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Shell Island

  • Campfires allowed
  • Dogs welcome
  • Beaches nearby
Remote, island-style camping with a big bang of beach for your buck

Shell Island is truly a camping phenomenon. The whole place has been preserved in a wild and relatively undeveloped state and lucky campers can choose to pitch wherever they want over a whole 330 of its 460 acres. It’s not, strictly speaking, an island at all. However, its remoteness helps to retain an islandy sort of feel despite the huge sand dunes that now link it to the mainland.

The beauty of Shell Island is that it’s a remote, self-contained camping community, cut off from the rest of the world save for a two-mile causeway. Admittedly, the arrivals area can be a bit of a shock at peak times. You may find a seething mass of humanity spilling out from the reception, pub, shops and café, but once you’re through the barrier, the site opens up before you against a backdrop of clear blue seas, and it’s down to you to find your own special slice of peninsula paradise.

The trick is to successfully navigate the seething reception area as speedily as possible, then get the heck out of there and find your very own slice of peninsula paradise. Options include cliff-top spots with great views, sheltered fields near to the amenities or small enclaves hidden among the sand dunes. There are a few highly sought-after pitches called ‘the Hollows’ right on the edge of the sea, or for real seclusion explore the woods at the eastward edge of the peninsula, where you’ll find small, shady clearings among the trees.

Nowhere else in Wales gives you such freedom to camp wherever you like. The simple, golden rule promoted by the Shell Island team is not to pitch within 20 metres of another tent. Add to this our own Cool Camping rule - arrive as early as possible to find a good pitch, especially during holidays and summer weekends. If it’s really full, look for clues that people might be about to leave – a quick, polite chat is usually all that’s required to confirm it and reserve a prime spot. Just beyond the dunes, the beach stretches for more than six miles to the small seaside town of Barmouth (Abermaw), but do check the tide table first if you’re planning a stroll.

Given the beach, the remoteness and the spatial freedom that Shell Island gives you, it’s not surprising that many families bag a good spot and stay here all summer. All over the island during July/August, you’ll find mini-enclaves where families have set up village-like settlements, marked out by colourful wind-breakers. They’re hooked all right. Get past the madness that greets you at Shell Island’s entrance, and you might soon be, too.

Details

Facilities

The huge sand dunes and expansive beach are all you really need for daytime entertainment; campfires will provide the evening fun. During high season there is often some organised entertainment of the disco/karaoke variety back at the restaurant, but it’s no contest for the draw of the campfire. Supermarket, camping/beach shop, snack bar/restaurant, free hot showers, laundry, cheesy evening entertainment. For top-notch BBQ food, including delicious minted Welsh spring lamb kebabs, head to Dylan Richards Family Butcher, in Llanbedr village, just over the causeway.

Nearby

Three miles north of Llanbedr is the town of Harlech, whose principal feature is a precariously perched castle, but whose narrow, winding streets are also worth exploring. The views of Cardigan Bay and the Snowdonia mountains make this town a great place to get your regional bearings; and once you have those, it would be rude not to go for at least a quick stroll somewhere in Snowdonia National Park. For traditional British seaside resort attractions, head south along the coast to Barmouth, some 7 miles south of Shell Island causeway.

Food & Drink

For top-notch BBQ food, including delicious minted Welsh spring lamb kebabs, head to Dylan Richards Family Butcher, also in Llanbedr, located just over the causeway. The onsite bar can get brash and noisy. For something more subdued, the Victoria Inn (01341 241213) is fashioned out of Welsh stone, has a steadfastly traditional interior and pretty beer garden. Bar food is served daily. It’s almost opposite the entrance to the causeway back on the mainland.

Opening Times

Mar–Oct.

Family Friendly

It’s a huge site, so expect the kids to run off and get lost somewhere. Issuing them with a walkie-talkie might be helpful.

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Accommodation

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Location

Contact Shell Island, Llanbedr, Merioneth, Gwynedd LL45 2PJ

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Getting There

From Barmouth, take the A496 north towards Harlech. At Llanbedr village, turn left at the bridge and follow the road to the causeway. Llanbedr railway station on the Cambrian Coast line is on the mainland side of the causeway. It’s a couple of miles to walk from there, but feels longer if you are hauling heavy gear.

Reviews

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Rated ★★★★☆ over 9 reviews

★★★★☆

Such great potential....

Me and my partner visited last week after he visited the site for a night with friends a few years ago. The site itself is in an amazing location! The dunes are very impressive and the beach is beautiful. The site is huge and if you drive far enough around you can escape the busier fields and find nice secluded areas to set up camp, which we did. 

