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Tuesday, 14 August, 2001, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Seaside stories: Rhyl
The seafront parade in Rhyl
Along Rhyl's seafront parade
Now that the British seem to prefer foreign holidays to weeks by the seaside, how are the traditional resorts coping? In the second of a four-part series running this week, BBC News Online's Jonathan Duffy visits north Wales's biggest resort.

Rhyl, north Wales

"Down-at-heel and depressing" - Which? magazine

Road rage in Rhyl. Traffic is backing up on the approach roads to this north Wales coastal resort and despite the holiday atmosphere not everyone is taking it easy.

A driver in a pickup curses at the top of his voice to a car in front as the traffic crawls towards a junction.

As it's a Thursday, drivers in this Denbighshire town might expect the highways to be more orderly than usual. Just one traffic warden covers the whole county, it recently transpired. And Thursday is the day he comes to Rhyl.

Of course, no-one rates a seaside town by its parking attendant complement. But the dearth seems to be a hint of the neglect that has come to plague the resort.

There's nothing unusual about a once splendid Victorian resort finding it hard to compete with today's tendency for foreign holidays.

But Rhyl has been hit harder than most. It has become a refuge for the unemployed, drop-outs and drug addicts. About a quarter of the town's 29,000 population are living in long-term bed and breakfast accommodation.

Rumours abound that some prisons in the UK carry adverts on noticeboards encouraging inmates to head for the area when they are released.

Coronation Street's Jack and Vera Duckworth
Coronation Street's Jack and Vera Duckworth: Regulars at Rhyl
The west of town was classified as Wales's most deprived area last year, and holiday writers have been remorseless in their criticism.

"Down-at-heel and depressing" was the verdict of a recent Which? report. "Anything you can do in Rhyl you can do better elsewhere" quips the Rough Guide to Wales. The Times called it "Britain's first shanty town".

It is perhaps no surprise that in a 1996 survey the resort was rated Britain's least sexy holiday spot.

The Costa del Dole reputation has grown at the cost of tourist numbers. And yet despite everything, people still come. Rhyl, together with its smaller neighbour Prestatyn, attracts 1.7 million staying visitors a year and 2.5 million day-trippers.

Toll of recession

Roger Dawson, a hotel owner and chairman of the town's business forum, says the resort, which has traditionally drawn holidaymakers from Merseyside, Manchester and the Midlands, was hit badly by the recession in the early 1990s and it hasn't recovered since.

Roger Dawson
Roger Dawson: "There's a part of Rhyl that needs to grow up"
Business had picked up a little but then came foot-and-mouth disease and some traders have reported a 24% drop in "footfall" this year. Among those particularly missed are the southern Irish, says Mr Dawson.

"Apparently, there's nowhere like this along the east coast of Ireland. The Irish have always liked coming here."

Although its charms have waned, it's not impossible to see what put Rhyl on the map. Its six miles of sandy beaches bask in a micro-climate said to match the temperatures in Torbay. Snowdonia is within easy reach.

But the view from the beach inland is not a pretty one these days. A multi-million pound redevelopment of the seafront in the early 1990s has left a stretch of the beach flanked by an imposingly high, bare concrete wall.

Heavy on the senses

The waterfront parade of shops is only marginally more enticing. Jingles bleep from the amusement arcades, gift shops trade in tacky memorabilia, the sugary smell of frying onions and doughnuts sap the air of its saltiness.

Carol Vorderman
Rhyl's most famous daughter: Carol Vorderman
There is nothing subtle about the front at Rhyl. The shop hoardings are no-nonsense - like low cost supermarkets they shout value from day-glo backgrounds: "Chips 45p", "Free wine with roast meal".

As you head west along the parade the shop fronts are interrupted by run-down and boarded-up old guest houses.

A grey sky and chill breeze put the beach beyond appeal for all but the most hardened bathers. Instead, mums and dads in anoraks herd their offspring along the promenade and through the shabby but bustling fun fair.

But the children don't seem put off. Rhyl prides itself on being a family destination, and there is lots to keep the kids occupied.

Young at heart

"It's got sand, sea, ice cream and chips," says Danny Down from Wigan, who, with his wife, has come for a week with his grandchildren.

