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Times hotel review that describes Machynlleth hinterland as ‘Welsh backwater’ sets teeth on edge

14 Oct 2021 3 minutes Read
The Royston, Machynlleth

The “hinterland of Machynlleth” has been described as a “Welsh backwater” in a hotel review in the Times that has set some teeth on edge.

The review of The Royston, Llanbrynmair by James Stewart, who says the hotel’s decor “could be Brighton”, has been described as “absolute b*ll*cks” in responses on social media.

“In 2019, when the former Londoners launched the Royston in a handsome Victorian house, hipster style in a Welsh backwater probably seemed like madness,” the newspaper declares.

The review begins in Under Milk Wood style: “It’s dusk in the bucolic hinterland near Machynlleth, Powys. Outside the Royston a fire crackles in the pit, crows caw to their roosts and clouds sail above the Twymyn Valley, a sea of tiny fields and woods, here and there a white farmhouse raised aloft on a swell of grass.

“Yet the lounge inside could be Brighton, with cocktails poured at the honesty bar, limited-edition prints on inky blue-black walls and objets trouvés in a vintage cabinet.”

Twitter user Owen Williams responded: “Nothing to see here, just a journalist from The Times describing Machynlleth as ‘a Welsh backwater’, transformed into ‘Brighton’ by a London couple.

“I mean, the absolute b*ll*cks on James Stewart to come up with that.”

‘Nothing condemnatory’

Owen ab Lonker was also unimpressed, asking: “Why on earth would anyone see fit to laud the transforming of a property nestled in one of the most historic and unique areas of the UK into what sounds a generic, run of the mill B&B?”

Another social media user added: “I’m amazed he stopped short of saying people were speaking English before switching to Welsh when he arrived in the bar.”

The reviewer, James Stewart, however also responded to defend his review.

“‘Backwater’ as defined by OED: ‘an isolated or peaceful place’,” he said. “There is no mention of ‘transformed’ in copy. But don’t let either fact affect your prejudices.”

He said that the review “suggests that a couple created a B&B somewhere bucolic but chose to style it inside in way that’s more akin to a city stay. There’s nothing condemnatory about Wales in that. Sorry if you don’t see that.”

“Backwater” was later changed in the copy to “back-of-beyond”.

Editor’s note: This article originally claimed that the author called Machynlleth a “Welsh backwater”. The author of the Times article has requested that we clarify that he was calling nearby Llanbrynmair a Welsh backwater. We are happy to do so.

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Dai Rob
Dai Rob
8 days ago

What a dick!!

j humphrys
j humphrys
8 days ago

We won’t!

Ed Jones
Ed Jones
8 days ago

A few questions – 1) Has this Mr Stewart used the word ‘backwater’ in any other review? 2) Is the word ‘backwater’ often used in such reviews, as carried by The Times, appertaining to Wales? 3) Was the house always known as Royston?!

j humphrys
j humphrys
8 days ago
Reply to  Ed Jones

There’s one great Royston in Cymru, and he aint no house!

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
8 days ago

Now this one has everything, where to start…Mach on Sea! Aber maybe-no sand.

Victorian, now they did build some fine holiday homes check out the Mawddach for that…

Peter Smith of Houses of the Welsh Countryside fame could have done a ‘Shire’ booklet on the Houses of the Mawddach…

Best street market in Wales…that’s on a Wednesday if the men in your life are Mach Loopy…

hdavies15
hdavies15
8 days ago

Long may Mach remain a “backwater” to those dopey types in London and Times-shire. Just seeing some of those dudes shuffling around anywhere in Wales makes my stomach turn.

Huw Davies
Huw Davies
8 days ago

How is Machynlleth isolated? It’s on the main road where the A489 joins the A487. It’s even got a proper railway station, on the line from Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury! Calling it a backwater is really stretching the English language to breaking point. He’d have been better just calling it the historic old town in mid Wales where Glendower had his seat of power. Thrown in a bit of Shakespeare to give some context. Henry IV, Part I “ Three times hath Henry Bolingbroke made head Against my power; thrice from the banks of Wye And sandy-bottom’d Severn have I sent him… Read more »

John Malcolm Evans
John Malcolm Evans
7 days ago
Reply to  Huw Davies

It’s nowhere near Machynlleth!!

Huw Davies
Huw Davies
6 days ago

Your right! Thank you. Just checked and it’s just over 12 miles from Machynlleth and only 18 from Newtown. I must have passed the turning for it a few times over the years when ‘taking the scenic route’. Never considered Llanbrynmair as close to Machynlleth. On that basis Port Talbot estate agents can say the houses are in Swansea!

