GREENWOOD FOREST PARK
Last Saturday, overcome with an uncharacteristic bout of generosity, I took a couple of grandchildren (plus wife, to look after them) on a day out to the Greenwood Forest Park near Caernarfon. Obviously an ancient Welsh name for the area, to be compared with Oakwood, and Folly Farm, and Plonkers’ Playground. Whereas along the coast, we invariably find ‘Sands’ in the name, so as to make it clear to even the stupidest potential visitor that these places are near to the sea: Golden Sands, Sunny Sands, Happy Sands, et-bloody-cetera.
For what it is, a few slides, some sorry-looking rabbits, pedal ‘go-karts’, one small roller coaster, archery and donkey rides, I suppose Greenwood is OK. But I couldn’t help but notice there seemed to be no locals employed there. Or let me put it this way, I don’t doubt that those working there live locally – they must do – but I didn’t hear one local accent. And let’s remember we’re a few miles outside Caernarfon, near the village of Bethel where, until very recently, everyone spoke Welsh. (Though, chwarae teg, all signs were bilingual, so that would satisfy Cymdeithas yr Iaith . . . if that organisation still exists.)
As you might expect, I made a few enquiries about Greenwood. It’s owned by husband and wife Stephen and Andrea Bristow and seems to be quite healthy, in financial terms. Which may not be surprising, given some of the grants Greenwood has received. For example £25,000 from the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Tourism Investment Support Scheme (TISS) for signage (without which perhaps the signs would have been in English only). Greenwood is now lined up for another grant from the TISS, this time for £250,000, for a few more slides.
I don’t know about you, but 311 jobs claimed by the ‘Welsh’ Government as the dividend for an investment of fourteen million pounds seems like a pretty poor return. Especially when not all of the 311 were new jobs, some were ‘safeguarded’; in other words, they were jobs already in existence that we must believe would have been lost without this investment. Either way, it works out at around £45,000 per job.
And remember, this being Wales, there are probably other funding pots claiming to have created or ‘safeguarded’ the very same jobs. Also remember that we’re discussing tourism, so many of the jobs created / ‘safeguarded’ will be seasonal . . . but you aren’t supposed to know that, so forget I mentioned it.
In 2013 Greenwood was ranked the ninth most popular (paid for) attraction in Wales, and a year later it saw 146,000 visitors. Divide 146,000 by 365 and you get 400 a day, and it’s not much more impressive if you go for a six-month ‘season’ giving 800 visitors a day. But then, there’s always the grants.
COED Y BRENIN
On the way home from Greenwood we stopped at the visitor centre in Coed-y-Brenin, north of Dolgellau.
There was obviously some kind of mountain biking event being held because the place was full of mud-caked hearties and fitness fascists; nothing but rippling calf muscles and machines the cost of which could support a family of Andean peasants for a lifetime (and put the eldest boy through college). Conspicuous consumption was everywhere, from the fancy motors with the bicycle racks on the back to the £200 shades. But that wasn’t the only reason I felt a little uncomfortable, for it soon dawned on me that our family group might be the only Welsh people there . . . in the heart of Meirionnydd.
I later learnt that the event was the Trek Coed y Brenin Enduro, and although the results do not use the ‘Country’ column a quick glance through the names suggests that Welsh participation was minimal. I further suspect the event into which I stumbled was organised by Mountain Biking Wales or possibly Dyfi Events. Though the Coed y Brenin forest, and indeed the visitor centre, is owned by Natural Resources Wales, and therefore all paid for out of the Welsh public purse.
Coed y Brenin and Greenwood are examples of the ‘Playground Wales’ phenomenon that sees indecently large amounts of Welsh public funding used to encourage strangers to see our homeland as nothing more than their playground; an arrangement for which we pay, but from which we derive little if any benefit.
WHOSE COUNTRY IS THIS?
Don’t misunderstand me, there is little intrinsically wrong with responsible tourism from which the indigenous population benefits without it being overwhelmed or having its environment degraded. But in Wales we have the worst kind of exploitive and damaging tourism, one that interprets people queuing to climb Snowdon as a tribute to the ‘success’ of Welsh tourism rather than a warning of impending environmental disaster.
That’s because no one will concede there might be a limit to the number of tourists Wales can comfortably cope with, which in turn is partly due to the fact that the money tourists spend here works its way back to England, unlike money spent by English tourists overseas. So the more the merrier, and sod the consequences!
As if that wasn’t enough to worry about, what we experience in Wales is to all intents and purposes English tourism. Most of the businesses taking the money are English owned, most of those employed are English, the vast majority of the visitors are English and, as I’ve already said, the money they spend in Wales will make its way back to England in VAT and other taxes, utility bills, payments to suppliers, etc., etc.
The extent of how ugly, alien and exploitive tourism in Wales has become is laid bare by people like Chris Osborne, chair of the Wales Tourism Alliance. Osborne, like many of the English running tourism businesses in Wales, believes that if all towns and villages, mountains and rivers, had English names then people like him could make even more money. To put it as he did in this article, Wales should have “accessible names” and “accessible messages”. (Fair enough. How about, ‘Fuck off, you arrogant, colonialist bastard!’. Is that “accessible” enough?)
It might be comforting if Chris Osborne was an isolated example of those involved in tourism who view Welshness, and indeed Welsh people, as an obstacle to them exploiting Wales. But he appears to be the authentic and unadulterated voice of ‘Welsh’ tourism.
