Ever since I was a child and saw the 1960s television series The Prisoner, where The Village was set in Portmeirion, it has been my dream (one of many, of course) to visit Portmeirion. It seemed to me to be a magical place and as well as reading about it I have collected the distinctive pottery, and tried to influence my children to watch the original series, despite the fact that they are living in a more worldly age and are mystified by the large clear plastic bouncing balls which came bouncing down to prevent escape from the village in the television series. I read that quite a few others have been similarly captivated, including George Harrison who visited but was prevented by his minders from staying in his preferred cottage lest he become a little bit intoxicated and fall off the low balcony, and Jules Holland, who loved the "pink house" and used it as an inspiration for his London recording studio.
In case you haven't heard of Portmeirion, it was the work of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who started developing the village in 1925, and I suppose you would describe it as a giant folly. He was not a qualified architect, having abandoned his studies early on in his training, but did practice as one all the same. I think he started off reasonably small, using architectural salvage materials to recreate something which looked like a village on the Amalfi coast, and over time developed the wonderful township cradled on the side of a hill beside the sea, and also the impressive gardens beyond. At this time grand estates were being sold off and dismantled because of the cost of maintaining and repairing them, death duties and lack of cheap domestic staff, and so people who knew him would offer him things which would otherwise have been destroyed or left to crumble, and he kept the ruins until such time as he knew exactly where to place them sympathetically and how to use them. What I admire most about the whole endeavour is that I think for most people it would be easy to be discouraged and give up on such a whimsical yet ambitious project, but he obviously just kept working away at it, and once he reached a certain stage others must have been impressed and begun to see the charm and attraction of such a place.
Here are some of the photos we took on the day we visited. It was a cool grey day in October and threatening rain, but luckily it meant that possibly there were less visitors than usual (and definitely less than in the summer season), and we had a chance to enjoy the vistas uninterrupted. The next day there was heavy rain and we were fortunate to have visited on the day we did. I've tried to restrain myself and only put a few photos here of the many we took, but I think you will be able to see the clever way he has used different materials, including local ones. The chess board was not part of the village but has been recently added in reference to The Prisoner, and it looks completely at home. Every year people who are obsessively interested in The Prisoner visit for a festival and having been such a devotee of Art Deco Weekend in Napier, I can completely understand that. In the village there has been a clever use of trompe l'oeil effects which you can only discern if you look carefully. Some of the windows are just painted on, complete with lace curtains, and some of the statuary at the end of vistas is just cut outs cunningly painted to resemble verdigris. Clever, very clever, and all in keeping with the light hearted approach of the whole place. It was a wonderful experience and I am happy to say that the teapot I bought there actually made it all the way home without any damage.
Speaking of which, the op shops were just wonderful and another time I will have to show you some of the treasures we found.
The pink house much admired by Jules Holland
Looking down over the village from the gardens on the hillside. There are a lot of plantings of rhododendrons and it must be a magnificent sight in the spring time.
The steam train which travels along by the sea in Porthmadog, the village where we stayed
Very picturesque setting at Porthmadog
One of the characteristic stone cottages which were dotted about the surrounding countryside, and which we would have dearly loved to venture inside.