We stayed for a total of 3 nights, the first of which was lovely. The second however was ruined by the family from hell turning up and camping at the pitch next to us, all we got was screaming scouse accents all night and they even set off Chinese lanterns, a great idea on a campsite??!! ...not the nice relaxing peaceful evening we had the night before. We moved site and reported them to security, not sure if anything got done about it though. 

Overview of this campsite is that it has great potential to be an amazing campsite but unfortunately you can't guarantee that the rest of the campers will be respectful of the rules and other campers. Facilities are limited and a bit of a drive if you set up camp far away but its worth it to be away from the crowds.

Aug 18, 2013 by Freyggle
★☆☆☆☆

Awful

I had heard about shell island from friends for a while so was excited to be going.  Unfortunately it was packed and our (small) tent ended up wedged between two larger ones (good as a windbreak) but not exactly what I was expecting.  When its busy, the 20m rule appears to be converted into a 20cm rule.

The facilities were worse than I would expect for a site 10% of its size - 8 washing up sinks for the whole site and the toilets were badly maintained portacabins which always had queues (even through the night) because there were so few of them for the size of the site.  The toilets were also regularly blocked and infrequently cleaned.  The site was strewn with rubbish (probably as a result of bins without tops and the wind).

Overall, the location is fantastic, the site is poor.

Aug 13, 2013 by F Rendell
★★★★☆

Shell Island

We have just returned from 4 nights and 5 days camping at Shell Island. Our 10 year old said the holiday was Awesome and he enjoyed it just as much as going abroad!

Shell Island has magnificent views over the mountains and the coastline. The beaches are golden and the sand dunes do make you feel as if you are abroad!! The rocks are perfect for the kids (aged 10 and 32) + dogs to climb on and explore.

The pitches are large enough for you not to be too close to your neighbours and close enough if there is a few of you. Plenty of space for kite flying/football etc.

We will definately be coming here again, would recommend to anyone to try this site.

Aug 27, 2011 by letty
★★★★★

Shell Island

You definitley need to call ahead the day of to make sure you arrive when the tide is out. We drove to Wales from Cambridgeshire and nearly did not make it in time! We had a great spot just down from the main toilets just off of the water.

Everyone around us was at least 20m away and no one made too much noise. For camping with younger children (infant and 2yo) it was a great campsite. Not only did we have the sandy beach and the sea shell beach but there was also a nice playground.The showers and toilets were easy enough to use with the littleones and they were kept cleaner than I anticipated.

Barlech Castle is located just down the road and we found quite a bit to see in the area. We had an absolutley relaxing and fantastic time here that we plan on heading back next July and we can only hope we have warm sunny days again.

Aug 12, 2011 by CWettern
★★☆☆☆

Shell Island

MMMMM. a real mixed bag....

Totally true about arriving, we really thought we'd gone to hell on earth on arriving, but after much 'Oh God's' we found a picture perfect spot far from the madding crowds at the base of a dune, and shared it with a lovely family from Bolton and our 2 daughters aged 5 & 2 had a whale of a time. Had 2 glorious days of sun, sea and sand, if you avoid the madness around the bar area.

Our last night was completly shattered by a noisy, brash, careless and inconsiderate pair of families who took up residence in the hollow after the other family left. They pitched REALLY close to ours (supposed to be a 20m sapce between tents), were shouting and swearing at their kids all night, their dinosaur dog got loose at 5am, sounding like it was eating my daughter through the tent, we found a terrified toad the next day it was obviously chasing, but no apologies, just more screaming, swearing and beating of the dog.

We beat a hasty retreat the next morning, packed up and left with a huge sigh of relief. Sadly it has tarnished our time there and we won't return as the risk of having awful neighbours is too high, as the rest of the site seemed full of similar people, the sights and things we heard were just awful, and not something I want to expose my children to again.

The litter also a massive problem, broken glass,cans and cigarette butts everywhere, the pitch needed a good clear up before we set up.

The dunes, beach, views are all remarkable and when it was good it was very very good, but when it was bad it was horrid.

