The surfboards the reside underneath the outside lean-to are cakes in cobwebs, the old wax has melted in the blazing summer heat and the fins are spattered in sap from the neighbouring oak trees.
If there was ever a testament to this summer’s distinct lack of swell (on the UK south coast at least), it is this sorry collection of underused fibreglass and epoxy resin slabs.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and with the offer of Land Rover’s latest Discovery Sport ringing in our ears, we decide it’s time to go hunting for surf, even if that hunt turned out to be fruitless.
The destination is North Wales, more particularly the beautifully expansive coastline that includes the infamous Hell’s Mouth and Aberdaron beaches, which promise empty line-ups and some staggering vistas.
Friend of Flat-Out and former WaveLength photographer Lewis Harrison-Pinder is along for the ride, as is Monty the Flat-Out dog, purely because a lack of pooch-sitting availability forced him into the boot of the latest Disco Sport.
The vehicle itself might be getting slightly long in the tooth but it is the perfect vessel for an adventure of this nature, the large seven-seat capacity proving perfect for two boards, a bunch of camera gear and a bulldog.
At over £50k, this fully-specced Si4 Petrol HSE Luxury version also packs seat-back TVs, magnetic damping and an electrically deployable tow bar should we decide to help a few stricken vehicles out of perilous situations.
Where to stay
This luxury spa retreat, owned and founded by automotive engineer Richard Parry-Jones and his wife Sara, embraces the natural materials but uses modern wood and glass to seamlessly blend the complex of rooms, restaurant and spa with the natural surroundings.
There’s a cosy snug for enjoying a few pre-dinner drinks from an extensive list of local spirits and selected beers, while the restaurant draws plenty of inspiration from the owner’s love of Tuscany and Italian gastronomy.
Even the dog managed to get a good night’s sleep, thanks to the addition of a pet friendly room, as well as outdoor stables should your four-legged friends like to sleep with the horses.
It’s also situated in one of the most beautiful parts of Wales, with views out over the estuary, as well as extensive gardens to meander.
Prices start at £135 a night in the off season and rise to £240 in the busiest periods.
Visit the website for more at coesfaen.co.uk.
Lewis H-P is the first to point out that the decision to go looking for swell in Wales in the middle of July was plain stupid, but with the opening of the world’s first mechanical wave in the shape of Surf Snowdonia, any trip to these naturally picturesque parts is bountiful for the avid board fan.
Situated in the heart of Snowdonia’s slate peaks and thick forests, the surf-friendly facility now includes eco-accommodation, a fully-stocked bar and cafe, restaurant, outdoor pursuits and the promise of at least 12 waves per person, per hour for a reasonable £50 for advanced surfers in peak times.
Surf Snowdonia would act as our fallback should the hunt for lumps in the ocean prove fruitless.
But first, we wanted to get the Land Rover Discovery Sport in its more natural environment (mud, rocks and sheep shit) and attempt to locate a few remote beaches that are only accessible with all-wheel-drive and an Ordnance Survey map.
With the surprisingly spacious seven-seat machine loaded up with boards, bags and canine companion, we head up through the picturesque town of Betws-y-Coed to meet our off-road guide.
The chap in the liveried Discovery Sport would be our key to some rugged Welsh farmland that’s usually only accessible by brave hikers and lost mountain bikers.
A sharp turn off the main road leads us up a gravel path that gets increasingly steeper with every switchback.
Several gates later and the Discovery Sport has its nose pointed to the sky, as we scrabble for traction up pathways that would be difficult to walk on, let alone drive up.
The 2.0-litre, 240hp petrol model we are piloting features Land Rover’s tried and tested Terrain Select technology, which adjusts the traction control and all-wheel-drive system to cope with a number of scenarios.
Flicked into Mud and Ruts, the car goes about scrabbling up loose hillsides with minimal fuss. Slightly bizarre considering this plush model also features leather interior, privacy glass and wireless headphones for passengers.
However, there’s no time to kick back and take in a movie, because it’s not long before we are crashing through deep mud furrows and sailing towards a steep precipice.
Notwithstanding a few worrying bangs and crashes coming from the sensitive undercarriage area, we make it to the peak of a mountain range, where we can majestically park the Discovery Sport, take some photos and survey the scene.
We are a few miles away from the sea but it’s clear from the thin air up here at our vantage point that the water is calm on both the north coast (Hell’s Mouth) and the Llyn Peninsula, with nothing in the way of tell-tale white caps that typically signify surf below.
