Many people you speak to have either never heard of Shell Island, or have, like myself, been there many times. It does tend to to be a bit of a Marmite site, which you either love or hate, although, those who love it, do seem to be in a significant majority.
By way of illustration; this morning I returned from a holiday to the town of Lindos, on Rhodes. The apartments we stay at are the true epitome of; ‘Basic Greek’. The walls are whitewashed, with no pictures, TV, internet, fancy furnishings or equipment. The apartments are designated ‘self catering’ but only have a sink, two ring electric hob and fridge to assist you in that activity. These apartments, however, are situated in the most beautiful location I, personally, have ever been to, within a stones throw of the main beach, and are booked up months in advance.
In a way, Shell Island is a similar scenario. With over 450 acres of site, some 300 of which are available for camping (making it the largest dedicated camp site in Europe) some of the facilities are, of course, compromised (see below) but the location alone makes it worth the trip. Shell Island has it all, from this perspective, huge, safe, sandy beaches, extensive sand dunes, rock pools to explore, crabbing, sailing, fishing, pretty much everything you could want in a UK family holiday destination.
The site is located on a peninsula (not an island, as the name suggests) just outside the village of Llanbedr, and some 9 miles, by road, from Barmouth. The only road access is via a causeway, across the estuary. Much is made of the fact that this causeway regularly floods, at high tide, but this is not an every day occurrence, and is easy to plan for, using the Tide Times Planner on the Shell Island Web Site.
The site is only licensed for tents and motor homes, though, of course, for those of us with folding campers, we are classified under the same heading as trailer tents, and, as with all other sites in the UK, we appear to be welcome visitors.
On arrival at the site, you will encounter a fork in the road, as you enter the main complex. To the left is the visitors’ car park, reception, amenities block, with toilets, showers and washing up facilities, and the south side of the main building complex, with access into the restaurant, large snack bar and their own little tavern. To the right of the fork are the main security controlled gates into the site (you will need a car pass to get through here). On this side you have the laundry, games room, small supermarket, gift shop and camping and leisure shop. You also have vehicular access through to the main site.
Dotted around the main site you now have toilet / washing facilities, housed in small porta cabins. Thankfully, these have replaced the stomach churning porta loos that were once a prominent feature of the site. Those have now been confined to the furthest reaches of the site, in main season only. Also dotted around the site are fresh water points, fire points and large refuse bins. The notable omission, for many, will be the lack of any electric hookup facilities whatsoever.
Shell Island is an extremely extensive site, which makes a brief review a little more difficult, and we will try to look at each of the facilities in turn, to get an overall impression of the site as a whole.
Up until a couple of years ago, you could not pre book pitches on Shell Island. This was both a blessing and a curse. On the down side, there was always the possibility of arriving on site and being turned away, due to lack of space, however, on the up side; because Shell Island is at it’s best when the weather is good, it does allow you the option to just up and go, depending on the weather forecast for that weekend or holiday period. One nice feature of the Shell Island Web Site is that you can go online at any given time and check current availability, so you don’t get caught out; Shell Island Site Availability. You can also phone them to check, if there is any uncertainty. These days, you have the best of both worlds, as a certain proportion of the pitches can now be pre booked online, with the remainder being allocated on a first come first served basis for those turning up on the day. When this was first introduced, the ratio was 25% pre booked, and 75% on the day. At the time of writing, this has been changed to 40% pre bookings and 60% arrival on the day.
Current prices can be found here; Shell Island Camping Price List, but, at prevailing rates, a family of 4, can camp for a whole week, in peak season, for less than £125, which isn’t bad value at all.
OK, so what about the facilities? Starting with the catering side of things; the site has a large snack bar / function room on site, serving all of the usual fayre, from 9 am, until 9 pm, with breakfast being available from 9 am until 10.30 am. Whilst I have never had any complaints about the food, itself, which has always been extremely good, for a snack bar of this type, we have always felt it to be just a little expensive, compared to its peers. Not that this has ever been much of an issue for us, as, lets face it, you don’t usually go to such a lovely location to spend your time sitting in a snack bar all day. This room also plays host to most of the evenings’ entertainment, which is, generally, pretty typical of this size of site, and includes the usual collection of singers, entertainers, DJs etc.
The restaurant, likewise, seems to offer very good food, and the Sunday lunches, in particular, appear to be popular. Again, not cheap, but enough people seem to consider it good value to keep the place busy, and a nice change from BBQs etc if you are there for a Sunday lunch time.
The tavern is a ‘proper’ little pub, and it is testimony to the quality of it that it appears to be frequented by local people, as well as just camping guests. The selection of beers and other drinks is good, and the prices are reasonable. Space inside is extremely limited, but this is not an issue, as most guests tend to filter out into the beer garden / play area outside, or the snack bar (through an inter connecting door) if the weather is not so pleasant).
