An afternoon jaunt

PLEASE APPRECIATE THAT I GET SENT MORE INFORMATION AND LEADS THAN I CAN USE. I TRY TO RESPOND TO EVERYONE WHO CONTACTS ME BUT I CANNOT POSSIBLY USE EVERY BIT OF INFORMATION I’M SENT. DIOLCH YN FAWR

I’m still working on the Wales & West piece, but things keep cropping up. And this week has been rather testing in a number of ways. So please regard this offering as a divertimento (as we say in Swansea).

Yesterday afternoon I had to take my wife and grand-daughter to the optician in Dolgellau. As they wanted to look around and do a bit of shopping I said to myself, ‘Jones, do you really want to hang around around Dolgellau for a couple of hours on a beautiful, sunny afternoon, or should you take yourself off somewhere?’

And so off I went in a north easterly direction.

Which of course brought me to Bala. But I didn’t tarry in the town, instead I took myself up to Frongoch, and the memorial to the Irish patriots interned nearby after the Easter Rising of 1916.

Click to enlarge

I wasn’t the only one there. In fact, I’ve noticed, that for such a quiet spot it seems to attract visitors from near and far. After a rousing rendition of The Foggy Dew I moved on up to Tryweryn.

There, once a farmer and his aggressive dog had passed, I had the place to myself. I just stood there for a while, thinking of Capel Celyn beneath the water, and how that hamlet’s fate has played such a pivotal role in Welsh politics and Welsh history. It’s certainly what ‘swung’ me.

Llyn Tryweryn. Click to enlarge

I got back in the car and started driving back down to Bala, but then, on impulse, I pulled into the National White Water Centre, on Afon Tryweryn, not far below the reservoir.

It’s called the National White Water Centre but it’s not the Welsh National White Water Centre, where you’d expect school parties of Welsh children to be trained in kayaking and associated sports. In fact, it’s just a commercial venture that for some reason was receiving ‘Welsh Government’ funding through Sport Wales. In 2014/2015 this generosity reached £378,000.

As you might have guessed by now, I’ve written about this place before. Back in January 2015 with, White Water up Shit Creek, which was followed up with Canoe Wales 2 and Canoe Wales 3.

So I suppose today’s visit was kind of checking on how things are going. And the answer would appear to be, not well. Not well at all.

I walked into a large empty foyer area, with an unmanned desk on my left, and on my right something advertised as ‘Manon’s cafe’. If she exists, Manon wasn’t there, for I was served my coffee by some young guy with a rather curious coiffure.

As it was such a nice day I took my coffee outside, to get a view of the advertised white water. And then I saw it!

Nothing less than an image of Bore Grylls; action hero, piss-drinker, insect muncher, and erstwhile business associate of Gavin Woodhouse at the Afan Valley Adventure Resort.

A rarity indeed, this. For as we know the great man shies away from publicity.

Click to enlarge

Not far away was another sign, this one advertising Adventure Weekends by Adventure North Wales. (The operative word here is clearly ‘Adventure’.) So who or what is Adventure North Wales?

Well, the head office is in West Molesey. But not the West Molesey you’re thinking of, between Efenechtyd and Clocaenog; no, this one is in Surrey. Which probably explains why the website is entirely in English. (As is the website for the National White Water Centre.)

Click to enlarge

(I really must check if Adventure North Wales gets any funding from our wonderful ‘Welsh Government’.)

Coffee still in hand, I moseyed on a bit further and was confronted by signs for a brand of ice cream with which I was unfamiliar. Not that I eat much of the stuff myself, you understand, but being a grandfather . . .

Marshfield Farm?’ I thought, ‘Where the hell is that?’ To save you looking, it’s in Wiltshire.

Click to enlarge

I went back inside the main building. The cafe was now locked, the foyer was still empty, and the desk still unmanned. I had the place to myself. So I looked around at the signs and advertisements and then it struck me – here we are, just a couple of miles from Bala, yet everything is in English.

In fact, this place might as well be in England. And I suppose it would be, if England had more rivers where the flow could be controlled by a dam. And a political class that models itself on Uriah Heep. (The Dickens character, not the rock band.)

What this means is that not only did we lose Capel Celyn when the reservoir was built, but we also gained the National White Water Centre for England. Insult added to injury.

The National White Water Centre is an alien presence in Wales. Which I suppose sums up tourism in general. In Wales, but not of Wales.

And yet, this imposition and others like it are collectively lauded as ‘Welsh Tourism’; with politicians and other forms of low life telling us that they generate billions of pounds and create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Bollocks!

There’s nothing Welsh about it – not even the fucking ice cream is Welsh!

How does tourism like this benefit Wales? What does allowing strangers to treat our country in this way say about us as a nation?

In the space of just over an hour I experienced conflicting emotions. First, I was paying homage to the men of ’16; then I was remembering my own political awakening in the 1960s; before, finally, being confronted with the ugly reality of ‘Playground Wales’.

As I drove back to Dolgellau I thought about the comparative positions of Ireland and Wales today.

The former is prosperous, confident, and about to be reunited. But if the ‘Welsh’ tourism industry is any guide, then Wales is drifting towards oblivion.

♦ end ♦

 

Canoe Wales 2

By one of those delightful coincidences that brighten up our lives I was working yesterday on an update to the previous post, ‘White Water Up Shit Creek’, when I received a phone call from someone I’d mentioned in that piece. Mark Williamson and I then had a lengthy and interesting discussion. He even invited me over to the White Water Centre at Frongoch to see some of the wonderful things going on there . . . and promised not to drown me!

