by Allan R. Andrews
American Reporter Correspondent
July 5, 2001
TOURISM TO BEAUTIFUL WALES HURT BY FMD EPIDEMIC
FISHGUARD, Pembrokeshire, Wales -- Foot-and-mouth disease, which has made eating beef in Britain a rare event, is subtly devastating the tourist trade in this paradise of nature and Celtic history.
"We have a large youth hostel up the road," a tea shop proprietor in the tiny coastal village of Trevine told us during a recent visit. "But no one is staying in it." Sales of a small collection of artwork are helping the woman keep her shop open.
A neighboring tea shop exposed a small sign: "Sorry, we are closed."
This was no short-term closure. Another sign in a nearby window indicated that all furnishings and equipment of the cottage business were being sold as well.
Friends traveling with us visited a farm cottage near St. David's in which they had spent delightful past summers along this strip of Atlantic Coast that the government has designated as the only coastal national park in the United Kingdom. They learned from the landlord that the cottage had been sold because the family's herd was destroyed. The threat of foot-and-mouth disease has the government buying up herds of cows to destroy them and thus curtail the spread of the disease. The woman and her husband were moving into the coastal ferry port of Fishguard to refocus on entertaining tourists rather than raising cattle and augmenting their income with summer cottage rentals.
These villages along the Pembrokeshire Coast Trail, nearly 200 miles of hiking paths that rise and fall and meander above the carved cliffs of Southwestern Wales, are facing a summer of ghost town existence. The people who typically fill Trevine's hostel, its neighboring cottages, pubs and teashops are walkers, visitors who rent summer rooms in the area and spend their vacations trekking the public footpaths that wind along the gorgeous coast.
A resident of nearby Abercastle, a 16-family haven for lobster boats tucked between two high headlands, confirmed the scarcity of tourists.
"Usually, the paths at this time of the year are a steady stream of walkers," the man said. "This year, no one comes." The man stopped on the street to talk about the downturn in tourism with my wife and me and the American couple traveling with us.
"I take good note of what's going on," the man said. "The disease is more than a hundred miles from us. I thought they were going to open the paths this weekend, but they didn't."
"They" is the local and national governments who have postedclosings on massive sections of the coastal hiking paths that skirt theperimeters of farming and grazing land.
Gates and stiles that provide entry to the footways are posted and often strapped closed with yellow tapes, much like a crime investigation scene. Trespassers are warned they can be fined up to 5,000 pounds (about$7,500), the equivalent to about 15 round-trip airfares between New York and London, for an hour or so on Wales' picturesque coast.
Rumors are rife in the area: There are reports of government carelessness and delay. There are reports of farmers -- already eking out a living in a gorgeous land whose mining, farming and industrial livelihoods are largely history -- committing suicide after their herds were destroyed. There are reports of unethical exploiters offering to infect farmers' animals so the government will come in and buy out theherds.
There are continuing reports of disease discoveries, each one seemingly inching closer to the idyllic coast that traditionally draws thousands of tourists from England, the European Continent and from North America.
What largely is unreported is that tourists are not coming.
Those walking paths that are open -- perhaps 40 percent of the total Coast Path -- are being trod by few hikers.
It's still early in the tourist season, and many more miles of paths may yet open, but as new reports of disease threaten the central highlands of Wales, it is likely the summer of 2001 will be a tourist disaster for Pembrokeshire.
Perhaps the only good side of the threat to the tourists was expressed by the Abercastle man: "I've noticed," he said, "that the wild flowers are blooming like never before, and some of the shore birds seem to be abundant."
He theorizes the lack of humans walking the paths has given the flora and fauna an unprecedented chance to reproduce and thrive without being disturbed.
Ironically, that flora and fauna, together with the ocean and the Irish Sea, are what lure the tourists, and nature is thriving because the tourists are not arriving.
A similar thriving cannot describe the Welsh people w= ho live and work here.
They've come to depend on tourist money, and when walkers stay home so do their wallets.
Allan R. Andrews, a former editor of Pacific Stars and Stripesin Japan, teaches high school in Annapolis, Md. Write him at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org