Oh, the times we had! Disgraced in Barmouth but I found paradise at Shell Island.

I’ve been looking back over the blogs I wrote of my travels with Morgan and Jess around Wales and thought they were worth sharing again….

Barmouth is but a stone’s throw from Dogellau. It has a back drop of beautiful mountains and its beaches are sublime….. WP_20140611_14_26_00_Pro

……miles of sand and occasional sand dunes and, when the sea goes out, warm pools are left along the undulating beach, deep enough for the doggies to swim in. Back and forth they paddle, in a blissful world of their own. It is worth coming here just to see them so enjoy themselves. In the evening we walk along the north end of the promenade just to hear and watch the thundering boom of the waves as they crash against the harbour walls… WP_20140611_18_30_42_Pro

…but Barmouth is a victim of its beauty for every other shop caters for the massive invasion of holiday-makers which arrive in summer-time, with buckets and spades and wind-breaks for sale in every colour under the sun; a fairground; and donkeys on the beach.

It was quiet while I was there, in the middle of the week in June, but I’m reliably informed that when the schools break up for the summer holidays you will struggle to find a parking space anywhere along the miles of promenade after 9 a.m. in the morning.So, I’m glad we came when we did.

It was a twenty minute walk to the beach from where the camper van was hooked up. I carried a large cool bag slung over my shoulder, to carry water for the dogs and some lunch for me. On our last morning, I decide we’ll explore the town before going to the beach. I’m walking along with the dogs, hunting in vain for an interesting shop that doesn’t sell buckets and spades, when I am tapped on my shoulder from behind.

” I hope you don’t mind me telling you, love, ” says the woman, “but I thought you should know. Your bag has rucked up your skirt at the back. I can see your knickers!”

I wish for the sands of Barmouth to bury me. I never want to know how long I had been walking those streets with my nether regions exposed to all and sundry.  With my street cred in tatters, I go in search of somewhere a little less ‘touristy’ and closer to a beach, and so make my way up the coast to Shell Island.

Shell Island is not really an island anymore because the massive sand dunes have filled the space which once separated it from the mainland, though it still can only be reached across the causeway at low tide. The ‘island’ takes its name from the abundance of shells which get washed up on its shores. From January to June, just about every shell you can name is to be found here in such abundance it is impossible to walk along the  north shore of the island without crunching through stacks of them…. WP_20140614_13_01_14_Pro

Walking along this part of the beach is a treasure hunt, while on the southern part of the island the dunes are massive, and the sandy beaches stretch all the way back down to Barmouth….

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Shell Island is reputed to be one of, if not the, largest campsite in Europe. It covers hundreds of acres. But it is the views across to the Lleyn Peninsula in the west, and Snowdon in the north, which make this one of the most stunning camping locations I have been to. WP_20140617_20_09_25_Pro I take photographs but none do justice to the extraordinary and unspoilt beauty of this place. I arrived here as soon as the tide allowed on Saturday. Not the best time to arrive. Not the best of first impressions. I now know that what happens here on a Friday evening is that the whole of Birmingham and Liverpool (okay, this may be a slight exaggeration) descend upon Shell Island, with English flags fluttering on their wing mirrors, hoping to party through to Sunday morning. Luckily, the warden doesn’t like loud music, and especially doesn’t like it after 11 p.m.

One of the ingenious camp rules (along with No Caravans Allowed, snigger) is you can camp anywhere on the island as long as you allow 20 metres space between yourself and another camper; absolutely wonderful on a Sunday evening or weekday out of season but not so good on a Saturday with previously mentioned invasion, if you’re hoping for a pitch with views or that is anywhere near level. After driving around for a while, I soon realise that all the prime pitches have been taken and grab what I can.

I can’t see the sea or Snowdon from my van but I’m near the dunes and the beach. I park up, level up with the chocks as best I can, open the door and… groan… on one side of me is a bunch of lads, necking the lager, kicking the footie, and playing booming music from their car with the boot and doors open. Not far away from them is another group, screaming and shouting, English flags flying and radio blaring from one of their cars. Another rule of this campsite, in addition to ‘no loud radios’, is ‘no groups’. Obviously, these lads slipped through the net because they didn’t arrive in one vehicle; I counted four surrounding their tent.