After giving the discussion a little thought I realised that an update would be no way to handle this development, and so I decided on a new post. Also, I decided there and then – impetuous devil that I am! – to give Mark Williamson a chance to respond to the points I had intended raising in the update. I had no idea how this was going to work out – or even if it would work out – but the promise had been made so I was prepared to give it a try. (In the end Mr Williamson decided not to take up my offer, but phoned on Friday morning to suggest a couple of changes.)

Such an offer would have been unique in the history of Jac o’ the North, and may never be repeated. So I don’t want Third Sector shysters, Labourites, white flight colons, BritNats, etc., etc., thinking that this courtesy will be extended to them, because it won’t – you are ever in my cross-hCanoeistairs.

Before proceeding there are a few things that need to be said, points that emerged from the discussion on Thursday that might help with the understanding of what follows.

1/ Mr Williamson was keen to stress again that the National White Water Centre at Frongoch is run by Canoe Wales Sales and Services Ltd not Canoe Wales . . . though Canoe Wales does have staff on site.

2/ Mr Williamson readily admitted that things had been handled badly in the past, but that this was why he’d been recruited – to clear up the mess. He assured me that an improvement in the finances would be observable in the most recent accounts, submitted towards the end of 2014 and not yet publicly available. While the accounts for year ending March 31st, 2015 would be even better.

3/ When I raised the question of why the Centre’s website is ukrafting.co.uk Mr Williamson admitted that that’s mainly what happens there, it’s used for the purposes I mentioned in the post. Though this was qualified by telling me that Canoe Wales runs lots of courses – using the Sport Wales funding – at other venues around the country. He also assured me that none of this funding finds its way to Frongoch or Canoe Wales Sales and Servicing Ltd because the Centre is separate and entirely self-financing.

*

Despite telling myself (and you) I needn’t bother, curiosity got the better of me and I did after all buy the DueDil credit report on Canoe Wales. A few points extracted from that report were to have been the substance of the update. (Incidentally, I was able to download and open the report, in pdf format, but was unable to save it. Does anyone know what a (135) error message means on Adobe Acrobat?)

  • As we have learnt since the banking crisis of 2008, credit ratings are important for countries, but credit ratings started off as a means of gauging companies’ credit worthiness. Canoe Wales’ credit rating was paddling along serenely at 97 or 98 (out of 100) until it hit choppy water in July 2013 that took its rating down to 87. By January 2014 it was down to 70 and bobbed up and down until nearly going under altogether in September 2014 when the rating sunk to 12. Canoe Wales managed to right itself and stay afloat, with the last recorded rating of 53 in October 2014.
  • A curiosity I would welcome an explanation for is that in the DueDil credit report for Canoe Wales ‘Wages & Salaries’ are £294,260 for year ending 31.03.2013 but show nothing for previous years.
  • What is the explanation for Day Smith & Hunter resigning as the Canoe Wales auditors on May 9, 2013 and Salisbury & Co resigning as auditors Canoe Wales credit reporton March 31st, 2014? Who are the auditors now?
  • Salisbury & Co were so unimpressed with the state of Canoe Wales’ finances that, according to the DueDil credit report, they were unsure whether Canoe Wales was a going concern. (See panel.) Did anyone at Sport Wales pick up on this? Is this in any way connected with the same auditors’ resignation?

*

Although Mark Williamson declined my offer of 250 words he did have a few things to say in a third phone call this morning. Unfortunately, this call caught me at an awkward moment and I wasn’t able to remember all the points on which I wanted clarification.

For example, I should have raCanoe Wales Tree Top Adventureised the point that he (Mark Williamson) has been recruited to get the finances of Canoe Wales into better shape. Which should not be difficult given the large amounts of public funding being received from Sport Wales (and possibly other sources). Another advantage – from now on – is that Rescue 3 (UK) Ltd has folded and been written off. Further income is anticipated from the profits of the Frongoch Centre, now being run by Canoe Wales Sales and Services Ltd; this from the rafting and other activities available there. These include 4 x 4 off-road driving, clay pigeon shooting, quad biking and ‘tree top adventure’ (see panel). In fact, when you take all that into account, it would be difficult for Canoe Wales not to show a profit.

Though this still leaves unresolved the status of the mysterious Canoe Wales (Commercial) Ltd. There are no accounts yet available for this company, so it might still prove a burden for Canoe Wales. Additionally, what if Canolfan Tryweryn does not make a profit, how will it survive seeing as it’s run by a separate company from Canoe Wales and unable to access Canoe Wales’ public funding? I ask this because the most recent figures available for Canoe Wales Sales and Services Ltd show current liabilities of £164,131.

Despite what the helpful Mark Williamson told me I still have difficulty regarding these three entities as separate. A difficulty due to the fact that Canoe Wales Sales and Services Ltd has just two directors, David William Wakeling and Andrew Jeremy Booth, who are also the only directors of Canoe Wales (Commercial) Ltd. Both these companies are wholly owned by Canoe Wales of which Wakeling and Booth appear to be the controlling directors. So with the best will in the world, I remain unconvinced that public funding given to Canoe Wales will not find its way to one or both of the subsidiaries. And seeing as both subsidiaries are wholly owned by Canoe Wales then the parent company is responsible for any losses these might incur, as with Rescue 3 (UK) Ltd. (Refer to previous post.)

*

Over and above these financial and structural concerns there are other, less material considerations that would probably not occur to those running these ventures, and even if they did, would be unlikely to resonate.

Everything at the White Water Centre has been made possible by the drowning of Capel Celyn and the expulsion of its people; our people. Now stag parties and other groups from England – Liverpool included – go there to have a good time, to drink and laugh, to career about the countryside on quad bikes and in 4 x 4s, to whoop and holler almost within earshot of the drowned village. Another example of tourism in Wales but not of Wales.

The whole concept of Canolfan Tryweryn is insensitive, almost vindictive and triumphalist. Perhaps not a lot different to dancing on the grave of a vanquished foe.