Tourism: Creating a ‘Wales’ Without the Welsh

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.

Tourism Investment Support Scheme

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.

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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.

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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?)

Playground Wales

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.

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‘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.Cadfan's stone 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’.

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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!

name change 1

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.

Hobby Jobs

As someone who, in his younger days, collected ‘pets’ from the ponds and waste ground of north Swansea, I have always taken an interest in wildlife, and indeed (in the phase that followed the pet collecting) wild life. Many a carefree boyhood hour was spent catching grass snakes, collecting newts, and sneaking up on lizards to attempt that perfect catch – on the body (for they detach their tails) but not so roughly as to harm them. Or it waCBMWCs summers in Port Eynon crabbing and observing the life of the shoreline and the rock pools.

So I was naturally drawn to the story of porpoises killing dolphins in Cardigan Bay. Reading it I learnt that this behaviour has been observed by volunteers at the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre in New Quay. So – you know me – wanting to learn more about this outfit I went to the CBMWC website.

The website – entirely in English, of course – is quite open about what it does, who funds it, and who runs it. The volunteers for 2014 include Milly, “part of a big, outdoorsy family” (not them Swansea dossers again?). Lea, who “grew up in the Swiss countryside”. Abigail from Worcester who has “attended a dormouse survey training day”. (Something of which I can only dream.) Rebecca, who “spent holidays in Corwall and Wales”. Then there’s Josephine from Manchester, Gaby from Canada, Ashleigh from “the Midlands”, Sophie from Suffolk, Will from West Yorkshire, even one or two (out of 17) who may even be Welsh. Among “the CBMWC Team” (of 14) there is one who seems to be Welsh, then there’s Barry the wino, a host of ‘locals’ who’ve all moved to Wales, and young Ben, who grew up on the East African Coast. (Of course he’s not bleck, don’t be silly!) It’s all so frightfully English that they could have stepped from the pages of some Enid Blyton tale of middle class youngsters having a jolly good time in darkest Wales.

Before anyone says that these people do good work, or are no harm to anyone; and that I am a wicked old nationalist for picking on them, just remember this. The Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre and its allies among the Fleece Jacket Fascists form a lobby that – among other things – would like to extend conservation zones around our coasts, putting Welsh people out of work so that they can enjoy their hobby jobs pursue vital marine research. In fact, they would like to turn rural and coastal Wales into one big playground for them and their friends. With no Welsh involvement . . . well, other than funding.

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fleece jacketThe CBMWC is some kind of subsidiary of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW), so this was my next stop. Another packed, informative website . . . until you try to find out who actually runs the show. For while the website gives a link to the names of the Trustees I could find nothing to tell me who is responsible for the day to day running of the Trust. A major omission. Especially as the Trust receives funding from The National Lottery, the People’s Postcode Lottery, and two lots of funding from the EU, via the Wales Co-operative Centre and the Wales European Funding Office. Is it lawful for an organisation receiving EU funding to withhold from the public the names of its management? It should go without saying that the WTSWW website is also in English only.

Returning to New Quay for a moment (to where, incidentally, I can trace a paternal great-grandmother and a maternal great-great-grandfather), the CBMWC website tells us that the Centre is “funded by grants from Environment Wales (EW) and Natural Resources Wales” (NRW) (of Alun Davies fame). Environment Wales is a hotch-potch of Englandandwales fleece jacket gangs feeding at a trough topped up by the ‘Welsh’ Government, almost certainly with EU cash. But I was unable to find the dolphin watchers or their parent outfit listed among the grant recipients or the ‘Registered Project Links’. And, again, no clue given as to who runs Environment Wales. The picture was no better with Natural Resources Wales. The website contains no mention of grants, and doesn’t even offer a way of sending an e-mail or ‘phoning, for contact is limited to social media! Can it be right that a member of the public is unable to contact an organisation supported by EU funding?

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Every area of the country has groups like the CBMWC, some national, others local: in Wales, but not of Wales. Existing as exclusive ex-pat outposts of the kind the English form in Spain and elsewhere. Social, cultural and financial impositions that we had better start challenging before they become dominant; to the point where it becomes impossible to walk on a Welsh hill, or through a Welsh wood; swim off a Welsh beach, or visit some site important in our history, because it’s now owned and run by strangers – with funding provided by our government!

Appeals to the emotions aside, the real issue here is about hard cash, and how it’s used. About the waste of public funding on hobby jobs, for which the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre merely serves as an example. The CBMWC obviously attracts the well-heeled from England and beyond, but would anyone in Penrhiwceiber or Penygroes notice if the CBMWC closed tomorrow? Of course not, but EU funding was given to improve the lives of people in communities such as these. So henceforth, if the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre can survive on selling ice cream and fluffy dolphins, boat trips and donations, then fine, but no more public funding for it or any similar organisations.

