Opinion

I'm in north Wales, on the fantasy beach holiday of my childhood

A family trip to Wales in the Seventies became the stuff of legend – amazingly it's still living up to the dream

Harlech Castle, Gwynned

Sam found the perfect veggie scotch egg near Harlech Castle Image: Roman Grac from Pixabay

In the late Seventies my parents took my three older brothers and me to north Wales for a fortnight. I’ve no idea why they identified this place as a holiday destination; I can’t understand how anyone chose a holiday before the internet. Did we really just walk into a high street travel agent and ask them what they had on offer?

These days I like to check every review on Tripadvisor, every image on Google Earth and every video on YouTube before I even think about committing a deposit. In the Seventies, you just got in your car, crossed your fingers and headed out into the great unknown.

I was just a baby on this Wales trip. Apparently, I cried all the way there in the car and throughout most of the holiday. Anyway, despite this, I’m told everyone else had a great time. It gets talked about quite a lot, perhaps because it was the last time our family went away together and created what might have passed for golden memories before my parents split just a few months later.

Many times I have heard tell of that wondrous fortnight spent playing in rolling sand dunes and on sprawling, sandy beaches. I’ve heard about the walks through magical woodland, the waterfalls, the friendly people and the steam train rides. I remember none of this, of course, but it’s always lived as an idyllic fantasy in my imagination.

So, this year, I decided to try and recreate it with my own little family. Obviously, I researched the shit out of the whole trip for months in advance before hitting the road in the last week of August. Still, I didn’t quite know what to expect. My kids (15 and 10) were clearly underwhelmed by the prospect of a summer holiday that didn’t involve flying anywhere with your passport. So, I really needed north Wales to over-deliver.

The drive out of London, up through the Midlands and across the border into Wales was not immediately exhilarating. The kids sulked in the back with their headphones in. Then Snowdonia National Park emerged on the horizon and the sun crept through the clouds. Eventually, through gaps between the mountains, we saw the coast. It was breathtaking. The sort of aesthetically enchanting arrival you just don’t get from touching down outside a tatty arrivals terminal in Spain.

I’ve been around a bit, but I’m hardly Alan Whicker. So my pronouncements on this sort of thing are not necessarily the most authoritative or credible. But, for what it’s worth, north Wales is the most beautiful place I have ever been.

Previously, I would have said Lake Como in Italy or perhaps Yosemite National Park in California. But if this was a World Cup of Places north Wales would smash the pair of them on the basis that it comprises all the things they have and more.

All the nostalgic talk I’d heard of sand dunes and forests and golden beaches and awe-inspiring mountains – it was all true. If anything, it was better than even the dewy-eyed reminiscences of my family had suggested. Kids aren’t easily won over by the slightly abstract notion of beauty; when it comes to holidays, they prefer more tangible enticements such as arcades or waterparks or all-inclusive buffets. But the majesty of the north Wales coast even impacted upon their cynical, iPhone-intoxicated minds. They were spellbound. We all were.

Where we stayed there was wifi and flat whites and all the other bollocks that used to be the preserve of urban life. As a vegetarian, I was slightly concerned that I might be ill-catered for while eating out. But even that turned out to be ill-founded, city-folk prejudice: at a deli next to Harlech Castle, I bought a vegetarian scotch egg encased in onion bhaji rather than meat. It was one of the most delicious, not to mention innovative, snacks I have ever tasted.

I don’t suppose they would have had those sort of mod cons back in the Seventies. But still, how could my parents have divorced after visiting a place as wonderful as this?

Read more from Sam Delaney here. Follow him on Twitter here.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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