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Camping and rustic glamping in a working boatyard with an exceptional waterside location on the Dyfi estuary

You’d never know the acoustics in the hull of a boat could be so perfect until you’ve tried it. A piano, tucked beneath the low beams of the main deck, is alive under the fingers of a particularly gifted musician and everyone else, clustered along rug-thrown benches, is belting out the chorus of “What shall we do with the drunken sailor…” Every verse seems to grow louder, at one point the guitar is even picked up for extra gusto, but it all peters out into laughter when the group runs out of lines and fresh ideas have all run dry.

Somewhere between pub, party, village hall and your best mate's living room, this is just another night below deck aboard The Boy John – officially Cool Camping's favourite ship. By the next day the partying pianists have left and a couple have taken a quieter captaincy of the vessel, kipping in the cabin where a double bed offers quirky, semi-glamping-esque accommodation.

Unique as it may be, though, The Boy John is just one feather in this unusual campsite’s cap. Smugglers Cove Boatyard contains as many hidden gems as the name suggests and when you step from the hull of the boat out into the eye-blinkingly bright sunlight there is still a treasure trove to explore. This, after all, is not really a glamping site at all but an eclectic, rustic sustainable camping resource with a little bit of everything on offer.

Smugglers Cove Boatyard started life as an old slate works and quay overlooking the beautiful Dyfi Estuary. For years it continued its existence building boats, offering moorings and acting as a hub for local sailors. But now, while these nautical trades continue, it has also opened its doors to fellow outdoor enthusiasts. Along the coastal footpath, a hundred meters from the boatyard, three individual camping pitches offer the very best spots on the Dyfi’s banks and, tucked beneath the tree line, they provide ultimate waterside privacy in a positively dreamy location.

Camping here is a truly unique experience. Beyond your tent flaps is a scene that changes as much within the hour as most sites do across the season. Cobble a morning brew together over the campfire and munch on blackberries as high tide laps beyond your toes and wooden sailing boats to and fro across the estuary. Come lunchtime it’s become a private beach, the water withdrawing to a narrow channel slithering through the sands while long-legged birds wade along its edges. In fact, there’s actually a nature reserve that campers look across to, RSPB Ynys-hir on the opposite shore, so it’s no wonder the birdlife is so abundant – sail across at high tide for a closer look.

Landlubbers are just as welcome as those arriving with boat in tow. Head back along the coastal path to where cars are parked and explore the local fishing villages or, better still, keep two feet firmly on the ground by venturing into the peaks of Snowdonia National Park and walking the ridges that crinkle towards the north east. The views reveal a vast vista of the estuary below, though don’t expect to see the campsite. Tucked in their perfectly secluded location, your tents really are a camping cubbyhole in the wilds, worth every second of the 100m walk to get to.

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The Owner Says

Camping and glamping in a working boatyard with an exceptional location on the Dyfi estuary.

This small, friendly boatyard on the Dyfi estuary, is located at an old slate works and quay in the Snowdonia National Park.

The boatyard is run by John Wassell and Geoff Hill, the day to day management of the yard is done by boat builder Giles Thaxton.

We have established a small, slightly eccentric, sustainable resource to be used by those interested in the outdoors.

We have a slipway and boat hoist, moorings & hard standing for smaller boats, toilets, showers, camping and holiday cottages.

Located 3 miles upriver from Aberdyfi bar and on the A493

The Boy John - a boat on the land.
A love nest for two or tiny venue for camping groups: a former Scottish fishing boat pulled up onto the shore and converted into a quirky space.
If you are looking for a romantic weekend away with a difference, the Boy John experience will be memorable!
The Boy John is 40’ long and 13’ wide, with good standing headroom. The main space has a kitchen/bar area with 2 ring gas hob; a piano and a wood burning stove, with seating along the sides for 12 people. The space is lit with fairy lights and spot lights, using solar generated electricity. Beyond, the stern cabin has a double bed, and is lined with boards that follow the lines of the hull, which gives it a real nautical feel. Upstairs the wheelhouse is glazed and you can sit outside on deck enjoying amazing views of the estuary.
If you have booked our cottages or camping pitches, the Boy John can provide a warm dry space for your group on the foreshore. She has been used for music gigs, films, storytelling and party space.


Add Your Review

Amazing place

We had a wonderful stay on the Boy John!! It was ideal with beautiful views and all the nacesities! Made for a great evening with a bonfire dinner.
Nov 12, 2018 by Rosie Rushton

Idyllic and beautiful spot in a fantastic boat!

