Countryfile, Cymru and Me
Me too. When the Countryfile Facebook post ‘Pen y Fan Walk, Brecon Beacons’ popped up on my feed last week, it felt like a kick in the teeth and ten years of work overturned. Even though I – perhaps more than anyone – knew that the title didn’t represent the ethos or views of the magazine. I guessed it was a blip. I definitely knew it wasn’t the whole story. Nevertheless I didn’t click. I felt marginalised, patronised, colonised. (Does this maybe mean I’ve gone native?)
But when I saw Stephen Price’s disgruntled column in Nation Cymru about the post and all the comments unrolling beneath, I felt equally wretched. The irony is that if it’s true – if I have gone native – then BBC Countryfile Magazine is partly responsible. In 2012 they commissioned me to write an article about the Wales Coast Path and between then and 2023, I wrote for them almost every month. And nearly every article was about Wales. Cymru.
BBC Countryfile Magazine commissioned me to write about carthenni (Welsh blankets), Gwynedd sheep farmers and their wind turbines, the reintroduction of pine martens, and the Dolgellau gold rush. The mustard gas munitions factory at Rhydymwyn – now a Nature Reserve. I’ve written about Kate Roberts’ Rhosgadfan, Richard Wilson’s Cadair Idris and Clough Williams-Ellis’ Portmeirion. The mysterious floating island of Llyn y Dywarchen and the Broad Haven Triangle. Talyllyn Railway, the Ffestiniog Railway, the Heart of Wales Trail and the Heart of Wales train.
I wrote about the art you can visit along the Cambrian Railway (at Y Trallwng, Drenewydd, Machynlleth and Aberystwyth) and the gallery at Plas Glyn-y-Weddw. The cockle pickers of Llansteffan. The cheese-makers of Caws Teifi. Conwy Winterfest. Saint Fagan’s. The Centre for Alternative Technology. Ogof Goat’s Hole, Ogof Cathole and Ogof Fawr (Chartists’ Cave). I’ve learned to paddleboard in Y Fenai for Countryfile and learned to surf for them at Y Borth. Saint Melangell, St Gofan’s Chapel, Yr Eglwys y Grog. Tŷ Hyll. Plas Dinefwr, Powis Castell and Llanerchaeron. Castell y Bere, and while we’re on the subject of Cymreig princes, I’ve shared with them, the Battle of Mynydd Hyddgen.
Countryfile assigned me to report on Cymru’s wildlife. I’ve told readers about the black grouse at Llandegla, the nightjars at Cors Bodgynydd, the great-crested grebes of Traeth Lafan, Skomer’s puffins, the Greenland white-fronted geese and lesser spotted woodpeckers of Ynys-hir. I’ve written about Afon Taff salmon. The bottle-nosed dolphins of Bae Ceredigion. I’ve described the Bosherston lilies, sneezewort at Plas-yn-Rhiw, yellow rattle at Moss Hill, purple saxifrage at Cwm Idwal and the wildflowers of Whitehill Down. The Llangernyw Yew. The pearl-bordered fritillaries of Cwm Soden and multiple butterflies of Llanymynech did not pass me by. Nor did those frisky red squirrels of Llyn Parc Mawr (and let’s not forget the afanc of Llyn Barfog).
There’s more. For BBC Countryfile Magazine I walked The Dylan Thomas Trail, the pilgrim route from Bangor to Ynys Enlli, Llanelli Millennium Coastal Park Path, Taith Mawddach, The Mary Jones Trail, Llwybr Clawdd Offa and Llwybr Llanberis.
And in order to further share the beauty and mystery of our landscapes, they asked me to map out walking guides around Y Fflint, Pwllgwaelod, Yr Eifl, Llansteffan, Bala, Coed-y-Brenin, Ynys Gybi, coastal Sir Benfro, Bae Ceredigion, Dyffryn Dysynni, Rhosili, Llandudno, Mynydd Cnicht, Afon Ystwyth, Coed Rheidol, Ynys Lawd, Dyffryn Fernant, Afon Cynfal, Y Berwynion, Coed Plas Power, Oxwich, Dyffryn Elan, Dinas Mawddwy, Bethlehem, Dyffryn Dyfrdwy, Porthmadog, Coed Pen-bre, Cwm Nantcol, Aberglaslyn, Sgwd Henrhyd, Pontarfynach and Gors Fawr. I never had enough space to describe at least ninety percent of the sights I saw and conversations I had. And that’s just me! There were other writers (and photographers) out there too, including the editors who commissioned all this stuff.
By bus and on foot, I explored the length and breadth of our country and the more I did, the more I understood. I spoke to Cymraeg speakers and non-Cymraeg speakers, and as my Cymraeg improved, I started including it in my writing. (Perhaps this is why ‘Discover Slate Country’ is the feature of which I’m proudest). I am hugely grateful and deeply indebted to BBC Countryfile Magazine for much of what I know about writing, and a great deal of what I know about Cymru.
Several years ago, I started submitting copy with Cymraeg place names (and the English in brackets). Were the editorial team hostile to this approach? Not a bit. Often they published my work exactly as it was. It wasn’t easy for them. Sometimes the extra text interrupted the flow and took up space. But they discussed how best to use Cymraeg. Sometimes they omitted it or used a glossary instead. But broadly as a team and definitely (on the whole) as individuals, at least three of whom lived in Cymru, they were as supportive of Cymraeg as they were passionate about Cymru.
So why the ‘Brecon Beacons’ fiasco last week? You can guess. The financial strife that is causing my friends and yours to lose work in museums, libraries, councils, NGOs, steelworks and so on, hit BBC Countryfile Magazine too. In the restructuring last summer, BBC Countryfile Magazine and BBC Wildlife Magazine staff merged and half of each team lost their jobs. Those left are struggling and no longer have the resources to frequently commission freelancers like me.
Like everyone else they are desperately chasing cash and sponsors and clicks and likes in order to survive. They have been reformatting copy to make it multi-media compatible. Unfortunately, during that process, amid all the chaos, somehow, Cymraeg got changed to English. It took me several days to realise that a few of the posts people were complaining about were mine – I didn’t recognise them. The content as well as the language had been changed. (The team are now addressing the National-Parks related language mistakes – and keeping the English alongside, for search-engine reasons).
They have also (like Nation.Cymru sometimes do) been re-posting old material. The ‘Brecon Beacons’ walk that caused such a rumpus was written yonks ago. The author is Danny, one of the editors still there and a lovelier person to work with you’ll struggle to find. Apparently Danny also wrote a feature this January 2024 about visiting Bannau Brycheiniog in which he explains the name change. I haven’t seen it yet but I will seek it out and I suggest you do too – he writes thoughtfully and beautifully.
Meanwhile the old ‘Brecon Beacons’ article was re-posted in September and again last week, and there we are. These are chaotic times. The debacle is indisputably an inglorious cock-up. But then so was Gareth Bale’s penalty miss against Turkey 2020 – a game which Cymru went onto win. And anyhow, that’s not what we remember Gareth for, is it?
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