The next round of EU funding must not be wasted on ephemeral and unnecessary projects simply because they generate good publicity; it must not be squandered on politically correct scams; it must not be spent on encouraging the Third Sector to make an industry of poverty and deprivation. Any application for funding should be asked one simple question: ‘Will there be direct and tangible benefits for Welsh people in terms of jobs, education and training, community benefits, social and cultural cohesion and other fields?’ Supporting projects that fail this test is merely funding colonisation.

Fleece Jacket Fascists

This year saw a heated debate that most Welsh people would have been unaware was even taking place; not surprising seeing as it was about Marine Conservation Zones in the north west. Eventually, the protests of commercial fishermen and others saw the ‘Welsh’ Government do a U-turn. These Zones had been proposed with the support of the Countryside Council for Wales, now subsumed into Natural Resources Wales, and the Marine Conservation Society. The first of those bodies is run by the ‘Welsh’ Government, while the other seems to be yet another in the unending list of Englandandwales outfits. (Remember all that talk of devolution? Do you think it will ever happen?)

At the other end of the country we have seen a remarkably similar story, with very similar groups (one, the same) opposing the plan for a motor racing circuit in Ebbw Vale: first it was The Gwent Wildlife Trust, then the Open Spaces Society got in on the act before, finally, our old friends, Natural Resources Wales piped up. I made my position on the Ebbw Vale project clear in this recent post, and I shall repeat it here. If this project can deliver real jobs to the Heads of the Valleys for Welsh people, then we must support it, and ignore the objections. But earlier this week we were told that the ‘Welsh’ Government had put the project ‘on hold’. Seeing as the Assembly is in recess this decision was almost certainly taken by civil servants. Given the background of so many top civil servants in Wales we should not be surprised to see them support protests from what are, essentially, middle class English groups. Their people.

What I now realise from these and other sources is that we have a burgeoning sector of ‘Welsh’ life that is usually alien in its composition, and often hostile to Welsh interests in its policies and attitudes. The fleece jacketmembers of this sector, found all over Wales, can be recognised by their distinctive ‘uniform’ of the fleece jacket. They can be found patrolling our National Parks and nature reserves; we may know them as ‘rangers’ or ‘guides’; they may be working for the National Trust, the RSPB, Woodland Trust, countless wildlife and archaeological trusts, etc., etc. Unless the Welsh language comes into play – as with the Snowdonia National Park – then the practice in the fleece jacket industry is to not employ locals.

How do they get away with it? Simple. In today’s carefully nurtured political and social climate, in which wicked humanity is destroying the planet, a serial killer would be forgiven if he was ‘protecting dolphins’, and Hitler himself could come back and be rehabilitated if he was saving the habitat of some rare and exquisite orchid. More practically, the fleeces always have friends in high places. One was Jane Davidson, Minister for Environment and Sustainability from 2007 to 2011. Among the policies Davidson wanted to introduce was that of opening all Welsh rivers, lakes and waterways to her canoeist friends. It is of course entirely coincidental that Jane Davidson is English, and went to a private school; as is the fact that upon leaving politics she became Director of the Wales Institute of Sustainability and a spokesperson for the Ramblers Association.

Let me end by addressing something some of you may be thinking – that I’ve gone OTT with my description of these people and, consequently, the title of this post. Well, in my defence I would ask you to ponder this. We now have in Wales an army of fleece-jacketed, dictatorial outsiders who view ‘Wales’ through the prism of the group they represent – the English middle class visitor or settler. Too many of this group regard Welsh people as a blot on ‘their’ landscape, marring ‘their’ idyll. They’re in Wales, uninvited, telling us what we can and cannot do. Much of what they do (and wish to do) is inimical to our best interests, yet they do not have a single democratic vote to justify the power they possess and the influence they exert. So what would you call them?

And I haven’t even mentioned the funding. For very often the ‘Welsh’ Government – i.e. you and me – is funding these people to work against Welsh interests so that Wales can be saved for them and their friends. What a bloody system!

Vroom, Vroom – The Next Gravy Train?

I don’t know how many of you are aware of this, but there’s a new £250m racetrack planned for Ebbw Vale, to be known as the Circuit of Wales. Promising to bring high tech, top-wage jobs; tens of thousands of high-spending visitors; and much more besides. All this promised by a company – the Heads of the Valleys Development Company – set up specifically and solely to deliver this project. I was unable to find a website in Ebbw Valethe name of HVDC so I assume this serves as the company’s website. So who’s behind the company?