We've just returned from our trip to Smugglers Cove and couldn't have asked for a better holiday. Perfect, peaceful spot with plenty of wildlife, walks and scenery. But best of all, the Boy John was idyllic. Ideal for relaxing in and watching the world outside our window. Lots of lovely evenings spent watching nature's TV with the burning fire and great piano too! We'll be back!
Oct 21, 2018 by Laura Horsley

extactly what we wanted

we had a brilliant two night stay, we were the only campers and we barely saw anyone else. it was quite and felt a lot closer to wild camping than a campsite which is what we were after. the boatyard is really interesting to walk through and the views are amazing, with a handy fire pit to dry out next to.
Sep 9, 2018 by Victoria Collins

Amazing pitch, beautiful views

This is our second year and despite the tricky car unloading and nightmare slate ground we will be back again. Bring good quality pegs.
Aug 31, 2018 by Pascal Keigher

Escape from the hustle

3rd year in a row and this place still amazes us. I travel with my sister and our kids (now both 8) and 2 furry babies... this is the one place the kids go on and on about returning to.. where to start... the views are breathtaking... always changing from hour to hour. The kids actually play using imagination and not technology... we explore, read books by a camp fire, scavenge for wood, float down the estuary... perfect for family time away from all distractions... there are no frills, no luxury, no heated swimming pools, no arcades, no added costly extras... you rock up, load your stuff in wheel barrows, grab your pitch and enjoy. You are not disturbed. There are only 3 pitches so you are not crammed. 2 loos and a warm shower are more than enough.. if you want the fluffy towels, the hustle, beeping arcades, club houses and theme parks then this is not for you... however if you want to take a step back, return to basics, appreciate time with your friends/ family, make memories then take a chance and visit. The only complaint is next year can't come fast enough... 😊😊😊
Aug 7, 2018 by Jaime

Loving the wilderness

This was the 3rd year running and we love this place. We travel with 2 dogs and 2 kids (both 8) and this is the only place they keep going on about to come back... where to start...the views take your breath away, it's away from everyone and everything ... kids play using imagination and not technology. They scavenge for wood to build fires.. use the current as a lazy river. Read stories by the fire taking in the beauty. This place is exactly what it says.. no frills just a perfect family get away escaping from the rush of life... only compliant next year can't come fast enough... 😁😁😁😁
Aug 6, 2018 by Jaime

The view

A cosy pitch with a fire pit for a small to medium tent just above the high water mark. Adequate, but grotty toilet and shower facilities. A dishwashing area lost under the overgrowth and a long walk to the pitch - all worth it for that view. Great if you have a canoe as well. Paddle with the tide as it's a very strong current.
Aug 4, 2018 by Geoff

World class view, wonderfully idiosyncratic experience

It is what it is – a small working boatyard that has a three camp sites and camping boat - the Boy John. The facilities are pretty basic but completely adequate. The views of the Dyfi estuary are spectacular. Every hour or so the small coastal train trundles by. Within 30 minutes of arriving we spotted an Osprey. At some point a slow worm turned up. We swam, drank whiskey, lit a roaring fire and laughed for hours. The place is not going to suit everyone. It’s not a quite rural retreat, we woke up one morning to find a yacht had been pulled up next to us. And doesn’t have the lavishness of glamping campsites – there are no fluffy towels in the shower. Anyone looking for an electronic hook-up, slot machines or heated swimming pool should go elsewhere. But it is a brilliant place with real character. Wales needs more of these places. They should be cherished.
Jul 30, 2018 by Pearl

Stunning & unspoilt

Loved the location of the pitches and the scenery. Shower was fine, easy to refill drinking water from water points and handy folder of printed local walks. The boatyard itself is really interesting and Aberdyfi just down the road is lovely. Would like to have had more time to explore more so will hopefully return in the future. I personally prefered the no-frills style of the site and it had everything we needed for our stay. The perfect antidote to overcrowded, noisy campsites and the views are amazing.
Jul 4, 2018 by Samotage

