Portmeirion in North Wales is one of the most unusual and extraordinary sites in the whole of Britain and quite unlike anywhere else in the world. In the 1920’s Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis bought the original mansion by the sea near Minffordd which is now Portmeirion Hotel and began to build his ideal village of every conceivable architectural style from around the world on the peninsula’s land above. He finished his dream when he was 90 years old and the result is an incredible place that looks and feels like a living breathing film set or beautiful picture come to life.
Some of the buildings are classical in style and painted in bright blue, yellow or red, there’s an Italianate Bell Tower and Italianate houses in pink and yellow with blue shutters and red roofs, there’s even a piazza with columns and a fountain, a bizarre little round house and all set amongst trees and lawns with arches, statues, cherubs, murals and embellished plaques. At every turn there’s a different vista, one minute you’re confronted by a cobbled square and rustic looking cottages, the next a magnificent Jacobean hall with ornate lanterns and mullioned windows stands before you.
Its theatrical style has made it a perfect backdrop to film and television productions; the 1960’s cult tv series “The Prisoner” starring Patrick McGoohan was filmed here with the Round House as Number Six’s residence. Parts of the 1958 film “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness” starring Ingrid Bergman and supposedly in China were shot around Clough’s outlook tower with The Great Wall of China being reconstructed in Nantmor valley and Clough salvaged the huge Buddha from the film set which is now displayed as part of the village.
The gardens of Portmeirion are just as stunning and diverse; there’s an Oriental Lake with a Chinese pagoda and bridge, a beautiful Gazebo, a stone Temple surrounded by rhododendrons and foliage above a pond and other luxuriant and rare plants flourishing and flowering all around. There’s even a little Dog’s Cemetery founded by one of Portmeirion’s tenants in the woodland. You can explore the gardens through winding paths threading the vegetation or wander up from one of the wide gullies from Whitesands Bay when the tide is low. On the main path into the gardens is the Playhouse; a cute little building with sky blue shutters and fanlight where an audio visual show with commentary by Clough Williams-Ellis runs every day.
Clough’s daughter Susan, with her husband, created the world famous Portmeirion Pottery with its distinctive and beautiful floral and fruit designs and there is a shop on site where you can buy the china. Visitors can also enjoy locally made ice cream or sit outside at wrought iron tables and chairs under white umbrellas and enjoy the view or buy “The Prisoner” memorabilia from the shop.
The Portmeirion Hotel at the foot of the slope right on the edge of the water is a beautiful and charming old house painted white and blue with a swimming pool surrounded by green lawn with original Victorian balustrading and Coade stone statues. There is also what looks like a ship called The Amis Reunis moored at the quay though in reality it is part building, part reconstructed boat and wholly Portmeirion creation! In a gorgeous character house by the pool called “The Fountain” Noel Coward wrote his famous play Blithe Spirit in 1941.
He wanted to write a comedy to cheer people up and make them laugh during the dark times of the war and came for a few days to escape the noise of the Blitz which was hindering him from his work. As well as Noel Coward Portmeirion’s Hotel guests of the past have included H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell. The hotel’s setting is peaceful and picturesque with dense trees behind, a Portmeirion Observatory Tower topped with a star jutting out to sea and a wonderful sweeping view of the tranquil and sheltered bay. Further along the coast on Portmeirion’s southernmost point is what is called Clough’s folly Lighthouse.
At the top of the hill and before you enter the village is the magnificent and imposing Castell Deudraeth; a wonderful restored castle and part of the Portmeirion magic.
Clough bought the castle in 1931 planning to include it in his village but it was only recently with the support of The Wales Tourist Board, European Regional Development Fund and Heritage Lottery Fund the castle was finally restored to its former glory. Castell Deudraeth is everything you imagine a castle to be; it has turrets and towers and looks Gothic and grand on the outside while inside its original features include oak panelling, fire surrounds and ornate plastering. It also has a conservatory with wonderful views of the surrounding hills and exquisite Victorian walled garden.
Clough Williams-Ellis believed a naturally beautiful site could be developed without it being spoilt and in Portmeirion he realised this vision.
It was also Clough who gave the place its present name; Port because of its location on a port by the sea and Meirion the Welsh for the county in which it lay.
Situated on the stunning North Wales coast near the bustling cheerful town of Porthmadog a visit to Portmeirion can also include a train trip on the Blaenau Ffestiniog Railway; the stuff of childhood fantasies!
As well as train connections there are also buses to Minffordd and there’s a car park beyond the castle with a picnic area for those wishing to travel by car.
North Wales is wild and untamed and most visitors from England and even South Wales may feel they have entered a foreign place with its dramatic natural scenery and local people speaking Welsh as their first language.
Portmeirion is in turns foreign and then strangely familiar, beautiful but not in an ordinary kind of way and in that respect fits in perfectly with North Wales’ unique psyche! In summer Portmeirion can attract over three thousand visitors a day and the surrounding area and coast is a popular holiday destination with accommodation ranging from the fabulous Portmeirion Hotel to campsites – it’s all well worth visiting.
Ricki Crookes has worked as an actress in the film and television business throughout most of her life. She has appeared in numerous commercials which have been shown on television and cinemas world-wide. She has also worked as a model and been in many prestigious photo- shoots which have featured in magazines and bill-boards. In addition she has written articles for both newspapers and magazines and is an award winning poet.