Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Surf and Turf

Following on from the previous post, I'm always very conscious that, despite having visited the Welsh Borders for nearly 40 years, we're still just fleeting visitors there, with no real stake in the area. Like any holidaymakers returning again and again to the same spot for an annual week or two of escape, we see a very different place to that experienced by the year-round residents. You can't help but notice the economic and social changes, but have played no part in bringing them about, or had to live with their consequences.

And changes there have been, over those four decades. Sadly, these have not generally been for the better. In many ways, this is a depressed area, trying to cope with the decline in hill-farming as a way of life, a steady loss of population and employment prospects, and a disappointing inflow of income from tourism. Beautiful it may be, but the region lacks obvious points of attraction and opportunities for lucrative "outdoor leisure pursuits"; Radnor will never rival the Lake District.

It's clear that very few locals who are not engaged in farming ever venture into these hills. Indeed, many, if not most of the "locals" are not local at all: they are retirees from the Midlands, local government employees, New Agers, artists, and allied trades, and, increasingly, youngsters from other parts of Wales surviving on benefits in the surplus hotel accommodation in faded Edwardian spa towns like Llandrindod Wells. Bizarrely, there also seems to be a small but significant population of Latin American immigrants, a sort of inversion of the fabled Welsh-speaking community that settled in Patagonia. I have often wondered what it must be like to grow up surrounded by all this this useless beauty, with little prospect of a job, and to long for the bright lights, diversions and opportunities of city life. There isn't even a bus or train service worth the name.

It is a justified criticism of most landscape photography that it idealises its subject matter, superimposing suburban notions of "unspoiled beauty" onto complex landscapes – which are often as man-made and as multi-faceted as any city street – like the ideological equivalent of a graduated tobacco filter. Although I do try to avoid this idealising tendency I would not exempt myself from the criticism, and it's one reason I have never tried to exhibit my Welsh photographs or compile them into a book. Powys is no more my turf than Portugal or the Pyrenees, and I have no real answer for why I have so few photographs of the valleys – where most economic and social activity is centred, in village shops, industrial estates and edge-of-town hypermarkets – and so many photographs of these lovely, deserted hills. There's a great project there for somebody, but it's not mine.

So, hello, I'm just here for the week. Yes, I live in Southampton. No, I'm not a dock-worker or a merchant seaman. They're a bit scarce, these days. Yes, I suppose it is nice living near to the sea, but as it happens I very rarely get down to the coast, and have absolutely no interest in sailing. And, yes, my daughter tells me the city-centre clubbing scene is great, but I'd rather go for a wander up in your hills any day. Don't get up there much yourself? What, never?


Graham Dew said...

Mike Chisholm, You cannot be Ravilious! Very nice set of pictures.

Enjoy the silence of your little bit of Wales. We were in the Peak District over Easter. Cars filled the car parks and spilled out in long lines along the verges. The trails were full of people even when was raining, all of us enjoying our communal solitude.

Mike C. said...

Ha! We can but try!

Yes, I tried the Lake District in summer a few years ago, but hadn't booked my place in the queue. You know when you're in true wilderness when you can only get a 2G phone signal, and that only when the sun is shining...


Willie said...

Greetings from Australia
Love the comments about the locals not visiting the hills much.
It's funny how locals never really see much of what the they have, while visitors do. I wonder if it is because the have a vague notion n the back of their mind that they will see it one day?

I recall back in 1991 when I visited Scotland. I had just returned from the West Coast to Glasgow and what as at a gathering talking to a distant uncle. When I said that I was in Fort William the day before, he said"we went last year for our holidays"
I asked him how many times he had been and he replied "That was the first - I've never been over the Erskine Bridge before"

Yep, locals and visitors quite often have a different view on their respective places.


Mike C. said...


I suppose a big part of it is that "getting out and seeing the sights" (or even "getting out for a bit of a walk") is something most people do when on holiday, and not at home. Another part is what counts as a "sight" (or "site") worth visiting...

As I suggested in the post, for over 30 years I have lived near the sea in a busy port, and some wonderful coastal and industrial sights, but somehow fail to take advantage of this! I keep resolving to do so, but keep failing... Maybe I just prefer hills and mountains...