Happy campers

Time for an orange squash (at the back) and Sal with their mum.

We first went camping when Mum and Dad discovered Shell Island in North Wales. They stumbled upon this beautiful island of shells and wild flowers while touring bed and breakfast houses around Criccieth and Porthmadog. From the moment we drove across the sand, (first checking the time of the high tides so that we could get back), it was a Robinson Crusoe adventure for all the family.

Our orange and blue family tent had two inside bedrooms, a living area and an awning. After practicing putting the tent up in the garden, we had the van loaded up, tent and equipment packed and we were on our way. The journey seemed to go on forever.

“Are we nearly there yet?” Every bend took us closer to the seaside. The gigantic mountain of Dinas Mawddwy was so steep it felt as if we’d never get to the top. On many occasions, Dad had to stop and get the jack out and wind up the motor at the front of the van. I used to cover my eyes until we were over the top of it; then all at once we could see the sea. Once we got to Barmouth, it was the coastal road all the way.

Our first job on arrival was to go and fill the water carrier from the nearest tap. In 1967 when we first camped on the island, the few camping pitches were marked out. We were handed a map to show where the amenities were. The view of the mountains with sheep grazing on the hills added to the wonderful sense of freedom. When the kettle sang out and the smell of bacon wafted across the hillside, that’s when we knew the holiday had begun.

Exploring the island was great fun. Not only were there hundreds of shells to collect, there were dozens of varieties of wild flowers to identify. We spent mornings on the rock pools catching shrimps in our nets, investigating the crabs, winkles and limpets.

Susan and her Sal having fun at shell Island, the kettle at the ready in the foregraund

A quick sandwich back at the tent, and then in the afternoon, while our parents languished on the beach, we would climb
up the massive sand dunes, stand at the top and cry ‘Geronimo’, run like the wind down to the bottom, then make the agonising climb back to the top again. Many a time the sand burned our feet but it didn’t deter the fun of that almighty charge to the bottom.

At the end of the day we felt so tired; I can remember crying to be carried home. (After a couple of days on the island, that’s what the tent had become.)

I was always amazed at the wonderful meals Mum cooked for us on that two-ring gas stove. They tasted delicious. It was about the only time we got to eat burgers out of a tin in gravy, with potatoes and peas.

After a bit of a rest, we would change into warm jumpers and jeans, and then go off for an evening walk to look at the boats up on the north end of the island.

From there we could watch the sun go down.

When we got back from the walk.

Dad would light the campfire to keep us warm. These heavenly holidays shaped my childhood into a blissful period of freedom and love. Being a child of the 60s was simply wonderful.

In later years, friends and family got to hear of our fabulous camping holidays and by now Shell Island had become popular with holidaymakers from the Midlands. Our family holiday became a circle of half a dozen or more tents. That’s when my uncle told Dad about the nearby nudist beach at Dyffryn Ardudwy which was only a short walk from Shell Island.

From then on, walks with binoculars strung around their necks in case of any wild birds en route became the habit with the men. We all traipsed along in swimming costumes so we could swim after the walk. Aunties, cousins, friends and neighbours all holidaying together – it became quite a jamboree. The nudists had a ‘lookout’ standing on top of the dunes to warn clothed intruders to keep away. It was all good fun; we never actually got further than the boundary of the island. After collecting firewood later on in the afternoon, we would lay the campfire
ready for partying and the lively sing song that followed.

Getting into difficulty

Towards the evening, three of us went for a walk round by the estuary. Cousin Julie, sister Sal and I decided to do a bit more exploring. The sun was going down and the evening was serenely warm. Ever the explorer, Julie decided to wade across a river running across the sand flats. Sal

followed her; I’ve always been more cautious and decided to keep my feet on the ground and stay put. A boy on a canoe was enjoying a glide round the waterways, at the same time as Dad and Uncle passed in the car, off to get supplies from the nearby village for the barbeque later on. They pipped and waved as they passed. Julie put her Wellington boot into the river to step back the way she’d paddled, only to find that she was up to her waist.

“Help, I’m stuck,” she shouted to me. Then I panicked. Sal had a go, and also was up to her waist in the water. That’s when we realised they were trapped on the estuary with the tide coming in faster than they could paddle back. I felt frightened, so I can’t imagine how they felt. What a relief it was to see Uncle’s car coming back along the causeway with him and Dad laughing and waving at us once more. I shouted louder than I ever had done in my life before.

“Help. They’re stuck, the tide’s coming in and they can’t get back.”

Now Dad was always full of fun laughing and joking but in a crisis, he’s your man. Barely had the car stopped than he jumped out, ran faster than I’d ever seen him. He bellowed to the canoeist.

“Hey mate, lend us your canoe, they’re trapped.” Thank goodness the chap pulled up on the bank and calmly handed his boat over to Dad, who manoeuvred it to where my sister and cousin were by now crying hysterically. One straddled the front, and the other the back, and he rowed them safely to where I was standing. I hauled them both to land, so thankful that Dad and Uncle had been passing at that moment. With great relief we made our way back to camp for burgers, sausages and mugs of soup.

The sing songs round the campfire went on till late into the night. My favourite time was when Auntie’s large teapot got passed round, then it was time for us to go to bed. There was nothing cosier than listening to the adults telling jokes thinking that we couldn’t hear through the walls of the tent.

As we grew older, the tent was replaced by a touring caravan but I remember with a fondness those early days of camping on Shell Island.

Susan Jones, Atherstone, Warwickshire.