For those of us wishing to cook our own meals, the small supermarket is surprisingly well stocked, and reasonably priced. Meats, veg, salad, breads, canned items, confectionery, pretty much everything is catered for, even if the choice isn’t huge. We’ve never struggled to find what we needed to make a decent meal there. Even if we did, it’s not a massive jaunt to the nearest supermarket, which, I would guess, is 4 – 5 miles down the road, and has everything you could ever need to ‘fill in the gaps’.
Next to the supermarket is the laundry room and games room, and, beyond that, is the gift shop. This is a relatively small kiosk, selling all of the usual paraphernalia, such as branded gifts, toys, beach items, ice cream etc. It also sells a lot of nets and buckets for the popular activity of crabbing, which is mostly performed at the Shell Island end of the causeway.
Beyond the gift shop is the Camping & Leisure shop. I have to say; they do seem to have got this one just right. It’s a fair sized, but not huge, shop, selling just about everything you could ever need during your stay, from fishing tackle / bait to clothing, and a deceptively wide range of camping supplies and equipment from basic small items and consumables up to furniture, wind breaks etc. I can honestly say I’ve never gone in there looking for something and come out without it (as well as one or two things I didn’t plan on acquiring as well, usually). At one time, this used to be the place to purchase Chinese lanterns, and this was once a fabulous spectacle to see a hundred or more rising up from the site almost every night. I guess it was only a matter of time, however, before this became a health and safety issue, with so much canvas and so many gas appliances dotted around the site.
Next on the list of facilities is the toilet / washing facilities. This is where the site just begins to suffer a little in the high season, due, primarily, to its sheer size. The site is the largest in Europe, and yet there is only one central toilet / shower / washing up block. Of course, there are other toilet blocks around the site, but these only contain toilets and wash basins for personal washing, with no showers or washing up facilities. That said, they are far nicer than the festival style porta loos they replaced, and more than adequate for day to day needs.
If I’m honest, I’ve never really noticed a significant issue with the washing up facilities, and hardly, if ever, need to queue for them, but I can’t really comment on the one shower block unfortunately, as, every time I have gone to take a look at it, the queues have been so long, I couldn’t get in. There are, however, a couple of external showers, adjacent to the main washing up area, which are great for washing off the salt water, or washing your hair etc (as long as you keep your costumes on and don’t mind an audience). For our part, we have always taken a toilet / shower tent with us, as we prefer to pitch up that bit farther away from the main area.
Other facilities around the site include (at the time of writing); plenty of rubbish disposal points, 22 fire points and 35 water points. Unfortunately, the only elsan emptying point is, again, in the central complex, so yet another car journey every time it needs emptying. The number of water points around the site means that you are never too far from the nearest one. Unfortunately, you may have to hang around there for a while, as the water supply is just adequate, at best, and virtually non existent at times of greatest demand. You have to make allowances for this kind of thing on a site of this size, as the logistics of service delivery must be a nightmare, but it’s worth mentioning it here, so as to give a full and detailed review.
The site does offer a comprehensive range of other services and facilities (mostly at a cost) including phone and other device charging, electric sockets for hair dryers etc, ice pack rental and WI-Fi (be aware, though, that this is limited to the close proximity of the main block).
Fires are allowed on the site, provided they are raised from the ground, to avoid damaging the grass, though many people prefer to bypass this problem completely, by having open fires on the beach, instead.
There is no question; Shell Island is one of the nicest natural locations you will ever visit, with a wealth of wildlife, and a complete range of coastal features to chose from and enjoy. Dogs are also welcome (up to a maximum of two) and there are some great places to walk them on site.
You can chose anything, from the relative isolation of a pitch in the sand dunes or wildlife areas of the park, to the hustle and bustle of the main complex area, with ready access to Wi Fi, showers, washing up facilities and shops / eateries, or anything in between. You can chose your outlook, from open sea, to estuary, internal water features, wild flower meadows, wooded areas and dunes. If you’re the kind of person who can’t live without your electric hookup, internet, and top end shower / changing facilities on your doorstep, you may not get on with the site, but, personally, I find there’s a way around everything, and I feel it’s worth the compromise, which is why I always hit the site armed with a solar panel to recharge my leisure battery, and a wealth of equipment (TV / DVD, hair dryers, microwave etc) all of which run on 12V.
Another thing we like, here, is that you can chose your own pitch, anywhere on the site, but not within 20 meters of another pitch, unless by prior agreement, so you never feel too cramped.
If you have the weather, then few sites can match Shell Island. If not, there is plenty to do on site, and 10 miles down the road, in Barmouth, as well as many tourist attractions a bit further afield.
If you’ve never been to Shell Island, especially if you have kids, then I would recommend you give it a go. Even if you have, there have been quite a few improvements over the last 3 or 4 years, so you might like to take another look.
If you want to know any more, or to book online, why not check out the Shell Island Web Site here?