Honesty is the best policy?

Something I have pondered over many times recently, is whether there is a requirement for travel writers to be honest about the destination they are writing about. It may seem a simple question, because morally of course we all hope that the excerpts we read are a true representation of place. But do readers want to read a ‘warts and all’ account, or should some things be left unsaid?

When I worked in travel we were taught to only discuss a destination in a positive light. Much like an estate agent would describe a tiny kitchen as compact, travel agents are encouraged to find positivity. That three hour transfer from the airport? Scenic. The rundown hotel in need of modernisation? Rustic.

When I started this blog I decided that I would be truthful about the places I visited and my experiences. However how honest is too honest? Am I setting low expectations for those who also want to visit these destinations or even putting them off, or am I allowing them to have a realistic experience? Perhaps others will discover these towns and tourist hotspots differently. Did my mood or other external factors colour my experience, would it be different on a different day?

If Sebald’s Campo Santo is considered then the chapter ‘The Alps in the Sea’, with its powerful denunciation of colonisation and development, could be perceived as a warning against visiting the Bavella region of Corsica. I wondered how locals and the tourist board alike view his short piece, with its descriptive words such ‘degradation’, ‘destruction’, ‘disappearing’, ‘destroyed’ and ‘deranged’.

Yet by the end of the chapter, despite his no holds barred account of the human destruction of an almost dreamlike paradise, Sebald entrances readers with his hypnotic recollection of the sunset over Porto harbour, especially as it hits Les Calanques. As the rock formation is ignited by the blazing light of the sunset, so is the reader’s desire to view this natural phenomenon for themselves.

Whilst North Wales cannot be compared to Corsica, I pondered how Sebald would approach the inconsistencies that I discovered between the natural world and the built world. I have agonised over whether they should be mentioned, because my taste is as unique as my fingerprint. Is it offensive or even necessary to mention what I found distasteful?

If I look back over the photos I took during our few days away, you could be forgiven for thinking that North Wales was all windswept beaches, rolling emerald green hills and dramatic mountainous horizons carved by glaciers during the last ice age. I greedily devoured the magnificent natural world in silence, committing waterfalls, forests, lakes and mountains to both physical and mental memory.

But at times I found the contrast between the human and non-human world unsettling and almost disrespectful. There seemed little attempt to blend recent settlements with their beautiful surroundings, leaving some towns awkwardly at odds with the natural world. At times it was also the inconsistency between the modern and historic that I found distasteful.

Harlech had a stunning beach framed by sand dunes with the ruggedness of Snowdonia rising in the distance. In between the two, on top of a rocky crag, is the imposing Harlech Castle, a nearly 800 year old fortress that dominates the local area. However, sandwiched between the historic building, dramatic hills and the almost endless coast is a quite ugly 1970s housing estate. It’s just one of a few developments that appear to have been built with no attempt to blend into the spectacular surroundings.

As a history enthusiast, I was excited to see Caernarfon Castle. Built in the 1200s on the River Seiont, I found it a formidable sight. I spent a while absorbing the sheer scale and imagining life 700 years ago. However I was surprised to find that it was suffocated by modern buildings which somewhat detracted from the grandeur. Bingo halls, supermarkets and takeaways encroached the local area; it was a shame to see such a claustrophobic contrast between the majestic ancient castle and modern life.

Barmouth was our last stop. As a tourist in North Wales, I was unfamiliar with the local towns and simply chose Barmouth as a quick google search showed a lovely beach for the children and dog. The beach was perfect for them and again, the long sand and pebble coast had a backdrop of imposing green hills and a valley view, which was quite stunning. Unfortunately Barmouth seafront has been developed like many British seaside towns, with tacky shops and a grubby arcade. The streets were littered with discarded disposable face masks and the one public toilet block was overused and disgusting.

I wanted to visit North Wales for the scenery and outdoor experiences and I certainly found what I was looking for. One of the children’s favourite memories is our late evening drive around the Snowdon area, searching for waterfalls and later sitting in the car with wood fired pizza. Mine is tackling Mount Snowdon, despite the discomfort, because of how close I felt to nature at that time. Did my negative observations detract from my enjoyment of our trip? Occasionally yes, but my overriding experience and memories are positive, much like my reel of photographs.

Harlech beach


1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. Old British seaside towns make me wonder if we learn beauty. Since studying Paignton with my students over the last three years and reading Phil Smith’s book, Anywhere, I feel I have learnt to see the beauty in the nettles reclaiming the buildings near the railway station.

    Liked by 1 person

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