I go for a walk with Morgan and Jess. We explore the fabulous dunes, which they love, and go and sit on the lovely beach where we can hear the sea and ache over the views.

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Why do some people think they can’t enjoy anywhere unless they are playing loud music and getting plastered? And why assume the rest of the world is going to enjoy their choice of music? And why come to such a stunningly beautiful place as this only to do exactly what they would have been doing if they’d stayed at home? Maybe I’m just getting old.

On our return from our walk, the volume of the music has been toned down by several notches. By 8 p.m., silence reigns. My guess is the group are either unconscious or the warden had a word. I’m told by people who come here often that it’s best to avoid coming here altogether once the schools break up and especially on bank holiday weekends.

But in between times, during the week, I am regularly pinching myself because it seems almost too good to be true.

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Guess what happens Sunday morning? The groups of lads and the noisy, squabbling families pack up their tents and start to leave! By lunchtime, most of them are gone and it is bliss. I spot a prime pitch that has been vacated and I bag it. I now have the most spectacular view out of my doorway, of Snowdon, from where I sit to write; a view out over the ocean and Lleyn peninsula from my cab window; and a view out over the sand dunes from my side window. If it wasn’t for the weekend crowds, I would want to stay here forever. We go and sit outside, Morgan, Jess, and me, and enjoy the sounds of the waves lapping the shoreline just below us, and gazing out over the Snowdonia range and the view of Harlech castle across the bay….

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Walking along the beach here at 9 p.m. in the evening, we are sometimes the only people here; not a soul to be seen in either direction for as far as the eye can see. At this time of day, the Lleyn Peninsula and Snowdon et al are silhouettes cast in varying shades of blue against a pale blue sky, and the sea is deep turquoise. By 9.30, the sun is going down and the sky above the Lleyn turns peach, then deep shades of deep orange and pink, while the mountains behind us to the east are rendered purple.

After dark, parts of the shoreline of the peninsula glitter with the lights of its harbours. Like a child, I don’t want to sleep; I want to lie there gazing out of the little window over my bed the whole night long.

Every morning, we go for a lovely walk from the south beach to the harbour in the north. I tell myself I will not look at the shells, I will not look at the shells, but I can’t help myself; I’m like a kiddy in a sweet shop. There are stacks of them left behind by the tide every morning. Then we sit for a while and watch Snowdon swathing herself in mantles of cloud and just as quickly throwing them off again.

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When we get up in the morning, Snowdon and her sisters are rendered pale-blue, ghostly peaks emerging from the mists. The sky is blue. The sea is calm, ripples shimmering in the early morning sunshine. A solitary skylark warbles overhead. A wave laps the shoreline. All is right with the world.

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy, historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

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11 thoughts on “Oh, the times we had! Disgraced in Barmouth but I found paradise at Shell Island.

  1. I’m really sorry but I had tears of laughter…you must have been mortified! But, oh goodness, it’s a fab tale. I shall berate myself later…promise! So glad you are enjoying yourself and finding some peaceful times on the whole.

  2. Oh, what fabulous pics! You are so enjoying your trip. Too wonderful for words. And I loved the part about the knickers…oh, goodness! Bet you won’t be going back there too soon! Just loving these pics and stories!

  3. Thank you for my visit to Wales, Jenny, I thoroughly enjoyed the peace and quiet (when you found it) plus the amazing views. You describe it all so well, I can feel the sand between my toes as I collect sea shells. Where are we off to next?

  4. A wonderful post, Jenny. You make me long for Wales again – it has a grand tranquillity that must be exceptional if not actually unique in Great Britain. I too loved the part about your nickers. It made me laugh, not because of your mortification (and I can imagine that), but because you describe it so well, and your doggies swimming in the pools…and the gorgeous beach, shells and view of Snowdon. Just perfect! I must put Shell Island on my wish list.

  5. Love the pictures combined with your words, Jenny. Looking forward to the next post, for more vicarious travels with you. PS: Had to laugh at the “walking those streets with my nether regions exposed”

  6. I love peaceful places – but I have grandchildren, so have some sympathy with those families as well – maybe we have the best of both worlds now, you have your quiet times and they have their busy, bucket-and-spade times.

    And I know what you mean by the young and their music, though I try to remember that I might have been like that, once. At least they quietened in the evening.

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