Modern technology can deliver impressive new gadgets, resources, and solutions to problems we didn’t even know we had – but if a person wants to feel truly awe-inspired, there are few things that come close to simply being exposed to the raw power of nature. Anyone who has felt that connection to a piece of land can agree on the unique sensation of being one with the earth. We are reminded we are only a tiny being in a much bigger context than ourselves, but at the same time we feel deeply connected because we realize we are all part of a single network.
The stress of modern life makes us feel detached from the earth and from other people, so it’s natural to crave that connection. It’s no coincidence that every once we a while, we feel the urge to turn off the technology that makes our day-to-day so comfortable. Sometimes, all we want to do is to pack our bags and head to a distant location, far away from computers, cellphones, and anything that keeps our eyes focused on one single object. Sometimes, we want to let our eyes marvel on nature itself.
This is certainly one of the reasons why the Blue Lake, in Wales, became a popular spot. Unfortunately, as it often happens, people’s selfishness got the best of it.
The Blue Lake
Hidden in the county of Gwynedd, North Wales, is the beautiful Blue Lake. As the name suggests, it has remarkable blue water that attracted locals for decades.
People loved the landscape and the deep waters of the lake, but as the popularity of the place grew, so did its problems.
A bit of history
The Blue Lake is not a natural formation. It is actually a former quarry – a sort of open-pit mine in which different types of rock can be dug up from the ground. In this case, the rock being dug up was slate, a material known for its durability and attractive appearance that has a variety of uses – most commonly, flooring and roofing.
The quarry dates back to 1867, when the slate industry was growing rapidly in North Wales, and it was later flooded as part of a failed plan to transform it into an hydroelectricity reservoir. It is said that the stirred up minerals from its quarrying days are responsible for the characteristic blue color of the lake’s water.
A guarded location
The former quarry-turned lake is surrounded by very high, steep rocks, making it somewhat hidden from view. In order to have access to it, a person would have to know exactly what to look for – a tunnel built into the sloping side of the hill, which led right up to the edge of the water.
The lake was said to be extraordinarily cold, but it didn’t stop people from swimming in it. And anyway, the landscape was an attraction on its own, so even those who did not want to venture themselves into the cold water enjoyed going there to sit by the edge and spend some quality time with family and friends.
What many people did not seem to know is that the Blue Lake is located on private land. It belongs to sheep farmer Allan Titley, 70, who bought his 500-acre farm in the 1980s. By that point, the lake was already a locally known attraction, so even though it was now part of his land, he gave visitors access to it.
The problem started when the Blue Lake’s fame spread outside that small circle, and hoards of visitors were coming every weekend. The real issue, though, was not the number of people, but the amount of trash they were producing and failing to get rid of. Over the past three years, the situation got so bad, the farmer ultimately made an extreme decision.
The internet does its thing
With the rise of the internet, information became easily shared and secrets were that much harder to keep. In the case of tourism, the countless number of travel-related websites meant there is no such thing as a “secret location” anymore – after all, once a website that’s visited by millions of users every month posts about a “secret location,” then it stops being secret, right?
That’s what happened to Blue Lake. What was once only known to the residents of a very specify area of North Wales gradually became a tourist attraction. Soon, the small, quiet Blue Lake was getting visited by people from all over the United Kingdom, and even from abroad.
People do their thing
The landowner, Mr Titley, said he never had any interest in stopping people from going to the lake, but notes that unfortunately, things started to change around 10 years ago. Before, he claims, visitors used to be respectful, but not anymore.
Since the lake is located on private property, it was left to him and a few local volunteers to clean up the tourists’ litter. Mr Titley complained that in all of Wales, there doesn’t seem to be a nature spot that hasn’t been trashed.
40 bags of litter
According to local councillor Louise Hughes, this year they removed around 40 bags of trash from Blue Lake in only a few weeks. It was an endless pile, which included abandoned barbecues, camping equipment, bags of dog mess, and even used condoms and human excrement – all left behind by tourists.
