Not the sort of headline you’d expect to see everyday (unless of course you’re a Sun reader), but do please stick around – it’ll (hopefully) all make sense in the end.
For better or worse, and perhaps rather cynically, campsites are functionally necessary to our otherwise ‘wild camping’ ethos. Once in a while, we have to empty-out and fill-up (if you’ll forgive the rather indelicate phrasing) but most of the time we prefer to find isolated overnight stops off the beaten track (or at least away from a main road.) In such locations we aim for a good view, a bit of peace and quiet and a minimal sense that we are – in some skewed way – communing with nature.
So it is that today, after three nights of aforementioned wild debauchery, we find ourselves on a farm campsite – rocking and rolling in the teeth of a howling Welsh gale (we couldn’t find a weather app that offered any different) – but at least being nurtured and nourished through our bright-orange umbilical power lead. Fresh water has also been piped aboard and the unmentionables have also been disposed of via an innocuous-sounding ‘cassette’ and a removable manhole cover.
And already today, we have done Pwllheli. And Abersoch. And Aberdaron. All visited, assessed and enjoyed in different ways, mainly due to the inclement weather which has encouraged us to tour the region in the comparative comfort of the Knumptywagen, alighting only when necessary to either stretch our legs or explore the delights proffered by these three Lleyn peninsular settlements.
As if knowing that stormy seas would be more prevalent than calm, Aberdaron was hunkered down in a foetal curl, it’s featureless back turned seawards, while the business of the village could be conducted in the comparative shelter of its protected, soft little tummy. Here, gift-shops; inns and pubs; cafés and ice-cream kiosks could provide fulfilment to the gently meandering hordes who’d spilled out of cars parked with due acknowledgment paid to the National Trust, which owns much of this coastline. A stand-out, Austrian-styled, ochre-coloured bakery provided both a focal point and an exciting range of sweet and savoury products, of which we availed as if we’d been bereft of freshly-baked-anything for several days, which of course we had. Meanwhile, a stone bridge over the gently flowing River Daron provided a characterful bottleneck for oversized delivery trucks, seemingly bemused by the ebb and flow of indecisive pedestrians all trying to choose between cornets or cake.
Sadly, many of the cafés were Covid-closed, reducing our potential entertainment value considerably so we left Aberdaron behind and drove on to visit windswept Abersoch. On approach, it was clear that this seaside town was a-bustle with roaming herds of pedestrians, all proudly modelling Joules, North Face and Mountain Warehouse on pavement catwalks, bemusement apparent on their faces as the Covidly Closed Café Culture made itself felt here as well. We circumnavigated the town on its nifty little one-way traffic system, failed to find any readily available parking and headed on out again.
Something vaguely unsavoury about Pwllheli had been nagging in my mind, eventually to be realised as one of Butlin’s holiday camp locations, evidence of which was nowhere to be seen. Traffic queued on the main approach road; we flowed slowly with it and eventually washed up in a mundane car-park on the outskirts of the town centre. Although rain had abated, the gale-force wind tested our door-hinges as we alighted (also modelling Mountain Warehouse, I’ll have you know) to visit the beach, from which we immediately beat a hasty retreat with our fashionable mass-market outerwear tearing at its own zipped and Velcro fastenings in the flapping gale.
Narrow pavements were plied by fellow tourists, being accidentally windblown into each other’s social distance and there was much ineffective and semi-dangerous stepping into the road to get past. Short rambling queues hovered indecisively outside charity shops, many of these sadly indistinguishable from more bona fide retail outlets. In between these microcosms of human endeavour, other closed shops bravely sported hand-scrawled ‘Hope To See You Again Soon’ notices in their dulled, cataract-grey windows. Or at least that’s what we hoped they said, as most were in Welsh and were probably imparting messages far more inhospitable.
With wind, rain and grey scudding clouds prevailing, we were about to give up and tack back to the Knumptywagen when a sturdy, still-weather-defiant pavement A-board caught our attention. A blue painted border framed the enticing word ‘seafood’ and – to our surprise – the small, compact blue painted and tiled shop – Llyn Seafoods – was not only open for business but excitedly stocked with all manner of, well, seafood.
Window shelves sported exotic spice mixes enveloped in brown paper; fresh lemons and limes proudly shouted their own exorbitant prices; a basket of cleaned scallop shells (25p each; 5 for a £1) rattled provocatively as you leaned over to disbelievingly examine bottles of Clamato – a definitively New World blend of tomato and clam juice rarely spotted on these shores. Paprika and chorizo quarrelled with each other for attention, and a quietly-spoken bespectacled gentleman, complete with striped fishmonger’s apron, held court behind glass-fronted counters awash with – erm, well, yeah, like – fresh seafood.
A meaty slab of hake; giant prawns (clearly not harvested from these windswept shores, we didn’t care); fresh anchovies shiny and slithery with oil; a couple of scallops (whose bright orange roe curled protectively around their mothers, we still didn’t care) were all acquired as we salivated our way back onto the windswept pavement. Accompaniments? We must have accompaniments! Fortuitously, immediately next door, a Spar convenience store announced its presence with a delicately typographed ‘Deli’ sign inscribed on its outer wall. Really?
In we went, fuelled by fish-induced acquisitiveness, and were – quite frankly – astounded by the attractiveness of the interior layout. No sign of fusty rows of own-label baked beans nor plastic-bagged, thin-sliced white bread. Instead, a riot of colour and diversity from a glisteningly fresh vegetable counter; sliced charcuterie and cooked meats; open-shelved loose bakery items; wine racked as if we’d stumbled into someone’s private cellar; a preponderance of wooden shelves and natural wood claddings; imaginative lighting, décor and layout all immediately transported us to a more exotic and foreign shore than downtown Pwllheli. And then, as an almost humble pièce de résistance, we spot the ultimate in Spar convenience-store offerings – a bubbling clearwater tank full of live lobsters, each sporting healthy-looking saturated sapphire blue armaments, on offer at £15 a pop.
We decide momentarily – and with a fleeting degree of sadness – that we have already acquired sufficient piscatorial comestibles from next door and therefore duly reach the tills, sans lobster, but incredulous with awe to have found such an oasis in this otherwise unremarkable town.
Independent seafood and live Spar crustaceans? You’ve just saved Pwllheli.