Aug 9, 2011 by hannahnutloop
★★★☆☆

Shell Island

Fantastic location with plenty of options for large groups and those who want to camp in more isolated surroundings. There were quite a few large groups but overall this wasn’t a problem. Site was quiet overall during the week but got quite noisy at the weekend. Avoid fields near to amenities as these can get very overcrowded at the weekends and people are a bit clueless about the 20m away from another tent rule! I am not sure how the owners of Shell Island would propose to enforce this rule anyway. Shower and toilet facilities leave something to be desired and there are definately insufficent for the size of the site. I would definately recommend camping further away from the main amenities, come early to get a quiet pitch.
Jun 28, 2011 by elainem
★★★☆☆

Shell Island

After hearing about Shell Island for many years my partner and I stayed there for the May bank holiday weekend. There was a sign up saying it was full, but we were able to book in. I fully agree with all other comments about the hecticness around reception, but once we had booked in and drove through the campsite it was well worth it. It was windy, so we spent time trying to find a good spot, which we did. The fact that it was not in a square field, but rambling dunes with little camping areas was really lovely. However, as has been previously mentioned, litter was disgusting. The beach was fabulous, but we could not see a rubbish bin on the beach. There is not sufficient shower facilities, resulting in queuing and when you did get a shower they left something to be desired. I would rather pay a little extra and have good clean and plentiful facilities, and no rubbish.
May 27, 2011 by Joan Board
★★★★★

Shell Island

WOW!! I love Shell Island and can not wait to go back! Went late in March on a beautiful Spring weekend with the Mr and the dog (both wellcome at the site) The place wasnt too busy so we were able to pick an amazing pitch... Bit of a walk to the loo block, could of been further. The beach is amazing, was covered in star fish when we were there. Would consider camping on the sand dunes when we go again, dont quote me on it but I recall something about being able to have fires on the dunes. Facilities nothing special, stores for basically anything you could possibly need on a camping holiday. All the staff we met were really lovely. I think high season it would be just too holiday camp for my liking but on a quiet week in the summer I’ll be back.
Apr 27, 2011 by campin-suzi
★★★★☆

Shell Island

Having only ever been camping a couple of times as a teenager I never thought I’d willingly try it again. However, after a random day trip to Shell Island in 2009 both my wife and I felt that not to try camping here would be plain wrong. Fast forward 18 months to August 2010 and there we are trying to make sense of camping on Shell Island........the Island of 2 very distinct halves. After an undeniably pretty drive through Harlech, Llanbedr (supposing like me you arrived from somewhere north of Shell Island) and then over the causeway you’re greeted with quite a large crowd of people who a) want to make their way to reception and b) are hanging out near the pub or c) waiting for a shower. This seemed a little off putting at first as I was hoping for somewhere a little more private. After dealing with the very friendly and helpful staff my wife and I began the task of finding somewhere to pitch our tent. If you want seclusion, avoid the fields close to the amenities. The only real benefit of camping here is that the fields are for people without dogs. After a lengthy drive and much muttering we found a spot under the dunes which was perfect. Surrounded by bushes, small trees and grass, a small sand pit for the kids and very private. It was actually impossible to see another tent from our pitch but this is where we discovered what we felt was Shell Island’s biggest problem. Litter. The pitch we found was so nice we didn’t want to give it up but that meant setting the kids the task of litter picking and even by their usually lacklustre standards when it comes to working they managed to fill two shopping bags. This was something we saw evidence of out through the site quite regularly and it’s a real shame that a few lazy and untidy individuals would want to try to spoil it for others. On the whole though, most people did dispose of their litter in the bins which are dotted around the site. Anyway, back to the good. One we cleaned up and got settled in it was time to find our bearings and explore. If you do go to the far flung places of the site then you’re in for a treat as you do get a real feeling of being out in the wild. The daily walk to get milk for the kids was at least a half hour round trip and that was when we took the shortcuts over the fields. If you follow the roads then factor in at least an extra fifteen minutes. Despite the remoteness there are lots of water taps around the site and plenty of chemical portaloos if you don’t fancy a hike if you’re desperate. The evening sky is epic due to the lack of light pollution and for an extra special touch there are plenty of Chinese paper lanterns launched from round the site. As an extra point to note. If you want a camp fire you need a fire bucket/basket. These can be bought in the camping shop on site but they require assembly so you’ll need (if memory serves correctly) a 10mm spanner and screwdriver or just a screwdriver for a rough build. Despite the drawbacks of Shell Island I truly loved it here due to the fact that as far as camping goes it seems to have something for everyone. My view is if you didn’t like it you probably didn’t try hard enough to find somewhere to enjoy it. There was more than enough here, including the fantastic views and lovely beaches, to make me think that after all those years of not camping have somehow been wasted. Great stuff and well worth a look.
Aug 16, 2010 by Damndog