circa AD700)), whose name is believed to have given rise to St Baruc’s Isle which, in turn, became Barry Island.”
Everything changed during the late 19th Century, when the Barry Dock & Railway Company created Barry docks for the flourishing coal export trade. It was at this time that the earth excavated from the docks was used to form a causeway linking the island and the mainland for the first time in tens of thousands of years.
As a Barry-born boy, I should perhaps have known this little piece of local history, but that, for me, is the joy of boldly going all around Wales and discovering (if not quite new life and new civilizations in Star Trek style) hundreds of things I never knew about the country of my birth – Wales.
What better place to begin my Ewegottalove.Wales adventure, then, than my own home town, where I spent many weekends visiting with my grandparents in Court Road, and where my mother and her father before her went to school at Holton Road Primary?
More about Barry town itself in a future blog, perhaps, but Barry Island has always been a favourite place of mine, especially the sands of Whitmore Bay, once overlooked by the now long-gone Butlin’s holiday camp.
Memories of Butlins in its Hi-De-Hi heyday include the sight of the swimming pool as we drove, or walked from what seemed like a faraway parking place to the golden sands armed with buckets, spades and a picnic.
Of course, no visit to Barry Island was ever complete without a 99 ice-cream or hopefully a visit to one of many chip shops, while the voice of the beach warden echoed around the beach with news of countless lost children who had been found and were waiting to be reunited with their worried parents.
To this day, I cannot take a trip to Barry Island without calling in at O’Shea’s for my favourite Irish curry, chips and a sausage. Manna from heaven!
I have always been a fan also of the amusement arcades, particularly those with pinball machines where I have a chance to show my nerdiness and wizardry with the flippers. Sadly, on my latest visit, only one pinball machine remains… Bally’s The Addams Family – but still a great way to kill half an hour if the weather is less than favourable.
Of course, the old one-arm bandits have been replaced today by electronic versions which never seem to have that same air of excitement about them, nor do the £1-a-go shoot-’em-up machines dotted around these jackpot emporiums.
Nostalgia will also take me wandering into the central pleasure park, restored almost to its former glory in recent years after falling into a sorry state of disrepair. The big wheel, ghost train, log flume, penny arcade are all in evidence for the summer funfair season.
If the beach is not for you, it’s always pleasant to take a short stroll along Friar’s Point where fishermen dangle their rods and views include Flat Holm and Steep Holm islands, neighbouring Jackson’s Bay and, on a clear day, Weston-super-Mare across the Bristol Channel.
If you’re with the family, a round of crazy golf at Smugglers Cove is never a bad idea, or a deckchair gathering at the colourful new beach huts for hire at the far end of the bay is a great way to while away a Sunday afternoon.
Spare a thought for the shop and café owners who have to make ends meet largely on takings from Easter through to the end of the school summer holidays. It would be great to see Barry Island bustling the year round, but the Welsh weather makes it more of a dog-walkers’ paradise over the autumn and winter months.
Finally, I’m pleased that I managed to write this blog post without mentioning Gavin and Stacey or Nessa’s Slots. Oh, drat, I just did it!
September 8, 2018