Councillor Hughes commented that some people have no regard for the environment, and that recently, it has gotten steadily worse. Blue Lake’s exposure on social media hasn’t helped, she added.
Trash on top of trash
The images of the garbage left behind by visitors are truly amazing, and not in a good way. In one of the pictures, there’s a big pile of food remains. Empty foil containers, torn bags of chips, plastic bags, soda cans, disposable cups, and so many glass bottles.
It’s hard to understand how people who go visit an “astonishingly beautiful” location, as described councillor Hughes, don’t seem to think about taking away the things they were perfectly capable of bringing in.
No respect for the countryside
Mr Titley said some of the tourists showed responsibility and picked up after themselves, but for the most part, it was up to him and the volunteers. And if that wasn’t enough, the trash wasn’t the only thing they had to deal with.
According to the farmer, he also started having problems with people’s dogs chasing sheep. He lamented the lack of education shown by some visitors, who just didn’t seem to care at all about the countryside.
The final straw
The final straw came earlier this year, when Mr Titley received a letter from the local council. They were threatening to prosecute him for illegal dumping.
Imagine what it must have felt like. A farmer selflessly gives the public access to a piece of his own private land, then single handedly deals with its increased popularity, only to be threatened with court action over littering done by careless people he doesn’t even know. In the end, Mr Titley had to clean it up himself – and then, he made a drastic decision.
‘Enough is enough’
In May, 2019, Mr Titley sealed the entrance to the Blue Lake. Saying “enough is enough,” he used an excavator to move 60 tons of slate into the access tunnel that led to the water, closing it permanently.
Fed up with the destruction of the land, he now hopes it will become a nature reserve. He envisions that the former tunnel, for example, which was 105 to 120 feet long, will become a habitat for bats. He also hopes to have preserved the lake for future generations.
Social media reacts
A video of the excavator in action was posted to an online group called “I Love Fairbourne,” and members started sharing their opinion on the farmer’s decision – some were in favor, and some were against.
Many users shared memories of their own trips to the Blue Lake, and it’s possible to read stories dating back from the 1950s, when they were just children. The general feeling is of sadness, but some people are just angry.
‘Hopefully, people will now be more sensible’
One user, who claims he has been visiting the Blue Lake for the last 40 years, says Mr Titley had good reasons for choosing to block the entrance to the lake. According to him, apart from all the trash, it was only a matter of time until someone got injured.
He blames social media for the high number of visitors – “there were simply too many,” he laments. But he ends his comment with a positive perspective, noting people can still enjoy the view of the lake and, hopefully, be more sensible from now on.
‘The last opportunity’
One user tells the story of how he used to visit the Blue Lake with his father during the late 1940s, when they went to the village of Fairbourne for the summer holidays.
He says he hasn’t visited the area since the 1950s, and that recently he had made the decision of taking his wife there this summer, to show her the lake. “At 78,” he writes on the group, it’s “probably the last opportunity we will have.”
‘He could have made money’
While most of the posts on the “I Love Fairbourne” online group show sympathy towards Mr Titley, some of them carry heavier emotions. A person who used to visit the Blue Lake with his parents says he’s angry about the situation.
He claims the farmer lacked sense, as he could have provided bins to the visitors and made money by charging entry to the lake. He also criticizes the council for not stepping up and investing on it.
Something to think about
On a travel website where users can leave their own reviews, people took to the page dedicated to the Blue Lake to raise some questions about what has happened – and urge the website to re-evaluate its content sharing policies.
The question is about whether travel websites like this should be listing locations that are not official attractions. After all, reviews on the website can direct lots of people to those places, but what if the owner of the locations don’t want or can’t handle that much attention?
Is social media to blame?
Many people, including Mr Titler and local councillor Louise Hughes, blamed the decline of Blue Lake on social media. Their belief is that the publicity generated by popular information-sharing networks caused the litter problem around the nature spot to get worse.
