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The View From Here: Keeping the grey hordes amused; Ian Parri heads for Barmouth as we visit Welsh communities.

Byline: Ian Parri

JEAN Michel Jarre's synthesised classic Oxygene echoes through the cavernous amusement arcade. Half a dozen greying heads are glued to their places as they robotically pump cash into the aptly named one-armed bandits.

Meanwhile the man in charge of the change booth looks decidedly bored as he is lost in his laptop computer's screen. Two young men eager for trade sit more in hope than expectation on the lit-up waltzer, one of them ominously with his arm in a sling.

The stationary dodgems nearby yawn at the flashing lights overhead, while Bugs Bunny maintains his plastic grin as he waits for a youngster to hop next to him for a 50p ride in his car.

Ageing Brummies with booming voices confidently patrol a promenade that seemingly extends into infinity, with the strangest collection of mis-shaped canines in tow. Meanwhile the Dragon Theatre offers the enticing prospect of afternoon tea dances to lure them all in from the mid-day sun.

However the young woman in the ice cream kiosk with lurid purple marks on her neck suggests there might be something to keep the young occupied in Barmouth as well. Then of course there's always the Sandancer nightclub, which prides itself perhaps misguidedly on being ' Wales' No 1 Club'.

Whether the dog walkers are local Brummies or Brummies from Birmingham is difficult to ascertain. They've taken the place so much to heart that it's not unknown for this little town of 2,500 people to be referred to as Birmingham-on-Sea. There's even a Birmingham Garage on the eastern approach into town to further ease any feelings of alienation.

The June sunshine is at its hottest zenith, and Barmouth is a town in a state of anticipation. They know the hordes will soon descend, and they scan the horizon in preparation for the first smoke signals. Yet all they can do for now is kick their heels. Limited numbers of sunbathers enjoy some rare elbow room on the wide sweep of the beautiful sandy beach. It has drawn the tourists here in their thousands ever since the train first forced its way through the Cambrian mountains.

Across the Mawddach estuary andits landmark wooden railway bridge - surely one of Wales' more alluring estuaries - a puff of smoke rising from among the dunes shows that another train is approaching its terminus. This is the toy-town Fairbourne and Barmouth Railway on its 12 1 / 4 -inch gauge track, which can be reached by ferry from the harbour in Barmouth.

Although sterling efforts have been made to beautify parts of the town, in particular around the harbour, Barmouth remains an architecturally nondescript place.

The streets of social housing at the northern end of the promenade might be within a frisbee's toss of the sea and carry evocative names such as Tai'r Heli and Heol y Plas. But that's scant compensation for an obvious lack of maintenance.

However a stroll through Barmouth's network of steep back streets, some of them hardly wide enough to push a wheelbarrow along, reveals some gems. A number of impressive houses cling determinedly to the cliff face, as if desperate to escape the town's clutches. A Welsh flag flutters ambassadorially from its pole in the garden of one of them.

I push myself breathlessly further up the cliff-face to the summit of Dinas Oleu. The views over the estuary and across the bay to the Lloen peninsula as it stretches out tantalisingly towards Ireland take yet more of what little breath I have left.

This is effectively the birthplace of the National Trust, it being the first piece of land donated to the fledgling body, by a wealthy local widow way back in 1895.

It's a world away from the bright lights of the amusement arcades down on the prom. As I return some two hours later, those greying heads are still hard at it

Did you know

The Dragon Theatre was converted from a congregational chapel in the 1950s at the instigation of Sir Clayton Russon n Barmouth and Dyffryn Football Club, now operating in the Silver Star Gwynedd League, reached the Welsh Cup final in 1925 n The Three Peaks Race involves sailing from Barmouth to Fort William and climbing Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis n The town's correct name is Abermawddach, usually shortened to Abermaw, with Barmouth an imitated spelling of the Anglicised pronunciation

CAPTION(S):

Barmouth's stunning location on the Mawddach estuary has made it popular with holidaymakers from the Midlands - so much so it's known by many as Birmingham-on-Sea
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jun 27, 2005
Words:756
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