As I type, I am looking out of the window of my mum and dad's house towards Romsley Hill. The view I should have been enjoying this week out of the flapping doorway of my tent was that of Snowdon. But things didn't quite pan out that way...
On Thursday Gemma drove us across The Pennines, over the Manchester Ship Canal, skirted along Colwyn Bay and threaded us through the mountains and valleys of Snowdonia. We reached Shell Island around three o'clock pm. There was a noticeable breeze and the sky was overcast, but we thought this nothing to worry about. We paid for a week's stay and scouted the site until we found a likely spot to pitch; relatively sheltered by a low hedge, away from anyone else, in a dog-free field, near to a tap and the central shower block.
Olive enjoyed running around the infinite space of the field while Gemma and I erected the six-man, three bedroom tent. We had a bit of a struggle - the ground was pretty damp and soft, and the breeze made it difficult to raise the poles. But we got it up just in time for a heavy shower to confine us to the car. When it passed, we unpacked and set up the tent. We then drove back to the camp centre to buy some comestibles and a gas bottle.
By now we were hungry, but with a continued breeze and a brigade of further showers coming in across Tremadog Bay, we decided to treat ourselves and find a restaurant in the mainland. We only had to go as far as Llanbedr, just across the causeway, where we quickly located place to eat. The only other people in the joint seemed to be a large, welsh-speaking birthday party. They eyed us suspiciously as we entered, but failed to adhere to there stereotype by setting fire to us and we were able to enjoy a lovely meal (with pudding) whilst the rain battered the outside world.
Back at the tent, the wind had eased, so we finished making the place homely and put Olive to bed. She went to sleep around 9.30pm and we turned in an hour later. After reading for half-an-hour, it was time for lights out.
I had just drifted off to sleep when Gemma woke me to say that she thought some of the guy ropes had come loose and could I go and check? I grouchily put my trousers on and went out to find that, yes, three of the guys had popped out. I re-pegged them and added a few spares to help support the poles, and came back to bed.
In less than thirty minutes, we were both up, clothed, and physically having to hold up the back of the tent from the inside to prevent total collapse. An awesome, ferocious wind had whipped up in seemingly no time at all and was now pressing down hard on the tent. I literally could not believe it's power, or indeed that this was happening at all. Gemma wanted to abandon the tent and get everything back into the car. I initially resisted, but it quickly became apparent that this was a serious and sustained event rather than a freak gust.
By now, the six-foot-plus height in the tent was being squashed down to just one or two feet of space. Our new LED lamp was dancing madly adding to the sense of horror and carnage, before eventually being flung clean off the ceiling. Gemma got most of our stuff into the boot and the back seat, and we opted now to join it in the car. Gemma got Olive out of her travel cot and into the car-seat whilst I set about unhooking the poles so that the tent could lie flat.
Now that I was outside of the tent, I could see that other campers were all having the same experience. Silhouettes of buckling tents dotted the night horizon, raised voices could be heard in the jet-engine blast, and sand from the dunes was being picked up by the blast and was giving the campers a terrifying exfoliation.
After driving the car onto the flattened (but still pegged) tent, we sat tight. It felt as if we were being shaken by four rugby players. I wanted to stay here and sleep the night, but Gemma observed cars moving about in convoys and preferred to head to the camp centre. I eventually conceded to this and we found a member of staff at the entrance hut. She told us that the tide was (unexpectedly) still high but that the gate at the rear of the site leading to the disused airfield was unlocked so that people could get off the island.
We drove there now, negotiating scores of rabbits and hares, only to find a firmly padlocked gate. We went back to the hut, and the girl explained that the warden had now locked the gate and was leading vehicles across the still partially flooded causeway. She also offered us a refund, which we gladly accepted; on the way to the back exit we had stopped to see if the tent was salvageable. It wasn't. Some of the poles had snapped like cocktail sticks in the wind; one had been pushed down over another and had become cleaved into two shattered parts. I think that this was the point we both agreed that the holiday was over.
We decided to leave the tent and drive. After discussing the option of heading home, we plumped for a slightly shorter drive to my mum and dad's in Halesowen. We figured that given the spare leisure time we both had all over our hands, we would have paid them a visit even after getting back to Leeds. The drive home was dangerous, as the high winds were still around. The isolated Welsh A-roads were by now strewn with leaves and branches, even trees, and my first driving turn was more a question a concentrating on what was round the next bend or brow rather than taking in the breathtaking views hidden all around us in the dead of the night. We saw only three other vehicles in the first ninety minutes of driving.
When we came to the T-junction in Betws-y-Coed, we found nature had chosen to confirm our destination. A huge tree had come down just down the North-bound road. A right turn to the Midlands was the only option here. We rolled onto the driveway at two minutes to seven. Luckily we knew that my dad gets up super earlier, and that despite having just gotten back from their own holiday the previous day, they were both happy to have us stay.
I'm almost ready to joke about this. Our main summer holiday was ruined by the unforecast, short-lived but intense 80mph winds, our tent was broken and abandoned, and all the things we wanted to do and see will now have to wait until another time. I was really looking forward to seeing Olive enjoying her first camping holiday.
The following days' BBC news confirmed that the winds in the area touched 84mph (hurricane force 12!) and that only 5% of Shell Island's campers managed to brave the night.
I'm not put off camping, or even coming back to Shell Island. I'm sure this was a freak event, even by the usual unpredictable standards of the British summer. I'll probably see if I can claim for the tent on our insurance, and in any event we're likely to try to get a replacement in the sales. Next time must surely be third time lucky; the mean old wind hounded us out of our old three-man tent in Whitby a few years ago.
We will probably head home tomorrow. We made the most of our time in The Midlands, gadding about the local child-friendly attractions. Not sure what to do for the rest of the week, but we've got Dean's birthday event to look forward to next weekend.