Summer time and the living was easy

Summer time and the living was easy Memories of a summer spent on a Welsh beach.

The Summer of 1972 remains fresh in my memory as being a long summer spent on the beach at Ynyslas Sands near Borth in Wales.  I was enjoying a lengthy summer break from being a photography student at Salisbury College of Art and had dragged our home, a 22 foot Caravan, back from its term-time location on the edge of an Iron Age Hill Fort (Figsbury Ring) on Salisbury Plain to the family home in Leicestershire.  I was 18 and my sole form of transport back then was my first Land Rover, a 1953 86 inch that had been fitted with a Series 2, 2.25 petrol engine.  It hauled the enormous weight of the caravan with reasonable efficiency and it was decided that a group of us would head for Borth for the Summer in the hope of earning a few quid towing cars off the soft sand that was the car park for the Ynyslas Sands



The 150 mile grind along the A5 had us mixing with the trucks at about 40 mph on the flat and considerably slower on hills.  Squeezed in the back were my brother, Justin and two of his school pals, Ian Hovell and Andy Smith also with time on their hands and a sense of adventure.  My first wife, Josie, sat in the front with me wondering what she had let herself in for!  We arrived very late at night and eased the whole rig onto the beach, then into the fringes of the sand dunes to avoid being spotted, as we were most certainly not allowed to camp there.  Fortunately at 01.00 am all of Wales was asleep and we piled into the caravan for the night, putting off the inevitable ejection until the morning.

Predictably, at about 9.00 there was a rough and persistent knock on the door.  With tea in hand we launched into apologetic negotiations with the rather angry Welshman who explained just how many local by-laws we were breaking and that if we did not move quickly, we would be reported to more senior people in Machynlleth.  Tea cups were drained and we hitched up the Land Rover to the Caravan, eased the clutch in and went nowhere.  On soft sand with such a great weight nothing was moving.  With the man in charge frowning at us and shaking his head we had to figure out a way of moving the caravan about 20 feet onto firmer sand where we should be able to drive off.

We were armed with a long and remarkably strong rope intended for pulling stricken cars off the sand, but on this occasion it was to save our own bacon.  I drove the Land Rover onto firmer sand and the rope was hitched to the Caravan at one end and the rear of the Land Rover at the other.  With all the team pushing and manhandling the ‘van, I eased forwards in low first and after a few attempts we recovered the situation and drove back to tarmac uttering further apologies.  We had got away with it!

There are and were then, many Caravan Parks in that area, but all charged far more than we had, so eventually we found a farmer at the other end of town who was happy for us to camp in a field that had the Council Rubbish Tip on one flank and the Sewage Works on the other.  Depending on wind direction we smelt either the fragrant aroma of rotting rubbish, or the heady and unmistakable fumes of the sewage treatment works.  It did at least spur us into getting up and onto the beach earlier than one would expect from a group of youngsters on holiday!

Our existence was funded by the carelessness of car drivers.  Each morning we drove the Land Rover back to the sands, smiled politely at the chap on the gate and paid our parking fee than parked at the far end of the beach in the soft sand.  This being easy for us in the Land Rover.  It was something of a ‘Honey Trap’, as newby’s would drive into the car park, spot us and assume the parking was good for the length of the beach.  Once they fell for the trap we would watch as they made their situation worse by spinning the driving wheels and getting really stuck!  Through binoculars we could lip read the swearing and accusations of whose stupid idea it was to drive that far into the sand.  We just waited until all tempers had been lost and the situation was beyond a decent push - which had they tried in the first place probably would have done the trick.  One by one, crest fallen drivers would come over to us and ask if we could possibly help?

We were not allowed to actually charge, but indicated that for a consideration we could have them out and back on the firm sand.  As they dug deep in their pockets for the relatively new 50p piece, or even a £1 note, we attached the rope to their stricken cars and with the lads pushing, out they came.  On a good day we would make enough money for petrol and beers.  On a really good day food as well!  The man who ran the car park who had given us a roasting that first morning, became chatty after a while and didn’t mind us doing the ‘work’.  He had a very scruffy old 80 inch that had clearly spent far too long in a salty atmosphere.  He had the authority to charge them a hefty £5 for recovery, but had more than enough on this hands running the car park.

I had that Land Rover for about a year before selling it to a chap in Portsmouth.  I don’t recall having any problems with it, but I guess the memory only retains the good bits.  I bought it off Willy McCraken, a pal at College, in a deal where he had my Morris 1000 convertible and £50 and I gained my first Land Rover.  It was Willy who had the, then fashionable, ‘quarter bumpers’ made (think Escort Mexico) and replaced the original grille with part of a chicken pen. 

I still have the receipt written in the Common Room at Salisbury Art College on May 27th 1972 and witnessed by fellow student, Owen Newman who happened to be standing there at the time telling anybody interested about how he was filming the Badgers at the bottom of his garden.

In the intervening 44 years Willy McCracken joined the Army rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonal and was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery in the Falklands Crisis and Owen Newman went on to become one of BBC Natural History Unit’s top film makers working on such programmes as Chasing Big Cats where he spent years driving Land Rovers in Africa chasing some of the World’s rarest big cats.  I returned to Borth on the same basis in 1973, but by then with a family, a smaller caravan and in the 1948 Land Rover that I have to this day.  I may return soon as I see on Google Earth that the Sewage Treatment Works is still there, as is the sand.  


001. Andy Smith, Justin Savage, Josie Savage and Ian Hovell practising their greeting for the local authority who would throw them off the beach!

002. It was a long haul along the A5 from Leicestershire to Borth with a heavy 22 foot caravan

003. Toby bought the 1954 Land Rover from fellow Photography Student, Willy McCracken in May 1972.  It was considered ‘old’ yet was only 18 years

004.  Owen Newman who witnessed the transaction here filming Chasing Big Cats in a rather nice Range Rover.  Photo lifted from Nature Magazine web site. Thank you

005. Willy McCracken tweaking his wheel nuts before Toby bought the Land Rover from him. A photo from 1971 by Lotte Attwood another friend and photography student at the time

Toby Savage August 2015