But behind social media, of course, is people, and we can’t help but wonder if this history could have had a different ending if, despite their increasing number, the tourists had more conscience and respect for the environment.
‘Farming is hard enough’
One reviewer on the travel website told of how he first visited Blue Lake 33 years ago, when there was a sense of contrast between the industrial scene of the quarry and the beauty of the landscape.
He says that even though he is sad about the closing of the entrance to the lake, he can’t blame the farmer. Farming in that region must be difficult enough, he writes, without having to think about the litter of inconsiderate people.
On the same travel website, another reviewer mourns the former “secret place” she says was ruined by disrespectful tourists. She writes that as a local, she had been visiting the spot since she was a child and was therefore “absolutely devastated” by its closing.
She laments that her daughter will not be able to see the same “magical scenery” as it once was, and claims the place was never the same after it first started being featured on the travel website.
Ironically, when people first started writing about Blue Lake on the travel website, most of the reviews praised it for being a “hidden gem.”
The first user-created posts about the location date back from 2012, and many of them make a point of describing the peaceful, quiet environment. One of the early reviews mention how nice it is that there are no signs directing travelers to the place, because that way it will remain a “well kept secret.”
Not everything is lost
In life, for every #fail, there needs to be a #win. While it’s sad to read about cases like the Blue Lake, it’s refreshing to know that many people are rising above and showing we can still have faith in humanity.
Earlier this year, a challenge that started – guess where? – on social media restored our hope in people. The idea was simple – to encourage everyone to go outside and help clean the environment
The #TrashTag challenge
The #TrashTag challenge, as it became known, invited any willing participants to pick a littered place, clean it up, and share the before and after pictures on social media using the specific hashtag.
The challenge quickly went viral, and people from all over the world started posting their photos. On the images, we can see previously trashed beaches, parks, and roadsides that were left sparkling after some good picking and sweeping. And of course, we also see the smile on the faces of the participants, happy to have done a good deed.
Hoping for a change of mind
Among the people who used to visit the Blue Lake regularly, there are some who still hope for a change of mind from Mr Titley.
Former regulars, who built many happy memories while spending time with family and friends down at the lake, are wondering if there’s any chance the landowner would consider reopening the entrance to the attraction. Some people are even suggesting ways to do it, so they can avoid the problems that happened before.
Setting some ground rules
Those who are hopeful that Mr Titley would consider reopening the entrance to the lake believe that maybe things could work this time if they were able to set some ground rules first.
It could work, but we can’t help but think that cleaning up after yourself when you visit a public place sounds like a pretty obvious thing to do. It’s kind of sad that there needs to be any official regulations to force people to simply do the right thing.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s beach is closed
Not too long ago, another similar case of a natural attraction that had to be closed down due to the damage done by tourists made the news everywhere.
We’re talking about the beautiful Maya Bay beach on the island of Phi Phi Leh – also known as the beach Leonardo DiCaprio made famous in the beginning of the 2000s, when he starred in a drama thriller directed by Danny Boyle that was called, well, The Beach.
5,000 visitors a day
Ever since it appeared in the movie, Maya Bay became hugely popular, and at one point, it was receiving as many as 5,000 visitors a day. The overflow of sightseers was damaging its coral reefs, so authorities had to intervene.
In 2018, it was announced that Maya Bay would be closed down to visitors for a few months – but after some time, officials decided to extend the ban until 2021, to give the environment more time to recover.
A plan for the future
Ever since the beach was closed down, there has been some slow signs of recovery in the environment, like the sight of blacktip reef sharks returning to the bay. So the authorities are already thinking about what to do when the place is reopened to the public.
The restriction of the daily number of visitors will be one of the new rules to be implemented. So who knows, if it works for Leonardo DiCaprio’s beach, maybe measures like this could work for Mr Titley’s lake.