To prove the point, here’s another star performer. Back in July Irene Laird, who has imposed herself on Rhosgadfan, near Caernarfon, was found guilty of racially-aggravated assault and racially-aggravated threatening behaviour, for calling a local woman a “Welsh c—“. The report can be found here. The bit that really struck me was that, ‘when the racial abuse was mentioned by a probation officer to Laird “there was no recognition such behaviour was inappropriate and no element of remorse”’! That is very, very revealing.
That tirade would have been bad enough in any circumstances, but this woman, with her husband, runs a tourism business, Welsh Dragon Tours – which seems to be still in business! (I wonder if they’ve had any grant funding?) When you’re on their website, check out the ‘Testimonials’. They are all from untraceable overseas visitors, with not one from these islands, which set my bullshit sensors all a-quiver.
Here’s a sample: “Ten out of Ten for Everything. Mrs A, Tel Aviv, Israel”. “The scenery was stunning! Thank you very, very much for all the attention given us over those 4 days. Miss M, Malta.” “Thank you very much for showing us around your wonderful scenic country. Mrs F, Yokohama, Japan.” I suspect that in addition to being an anti-Welsh bigot this woman might also be a falsifier of testimonials. Pins and maps come to mind.
‘IT’S OUR WALES NOW’
What we see with Osborne, Laird and others is them trying to promote tourism as if Wales was just a scenic part of England. Welsh people, the Welsh language, Welsh place names and other manifestations of a separate identity expose the fact that it is not, and it also exposes them for the interlopers they are. This goes a long way to explaining why these people are hostile to expressions of Welsh identity, and this hostility takes a number of forms.
A few years ago, while sauntering along Tywyn promenade (I enjoy a good saunter), I noticed that one flagpole was, as usual, flying the union flag, but the other, where the Welsh flag had been, now flew a yellow and blue flag carrying what looked to be a fish and a bird. I made enquiries and learnt that new flag was that of Tywyn, and had been dreamed up by local businessman and infamous Britlander Mike Stevens, in his self-appointed role as driving force of the Tywyn Chamber of Tourism and Commerce. There was a bit of a kerfuffle, and the Welsh flag was restored.
Stevens argued that his sole motivation in designing a new flag was to represent and promote the town. Not, as some unkind souls might suggest, an excuse to get rid of the Dragon. But the boy got form for oblique attacks on things Welsh. In this incident, Cyngor Gwynedd quite rightly placed warning signs on Tywyn’s new sea defence island. Stevens doesn’t like bilingual signs, but he can’t say that, so he has to make himself look silly with contrived and implausible complaints.
Mike Stevens is now a county councillor, elected by those that tourism has encouraged to settle in Tywyn, to the point where they now make up a majority of the population. A picture replicated across ‘tourist’ Wales.
Around Tywyn now you will see another flag, made up of a rising sun and some goats, said to be the flag of Meirionnydd. Predictably it is favoured by those who have no concept of, and no roots in, Meirionnydd. It’s just another excuse – like the Pembrokeshire flag and others – to avoid flying the national flag of Wales.
In defending his contrived banner Stevens argued that the raven it carried was the “historic emblem of Tywyn“. In fact, the Raven belongs to the Anglo-Norman Corbet(t) family, but in the local church you will see, on St. Cadfan’s stone (see panel on right), the oldest example of written Welsh, possibly from the 7th century. Much older than any Corbet(t) connection, but of course it’s Welsh, and therefore of no interest to Stevens and his ilk.
You mustn’t think that this ugly attitude to all things Welsh, this belief that rural and coastal Wales was a desert ere the arrival of the English tourist, is confined to people like Ukip-leaning Mike Stevens, for this prejudice infects others. Brought home to me a couple of years back in an exchange of letters in the Cambrian News with a Greenie named Andrew Currie, who wrote, “He (moi!) has also missed the fact that coastal towns and villages came into being because of tourism in Victorian times.” My response to Currie was not published, but you can read it here.
What a frightening and insulting mindset we see exposed here. It is nothing less than the traditional justification for colonialism, along the lines of, ‘Well, yes, there were natives living here before we arrived but the silly buggers couldn’t do anything for themselves, and now they wouldn’t be able to manage without us’.
TOURISM OR WELSHNESS? YOU CAN’T HAVE BOTH
For some 50 years we Welsh have been subjected to one of the most sustained and successful propaganda offensives in history. We have been brainwashed into accepting that tourism is the economic salvation of the greater part of Wales, that we Welsh derive huge benefits from tourism, and that there are no downsides whatsoever. I think it’s time we woke up to reality.
Tourism as practised in Wales is nothing but colonialist exploitation. People from a neighbouring country come to exploit our country, and not wishing to be reminded of our existence, or their position as incomers, they seek to deny and destroy what is indigenous in order to promote a sanitised and more “accessible” West Anglia. Not only do those claiming to represent us welcome this exploitation, this discrimination, this ‘cleansing’, they are even prepared to fund it!
The very survival of Welsh identity is jeopardised by tourism and the influx it encourages. Consequently, Wales needs a national debate on tourism. A debate informed by facts and independent research, not more propaganda from the tourism industry’s sponsored academics. If we are denied that debate then we must decide how we defend ourselves against this threat. For it is the greatest, the most serious threat, the Welsh nation has ever faced.