Danny Down
Danny Down, there with the grandchildren
"I used to come here years ago but now we tend to go to France, Italy, Spain, for the sun, the food, the people."

But that image of Rhyl is no longer viable in the 21st Century, says Mr Dawson.

"There's a part of Rhyl that needs to grow up. We need to recognise that people are more interested in learning these days," he says, acknowledging the growth in historical tourism in north Wales.

Since the seafront redevelopment, investment has all but dried up. Mr Dawson wants to see renovation of derelict properties, a town centre manager to foster confidence among traders and a programme of tourist events to bring in trade.

There is also a sense that Rhyl has suffered for being too English. In an echo of the recent arguments about anti-English sentiment in Wales, some traders feel Rhyl has been snubbed by the county council in favour of the more Welsh-oriented tourist attractions inland.

Rhyl's problems evidently run deep, but in August at least, thousands of holidaymakers still like to be beside this stretch of the north Wales seaside.

Click to see more pictures of Rhyl

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Some of your comments so far:

Rhyl may be a bit shabby, but the community spirit that flows through those run-down streets is far from it. The people of Rhyl are generous and enjoy a wonderful laid-back lifestyle
Anonymous, Wales

I have lived in Rhyl for 26 years. Yes, it has got rough in the last few years, but there are nice places in Rhyl and the surrounding area. Tidy up the prom, especially by the fair, and return Rhyl to its former glory.
Janie, UK

I return to Rhyl every weekend from London where I work. I never go into the town centre, it's far too depressing and filthy. Why anyone would want to visit on holiday is beyond me. The town needs a change of direction to get it out of the gutter.
Leon , Wales

In January, a friend and I went on holiday and ended up in Rhyl. It had a post-apocalyptic charm somewhat reminiscent of the film Dawn of the Dead, and the average temperature hovered somewhere around the 4C mark. Our landlady refused to believe I was a vegetarian ("What, not even sausages?") and it never stopped raining for the four days we were there.
Mike, UK

Oh what a shock. My friends and I spent two weeks in the holiday camp at Prestatyn in 1959. The beaches, facilities and the two towns were absolutely lovely. Hopefully, it can be cleaned up.
Pauline Potter, U.S.A.

Anyone else like to stick the knife in? I grew up in Rhyl - and yes, it's been a depressing place for years. But surely it's time to be constructive. The fundamental problem remains a lack of work. Perhaps tourism itself is not the answer anymore.
Anonymous, UK

I went to Rhyl once to watch the Radio 1 roadshow with Chris Moyles. It rained all day and I got soaked. There was also a powercut so all the people in the Sky Tower got stuck for hours!
Jon Hunter, England

Coming from north Wales myself, I can honestly say Rhyl brings back nothing but miserable memories of tacky shops, bad weather and more recently, smackheads from the North West.
Alan Ellis, Wales

Rhyl is the absolute pits. Unfortunatley the rabble who have moved in are now also moving further down the coast to Colwyn Bay. Crime figures there are rising dramatically. So far Llandudno has escaped the creeping cancer.
John, Llandudno

In my youth I lived in Manchester. A holiday in Rhyl during the fifties was full of excitement, It's sad to see the town's demise.
Warren Taylor, USA

My family and I were "advised" to visit Rhyl during a holiday in Wales about 12 years ago. In the intervening years I have travelled the world extensively. Not even the devastated industrial north of Vietnam, the Anarchy of Phnom Penh, Delhi on a very tight budget or the vacuous-ness of LA film industry parties has come anywhere near the true abominable horror that is Rhyl.
Sam Fuller, UK

I was brought up in Rhyl and now live in Surrey. If you go back, it really does need a lick of paint. It's a shame because it is still fairly popular with tourists. But that won't always be the case. Act now or the town will just die.
Paul McMonnies, England

I was born near Rhyl and it holds wonderful childhood memories of sun, sea and sand. I still go back every year and can't help but feel let down. I know I'll never get my childhood playground back.
Claire, England

I have lived in Denbighshire most of my life, and I have watched the local crime rate worsen by the year. There are currently three to four serious assaults in the town of Rhyl every weekend.
Paul McDonough, Wales

As a person who works abroad but who lives just outside Rhyl, I can say without a doubt that each time I come home it's more and more depressing to see the state in which this town has become.
Craig Jones, Germany

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