Despite the pang of dissatisfaction from witnessing a flat-as-a-pancake Irish Sea from a few hundred feet, we throw gear in the perilously perched vehicle and head back down to earth.
A lack of waves and bored surfers is a powerful concoction, as it typically leads to innovative solutions to pass the time – wakeboarding on the back of a motorcycle, surfing sand dunes and shooting fireworks at caravans, to name but a few.
In our case, it involves making a beeline for the fabled Black Rock Sands, which is among a number of vast beachscapes in Wales where it is legal and totally safe to take a vehicle.
A couple of Volkswagen campervans are pitched up among some hatchbacks and well-worn family estates, but we sprint to the far end of the beach, where it is fantastically deserted – not another vehicle for as far as the eye can see.
What to do
This peeling mechanical wave offers rides for every level of surfer, from beginners looking to have fun in safe white water, through to more advanced riders looking to perfect their moves.
Prices start at £25 for children and £35 for adults looking to score around 18 beginner waves in the off peak season. The cost goes up by £5 during peak summer time.
Those with some surfing knowledge will want to jump on the advanced wave, which peels for a good 20 seconds per ride. This costs £50 during peak season (£45 off peak) and a wave runs every 90 seconds, so you can score around 12 waves per session if you’re lucky.
There’s also loads to do when you’re not in the water, from staying in one of the cool Glamping Pods to eating some good food and quaffing some beers in the wave-side bar and cafe.
Better still, the site will soon expand to include more luxurious hotel accommodation.
Visit the website at surfsnowdonia.com for more
With traction control firmly switched off and the Discovery Sport set to its ‘Dynamic’ mode, it gives us the opportunity to indulge in a little bit of automotive tomfoolery – the rear wheels kicking up rooster tails of sand and lack of grip affording some silly power slides.
Part of Wales’ charm is the sense of isolation and the feeling that no matter how many caravans you get stuck behind, you can always find a spot where other humans can’t be bothered to venture.
The Llyn Peninsula is the perfect example of this, with beaches at Aberdaron, Porthor and Porth Colmon rewarding those who can handle the slow, meandering access roads with epic, empty views.
Alas, there is only so much idiocy one idyllic beach can handle, so we make a few enquiries at Surf Snowdonia and decide that the trip would be wasted if we didn’t catch at least one wave, be it natural or man-made.
Making waves in Wales
You can imagine the disappointment of driving all the way up to north Wales from the south coast in a day, only to find Surf Snowdonia isn’t exactly operating at full capacity.
This was the case back in 2015, when the very same journey was made for another feature and yours truly was lucky enough to get early access to this pioneering technology.
Thankfully, the Basque-based Wavegarden crew have perfected the system, which sees a massive Wavefoil pulled along a 300m lagoon at speed, while the contours of the lagoon’s bed groom a shoulder-height wave upon which surfers can go nuts.
The wave itself is a tricky thing to master, with numerous take-off zones marked out on the central fence that houses the Wavefoil technology.
Advanced surfers are encouraged to take off at the very peak of the wave, just before it breaks (which is identical to those used to surfing in the sea), while intermediate and beginner riders get to enjoy the subsequent – and far less daunting – white water that forms.
But anyone used to surfing in the open expanse of the ocean will find the first few waves tricky, as finding the perfect take-off spot is arguably the most difficult part of the experience.
Paddling with a shoulder brushing the Wavefoil’s protective fencing and then turning in towards this mesh of metal to create speed and perform turns feels counter intuitive but it soon starts to click.
After a few embarrassing fruitless paddles, we enjoyed almost two hours of quiet, predictable and grin-inducing waves. Flat conditions more than made up for.
And with that, we load up once again and make a dash for our overnight accommodation in the picturesque town of Barmouth (see boxout), hacking along some of Wales’ finest mountain passes.
The Land Rover Discovery Sport might not be a performance vehicle, but it does a good job of flitting between spirited drive (when flicked into ‘Dynamic’ mode) and a relaxing cruiser in ‘Comfort’.
Amazing, considering that just a few hours ago it was tackling some seriously tough terrain without a struggle.
This trip may not have delivered the goods in terms of natural waves but there’s inherent risk with any hunt for swell.
A lack of surf also means we will have to return when the charts are looking more favourable and that’s no bad thing.