Well, one of the founding directors is named as Peter Thomas. Is this ‘Peter the Pies’, the man behind that great Welsh success story, Cardiff Blues? Or is it Swansea’s Peter Thomas, who is obviously big in tyres? Either way or neither way, according to Company Check, Peter Thomas joined (set up?) the company on June 30th, 2011. Presumably with a Mr M. A. Carrick, who is listed as joining the Board on the same day. Though according to Company Check Peter Thomas left the Board roughly a year later, on July 13th, 2012.# Which appears to have left the company with just one director! Whatever, August 13th, 2012, saw four new Board Members appointed: Mr S. J. Kealey, Mr T. N. Murnane, Ms A. L. Lloyd-Carrick and Mr A. P. Woodbury. Can we assume that Ms Lloyd-Carrick is somehow related?

Oh, yes . . . perhaps I should have mentioned earlier that this exciting new Welsh venture has its global headquarters at The Coach House, 79 Mill Way, Grantchester, Cambridge CB3 9ND. (Yes, that is the Grantchester of Rupert Brooke fame: ‘Corner of a foreign field’ and all that.)

Let us return to the man who appears to have been the co-founder of the Heads of the Valleys Development Company / Circuit of Wales, M. A. Carrick. Not so long ago he was working for Merrill Lynch, which many people believe is more responsible for the current financial crisis than perhaps any other single company. In fact, he’s described as nothing less than ML’s “Managing Director and Global Head of infrastructure”. Carrick now plies his trade – whatever it might be – with Duet Asset Management, which, reassuringly, appears to specialise in hedge funds. But he also seems to run Aventa Capital Partners Ltd., which looks like another new company set up to promote, or capitalise on, the Ebbw Vale project. Listed with Carrick on the ‘Investment Committee’ of Aventa are Charles Grime and David Bates.

Another name I have unearthed in connection with this venture is Chris Herring, formerly of Honda Racing. Though he is not mentioned in the Company Check extract referred to above. Of those who are mentioned as joining the company in August 2012, information is sparse. Without, I admit, digging too deeply, I drew a complete blank with S. J. Kealey, T. N. Murnane and Ms A. L. Lloyd-Carrick. The search for A. P. Woodbury produced only this which might, or might not, be him.Neil and Glenys

One more name is worthy of mention in connection with this project . . . wait for it! – Neil Kinnock!!! Who is billed as the “Ambassador”. I don’t wish to appear cynical, or unkind (you know me!) – but any project needing Kinnochio to lend it “considerable credibility” is surely dead in the water. Though give him his due, he can still recognise a gravy train approaching, even one running on very expensive tyres.

Someone else plugging the project, sort of, was that famous Danish rugby international, Sebastian Barrett, writing for Click on Wales. Though he seemed to quickly lose interest in highly-tuned engines and soon started plugging the Cardiff city state and the planned Cardiff Metro system. So irrelevant had the Ebbw Vale project become to him that at one point he referred to the Circuit of Wales as the “Circle of Wales”! (What’s happened to the Institute of Welsh Affairs, it’s become just another mouthpiece for Cardiff?)

The reason I started writing this piece is that there is mounting opposition to the project from a particularly obnoxious sub-species of colon. You know who I mean, they’re always on the ‘Welsh’ News, fleece jackets and English accents; ‘Oh, you can’t do that!’ ‘Oh no, we oppose this’. All of them working for bodies funded by taxpayers, charity collections, old ladies’ legacies, EU or other funding. Dictatorial bastards who want to keep Wales unspoilt by jobs or prosperity, preserved in aspic for the English middle classes to which most of them belong. First, in November, it was the Gwent Wildlife Trust. Then in March the Open Spaces Society chipped in. Last week it was Natural Resources Wales. It begins to look co-ordinated on the part of those who ‘love’ Wales but don’t give a toss about the Welsh.

Weighing it all up, my position is as follows. If this project can deliver what it promises, primarily investment and well-paid jobs for local people, then I support it. But I have grave reservations as to whether it will deliver. Mainly because I have little faith in those behind it. I smell another Valleywood. So strong is the aroma that I would have expected ourCarrick wonderful Welsh Government to be asking many more questions about those behind a £250m project that will soon be asking for a hell of a lot of public funding. (Or does Kinnock’s involvement mean that this scheme gets nodded through?) I might also be worried by what appears to be the total lack of Welsh involvement. When does ‘outside investment’ become exploitation, colonialism? As for those objecting on what they allege to be environmental grounds . . . I’m sure you think you mean well, but shut up!

#Though on this page (shown right) of the Circuit of Wales website, in an undated piece, Peter Thomas is still listed as a director. He is also listed as CEO of Insight in Infrastructure, another new company (set up in September 2011) and also based in Cambridge. Though this company appears dormant, if not dead. Yet these are the people running a £250m racetrack project, with only one among them who appears to have any experience of motor sport, and no obvious assets. Doesn’t that fill you with confidence?