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
8 days ago

If it’s not the late AA Gill (may he rest in hell) overt Cymrophobia in his columns of hate or writer Simon Calder using anti-Welsh rhetoric in his travel reviews, now can add James Stewart to the list of prized pratt’s. As usual we have a nobody wanting to be a somebody, who thinks by using Welsh stereotypes and derogatory comments about Wales will get him noticed by the media. Getting a bit tiresome now. Anyway, why would Machynlleth want to be tacky like Brighton. A backwater it is not. If it were the English would have dammed it by… Read more »

Last edited 8 days ago by Y Cymro
Grayham Jones
8 days ago

Stop reading English newspapers and English 📺 news be proud to be welsh start fighting for your children and grandchildren future in wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 get the people in your town’s out voting for new wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 it’s time for a new wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

John Davies
John Davies
8 days ago

Slightly off-topic, but I was once paid a very pretty compliment in Machynlleth. I had been staying with a pleasant enough group of incomers, and one evening they said they would go out to meet others “from the local community”. Turned out they were all other incomers! So I sloped off and ended up in the public bar of a pub off the main square, which was packed out with locals. Poachers and other disreputables by the look of them! Of course, they were all speaking Welsh. I explained that yes, I was Welsh, no, I did not have the… Read more »

Last edited 8 days ago by John Davies
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
8 days ago
Reply to  John Davies

A bit of a risky one this but trust me…if you ask certain people why they moved to mid west Wales they might well reply “to get away from my not English neighbours”…

John Malcolm Evans
John Malcolm Evans
7 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Yes indeed, it’s a well known phenomenon called”white flight”!

hdavies15
hdavies15
7 days ago

Not like in those “good old days” so fondly recalled through a wonky prism by Anglo Brit supremacists when “darkies” were told they were unwelcome in certain communities. Always good enough to do the menial tasks that natives were either too lazy to tackle or felt were beneath them, but confined to live elsewhere.

John Davies
John Davies
7 days ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Sais attitudes to us are not so very different. They are certainly racist. I recall one village with a really substantial incomer population where the Englishwoman who ran the local “bistro” said that “they had had one of those nationalists but he had to be put down”. I suggested that “putting down” is what you do to a mad dog. She had the gall to accuse me of being offensive. The fact that she was being offensive in the extreme and seemed to have no idea at all whose country she was in had simply not occurred to her. Nor… Read more »

j humphrys
j humphrys
8 days ago
Reply to  John Davies

You’re right, it’s a lack of awareness. It’s not just in Cymru, but anywhere they settle.
Remember one at a party in France saying “Oh we’re here because we love France, and this Frenchman went on his knees “Oh thank you thank you!”

John Malcolm Evans
John Malcolm Evans
7 days ago
Reply to  John Davies

I can empathise with your tale as a former resident of Machynlleth.
I’m not however going to hazard a guess at the name of the pub you visited for obvious reasons.! 🤣
Sadly I can recall a time of frequenting the local hostelries when only a few of the customers would not have been born and bred in the community. Times have changed.! 😢

John Davies
John Davies
8 days ago

Of course, (at risk of labouring the obvious) what really is offensive is the writer’s assumption (unspoken but obvious) that Wales is somehow backward and so it is a surprise to find a pretty bog-standard slightly up-market B&B here. That is a really superb example of the Sais talent for being deeply offensive without even being aware of how offensive they are being.

Igon Ovabord
Igon Ovabord
6 days ago
Reply to  John Davies

To be fair, unless you’re going somewhere like Cardiff or Swansea, it does come as a surprise when you come across anything modern. It’s mostly farms and sheep in Wales.

defaid
defaid
8 days ago

The house has not always been known as Royston. Its correct name is either Llwyn-aire (Ordnance Survey 1900) or Llwynaerau (OS 1:25000 published 2009). It’s not shown on the first edition inch to a mile (1836) but the two nearest farms are Bryn Aire Isaf & Uchaf. I’d guess the correct name is what might be called a proper agricultural or geographical name; the sort that should be protected. In fairness, the sign outside the house does have the correct and historical name but… in a tiny font beneath the very large & bold new English rename. Also, it’s not… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
7 days ago
Reply to  defaid

Thanks for that ‘little’ piece of information defaid…

defaid
defaid
7 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

I’ll shut up now.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
7 days ago
Reply to  defaid

Please don’t do that defaid. I got my first motorbike from a garage in Llanbrynmair, a BSA Bantam, on the way back to the coast I had to run along side to get it over the last bit of the Bwlch…I could have cried ‘ton up’ it was not but it was the first time I had ridden a bike so that may have had something to do with it…I’m going to give up trying to be ironic defaid bob lwc

John Malcolm Evans
John Malcolm Evans
7 days ago
Reply to  defaid

Might just as well have said Newtown then.! 🤣

Eileen Wells
Eileen Wells
7 days ago

Why would anyone want to recreate a taste of Brighton in somewhere as beautiful as Wales?

Dubdee
Dubdee
7 days ago

Why get so rattled with this article? If it wants to paint Wales as full of half breds and idiots, let it carry on. Hopefully it’ll dissuade these idiots from moving here. I’ve lived in Wales thirty years, but I was born and bred in the north of England and i get so embarrassed to see what my countrymen write. I’ve only encountered kindness and friendship when I’ve travelled to mid, north and west Wales. The people who write these articles are stupid and thick – best they stay in west London.

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