Dangerous and dirty

This place is awful! We were meant to stay 3 nights and left very early on the first morning after having had no sleep for the sound of the fast winding road right above us. From start to finish this place was dreadful, the fella on the phone when I called to ask a question was rude (that was a sign!), the pitches are close to each other and you need to be kamikaze to risk it (which we weren't willing to for more than one night), and the toilets (I'm being polite calling it that but there's a far more apt word!) We're filthy dirty, freezing and I wouldn't allow my dog to use them let alone use them myself. The views and scenery were stunning! Nothing's worth that death trap though.
Jun 20, 2018 by Jo,Adam and Solly

best weekend ever

we booked a campsite and the amazing BoyJohn for a family and friends get together last month September 2016. What could I say? the location is amazing the facilities are basic but more than adequate, we went swimming in and sailing on the estuary, grilled fresh caught fish on the beach and had a massive driftwood fire in the evening, other glampers joined us making one big happy party. I think what makes this place so cool is the magic energy that is all around it. We have already booked our next visit for round 2!
Oct 13, 2016 by James

Camping/The boy John

We stayed one night camping on the estuary with amazing views and friendly and welcoming staff however the 60 mph winding road which passed above the tent pitches were slightly unnerving. it is of course protected by a once/twice hit patched up wall. You will be fine :) I'm 100% sure that nobody has been squashed "yet". It all adds to the adventure and it is a small price to pay considering the views and lovely location for walks etc. The owner charged us £10 for a standard bag of logs that were too wet to burn yet later in the evening we found wheel barrows full for £10 a barrow with a honesty box which we thought was a bit cheeky of the owner. We are not to bothered about facilities as we often wild camp but if you are then expect cold showers in a working boat yard (think you can get the picture) We are quite campers who come to walk and enjoy the peace and quite and the lovely views. This was a little to noisy for us with very loud music coming from the hill sides which ecos through the estuary till 3am. (We only stayed one night...unlucky maybe) Overall I would give the camping 5 out of 10 bases on location and views. We also stayed for one night in the boy John at £100 a night. This was supposed to be a treat for us half way through our road trip so that we could get dry and walm before heading to the Pembrokeshire coast. Sadly the boy John was very disappointing, unique and unusual but far from being worth £100 a night. We were told that the boy John was not a sparkling boat but I wasn't quite prepared for the missing Windows rotting wood and large rat holes. I think the smugglers cove may need to recruit a new cleaner. The boat had a very damp smell from the rotting wood and was in need of some very much deserved TLC. It was very sad to see this lovely boat going to wreck and ruin. This is no cozy love shack/romantic getaway. It was however an experience and if we had paid £25 a night to stay here I would not have any complaints but for £100 a night it gives a lot to complain about. Overall the boy John gets a 2.5 out of 10 from us. Just because under all that grime it's a very lovely boat just needing a bit of love and care. If you love boats then please don't let us put you off. As seen in previous reviews of the boy John one persons opinion and experience may differ very much from another and it can be very much down to personal preference. I write this review simply because people work hard for their holidays and therefore I wouldn't want you to waste your well earned cash if this is not for you.
Aug 4, 2016 by Josiehartley

Our stay on Boy John

Honestly the best surprise getaway I've ever experienced. The landscape is both tranquil and breathtaking. It is a very relaxing location with so much to do in the surrounding area. Me and my partner enjoyed it so much we are already organising our next trip (for longer next time) . Hopefully next time we are also going to bring all our family with us! The owners were so friendly and made us feel right at home. The Boy John is so special, we will always treasure our stay. See you soon Smugglers cove. Thank you so much for proving unforgettable memories.
Jul 13, 2016 by Elisha Elliott

Smugglers Cove Camp Site

Beautifully secluded tiny corner of the Dyfi Estuary, a pick of three pitches all with stunning views to take your breath away. The perfect spot to watch the sun go down, a fire sky of electric pink amazingness. Arriving to meet the lovely owners of this campsite they were very welcoming, laid back but very accommodating to our every need, not that we were in need of much, the scenery and instant warming feeling of this tranquil environment captured us into an amazing little bubble. Needless to say to make the experience ever-more magical we needed a campfire and Giles was on hand to provide us with an abundance of firewood and interesting shaped offcuts from the boat yard we were rather reluctant to burn. Waking up to the incoming tide and bird song, you cant ask for much more. This campsite is un-spoilt perfection and we hope it never grows or goes :)

Apr 19, 2015 by Mike

Win a £100 Blacks Voucher!

If you've stayed at Smugglers Cove Boatyard campsite, please take a minute to tell us about your experience. Every month, one lucky reviewer will be picked at random to win a £100 voucher, courtesy of our recommended retailer Blacks. Each review counts as one entry, so get writing!

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