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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The travelogues; I enter a time-warp near Llanbrynmair and cause a bit of a stir.

I didn’t think I was doing anything remarkable or that I would ever be the subject for conversation until I stopped off at a small campsite on my way to Dolgellau. On my arrival, a little chap wearing a tweed hat and pushing a wheelbarrow directed me to a pitch and told me not to worry about paying as the owner would be along later. Within an hour, I got a visit from one of the couples staying there.

“I hear you’re driving this thing on your own. How are you managing it?” asks Mr.

The little chap with the wheelbarrow must have duly noted my singledom and passed on the word. I tell Mr I’d found the camper’s size a bit intimidating at first but I’m used to it now.

Following much shaking of his head, Mr says, “Well, I take my hat off to you but you do know you have to have a special license to drive one of these, don’t you?”

Gulp. What? Where? Who? Why? “Eh?”

“Oh, yes! You have to have a medical to get the license – camera oop the bum, the whole works. I know ‘cos I thought of getting one of these big motor-homes.”

“Then, after all that, he goes and gets a caravan instead!” says Mrs, laughing indulgently.

“I’m sure that can’t be right,” say I, hoping to god it isn’t. “No one said anything to me about needing a special license.”

“It’s true. Anything over 3.5 ton and you have to have a medical!”

“Ah, well, I don’t think it’s as big as that!” I say, not actually having a clue how much the damned thing weighs.

“Surely is!” he says.

I decide I’m bored with this conversation now and want to retire to my van and hold my head in my hands but Mr is not to be deterred.

“Look here! It’ll tell you somewhere in the cab,” he says, opening my cab door. “Here you are!” he says wiping the dust and dog hair off the said information label.

I hold my breath as he hunkers down and pushes his glasses up his nose and peers; then he rubs the label and squints at it again, as though he can’t quite believe what it says.

“Ah! Well, it’s a 3.1, so you’re alright,” he says, avoiding my cool gaze and not apologising for causing me unnecessary anxiety.

“Anyway, what’s the height of it, eh? The width? Do you know? You need to know these things or else you’ll find yourself without a roof when you go driving under a low bridge. See?” His questions come at me like bullets from a machine gun.

“Yes, of course. I know,” blag I, making a mental note to look up the dimensions again in the manual as soon as he’s gone, and praying he won’t put me to the test because they’ve gone clean out of my head.

No sooner has Mr departed than the owner stops by.

“I hear you’re driving this on your own!”

I bristle slightly and brace myself. I don’t think they can get much passing-through trade here.

“Um, well, yes.”

“Jolly good for you! I think it’s marvellous!” he says, beaming with bonhomie.

As the owner walks away, I feel a momentary glow of pride; thinking ‘gosh, aren’t I the one’. Then my feminist brain kicks into gear and I think how sexist the whole thing is. A man on his own, doing what I am, would never illicit such remarks or get a lecture about things he may not know, or congratulations upon his ability to do it. I feel like I’ve entered a time warp.

I know Mr know-it-all probably meant well. He belongs to that generation of older men who think women are delicate creatures who need to be looked after and aren’t capable of doing the things men do. I’m hoping I’ve disabused him of some of his illusions; though, in all fairness, he did give me a timely reminder to memorise those dimensions, but don’t tell him I said so.

Then, uppity and independent old thing that I am, I’m off to Dolgellau and driving past the mountain of Cader Idris in all its brooding, massive majesty. I used to gaze at this fabulous landmark of a mountain, over on the distant horizon, when I lived in the east of Wales. Up close, it fills me with awe.

I fall in love with Dolgellau, where at last I feel I have entered a proper Welsh town. Here, you will be reminded that Wales is indeed another country. You will hear the lovely, lilting, Welsh language spoken all around you and all the shops have Welsh names.

In the region of Wales I come from you don’t hear so much Welsh being spoken. Welsh was my mother’s first language but she never spoke it to her children. At school, she was punished for speaking her own language and taught she must speak English or not speak at all. Thus, my generation were robbed of their heritage, language and culture via parents who had been brainwashed from childhood that Welsh was inferior. So I have a deep and abiding gratitude to those who held tight to their language and didn’t let anyone persuade them not to, and passed on their language to their children with pride. If not for them, the Welsh language would not now exist.

I buy real bread and a heavenly home-made Bara-brith in the bakery, and am offered a cup of tea while browsing in the inspiring little wool shop. Here I meet two lovely ladies who are fellow (what is the female equivalent?) spinners and we spend a half hour enthusing over hand-spun yarns. They tell me that Dolgellau once had a thriving woollen industry, and that at least one house in Dolgellau still has a weavers shed at the top reached by a spiral stone stairway which the weavers used to use so as not to disturb their employer when going to and from their work. Before the decline of the woollen industry, which occurred in the first half of the 19th century due to the introduction of mechanical looms, annual output was said to be worth between £50,000 and £100,000.

The other thing Dolgellau was once famous for was its large community of Quakers. Apparently, following a visit from George Fox in 1657, many inhabitants of Dolgellau converted to Quakerism. Many emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1686, led by Rowland Ellis, a local gentleman-farmer, because of the persecution they suffered (persecution was suffered by all dissenting religions in Wales). The Pennsylvanian town of Bryn Mawr was named after Rowland Ellis’s farm near Dolgellau. So now you know.

Dolgellau is possibly one of the least spoiled towns I’ve encountered and I love that it has preserved its Welsh identity and language. But oh, how I would have loved to have been a passenger in the motor-car of H. V. Morton in 1932, for while I, in 2014, celebrate how comparatively unspoiled it is, he was lamenting the changes which had led to the exchange of pony for local omnibus as a mode of transport for the locals. He describes the market square crowded with farmers and their labourers on a Saturday afternoon;

They wear breeches and leggings, caps or bowler hats. Most of them are shaggy as mountain ponies; some fair, some small and dark as Spaniards, some tall and fair, rawboned as Highlanders. Now and again local girls, walking two by two, pass and re-pass among the herd of men, and occasionally they turn to smile back at some chance remark in Welsh which is flung at them……I look at them and miss the ponies on which I feel they should have ridden to market. But they have come in from miles around on motor-omnibuses. It is a grotesque thought.

The descendants of those farmers of which he spoke now each own their own motor car, of course, and land-rovers, all of which are crammed into the parking spaces on the square or in the car park – an unimaginable thing in H.V. Morton’s time.

I can only imagine what thoughts he may have had should he have seen women driving around the country alone in motorised homes on wheels, let alone driving buses, trains, lorries….

From Dolgellau I’m off to Barmouth ….see you there.

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

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow      The Calling of the Raven updated book cover      Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/i1sy302jXXK

You can also follow the author:

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