Until I discovered Shell Island, I’m afraid to say Wales was never on my wish-list of ‘places to visit’!
It’s somewhat surprising therefore that not only have we returned every year since but the group of friends joining us seems to grow each year too!
I’ve never really been one for holidaying in the same place twice… I often fall in love with a town or country and swear that I’ll go back again soon, but in reality there’s always somewhere new to explore; so many beautiful places I haven’t yet seen and not enough free time to visit them all. That all changed five years ago….
We do still travel to other places as much as we can, but a ‘Shell Island fix’ has become an annual necessity!
I was first told about it by a colleague I used to work with… I heard “you can have fires and camp on the beach” and that was about it… I was sold!
It’s not actually an island, more of a peninsula, but when the tide comes in the only road is covered by the sea so you do feel a bit cut off from the ‘mainland’. It’s also the largest campsite in Europe, covering 450 acres in total, and appeals most to those who love the unspoiled countryside.
The central fields, closest to reception and facilities, are fairly typical in camping terms (though the views across Cardigan Bay and into Snowdonia are still fantastic) with showers and a shop, a bar, entertainment if that’s what you like, but we drive past all that to an area known as the ‘Back of Beyond’ where we find our home for the week!
You’re allowed to camp pretty much anywhere you can reach, provided you’re not within 15m of another party and that you leave the area as you found it – for some that means backpacking into the dunes with a two-man tent; we always take a van load of scrap wood for fires, but the maze of dirt tracks mean we can usually find a nice little secluded area within the trees.
Now some of my friends have said “so what did you do?”… the answer really is ‘not very much!’ But when it’s a 10 minute walk each way to the toilet…. or half an hour back to the shower blocks… and a couple of hours getting the fire going hot enough to cook your dinner… the days soon get quite full!
We were camped this year on the edge of the sand dunes which seem to go on for miles before you reach the sea. The first few days the weather was amazing and climbing over the scorching silver sand, with blue sea and sky glinting on the horizon, it was hard to believe we were really in the UK. The temperature of the water however was a sharp reminder, so it was beach and a book for me!
One day we visited Harlech Castle and another we climbed a hillside in the pouring rain just to stand at the top of a waterfall… it was worth it!!
We collected driftwood and had a fire on the beach, the kids went off crabbing and exploring rock pools, we walked for miles studying the vast range of plants and flowers which are very different to those back home, we played guitar and read books… devices are banned for the week, and there’s no signal anyway, but no one seems to mind.
The pace of life just slows… and I wonder if one day it might be possible to live like this all the time…
But back to reality and I’m going to ask for your help… This amazing place is currently under threat of closure as the adjoining airfield have withdrawn guaranteed 24-hour access to the campsite for the emergency services. When the tide comes in, and the road is cut off, emergency vehicles have had access across the airfield for the past fifty years. However, development plans to turn the airfield into a ‘Spaceport’ may lead to this access being permanently closed – leading to health and safety risks and an uncertain future for Shell Island. You can find more info here and there’s also a petition to sign here, urging the Welsh Government to intervene.
If you’ve been reading this and thinking ‘that sounds like a great place to visit’, please, please take a moment to add your name to the 15,000 who have already signed… it really could make a difference.