As the Easter bank holiday was fast approaching it suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t have anything planned. The weather forecast predicted that it would be a warm and sunny weekend so I was in two minds; do I go to the seaside like everyone else or go somewhere more obscure?
Well why not do both?!
Portmeirion is located 2 miles South East of Porthmadog in the county of Gwynedd and is far from your average seaside village.
An Italian style village, Portmeirion was created between 1925 and 1976 by architect Clough Williams-Ellis. Prior to Williams-Ellis’ creation of the village, Portmeirion was previously known as Aber Ia and contained a castle, a small shipyard and a few cottages.
Williams-Ellis acquired the site for just under £5,000 in 1925 and immediately changed the name to Portmeirion; ‘Port’ because of it’s location along the coast and ‘Meirion’ as this is Welsh for Merioneth, the county in which it lay. At the time he bought Portmeirion, Williams-Ellis had just recently arrived back in the UK after a few years travelling the world, which included visits to the Mediterranean. His time spent abroad gave him the inspiration to create Portmeirion, with Portofino in Italy in particular being cited as a major influence.
The village was built in two stages; the first stage being the building of Portmeirion’s most iconic buildings, between 1925 and 1939 and the second stage was where Williams-Ellis filled in the details between 1954 and 1976. The delay between stages was due to building restrictions following the Second World War which weren’t lifted until 1954.
The actual buildings in the village could well be considered recycled due to the fact that the majority of them had been rescued from demolition sites from various places across the UK. This led to Williams-Ellis claiming that Portmeirion was a home for fallen buildings.
The drive to Portmeirion took just under 2 and a half hours, which included a drive through the picturesque mountains of Snowdonia. Parking charges don’t apply, however the price to get into the village itself stands at £12 for an adult or £11 if you book online.
We parked up at Castell Deudraeth and walked half a mile down to the village entrance.
Castell Deudraeth is a Grade II listed building which was an eighteenth century cottage that was enlarged into a mansion in the early nineteenth century. The mansion was renamed Castell Deudreath in the 1850’s. The name derives from the original Castell Deudraeth which was built in 1175 on a hill above the estuary which now overlooks Portmeirion. Nowadays Castell Deudraeth is mainly used as a hotel, with 11 guest rooms and suites and a gastropub style restaurant and bar.
After passing through the tollgate we noticed a small cafe titled Caffi 6; this being a reference to Patrick McGoohan’s character number 6 in the 1960’s TV series the Prisoner which was set in Portmeirion. Caffi 6 is a cafe and bar with a shop selling Portmeirion
pottery. Portmeirion Potteries was founded in 1960 by Clough Williams-Ellis’ daughter Susan and her husband Euan and is now an AIM listed company based in Stoke on Trent. The Salutation building in the village also sells Portmeirion pottery as well as a host of gifts including keyrings, mugs, fudge and shortbread.
All the buildings in Portmeirion are Grade II listed and it is easy to see why. 32 of the buildings in the village are 4 star self catered hotels and this doesn’t include the hotel on the edge of the estuary. Many famous names have stayed in Portmeirion including Noel Coward, who wrote his play Blithe spirit while he was staying in Portmeirion, H.G Wells, George Bernard Shaw and Brian Epstein, who stayed in the Gate House for most of the Summer months throughout the 1960’s. The hotel was the original mansion of Aber Ia and was built in 1850. When Williams-Ellis acquired the property in 1925, he was faced with dereliction and and overgrown wilderness so he therefore decided that if he was to create a village he would need to have an economic basis, this being tourism. The hotel then opened as a licensed hotel in April 1926.
One particular structure that stood out was the Grotto. The Grotto is a lookout platform which provides a viewing platform overlooking the estuary and the shell Grotto beneath has five openings with the walls and ceiling embedded with local shells.
We made our way along the estuary, past the hotel and observatory tower and then we decided that it was time for a bite to eat. It must be said that you are spoilt for choice for places to eat in Portmeirion. Not only does the hotel serve a range of hot food but there are also numerous little cafe’s dotted around the village all serving hot and cold food. We settled for a cafe not far from the town hall where I enjoyed a bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich with a side of crisps and salad.
The town hall was built between 1937 and 1938 and was given Grade II listed status in 1971. The building includes mullioned windows that were salvaged from Emral Hall in Flintshire. These windows were obtained by Williams-Ellis following an obituary he noticed in Country Life that announced the demolition of the hall. Emral hall wasn’t the only building that Williams-Ellis used to obtain building parts from. The Bristol Colonnade was built in 1760 but had been damaged by bombs and had fallen into decay, however this didn’t stop Williams-Ellis from transporting the remains 200 miles by road and resurrecting the monument. The Gloriette and Gothic Pavillion were built from the remains of Hooton Hall in Cheshire and Nerquis Hall in Flintshire and the base of the Clock Tower was built from the ruins of the old Castell Deudraeth.
Following on from lunch, we made our way out towards the Piazza which included a life size chessboard and a large fountain. The Piazza was built in 1965 to replace an unsightly tennis court that had been there since the 1930’s. Within the Piazza is also the Gloriette and Gothic Pavillion with the Bristol Colonnade nearby. The Piazza was completed just before the filming of the Prisoner began.
Not far from the Piazza was a path leading up towards the woods. We therefore followed this path which led to a Gazebo at the top of the hill. The Gazebo was built in 1983 by Williams-Ellis’ daughter Susan to mark the centenary of his birth and is the location of the best view of the village (in my opinion). As you go further into the woods you will come across the ruins of the old castle, however only the base of the castle now remains.
The next stop would be the Round house on Battery square, home of the Prisoner shop. The round house was built between 1959 and 1960 and is linked to Lady’s lodge by an overhead walkway. The house was used as the location of No 6’s house, however all the interiors of the house weren’t filmed in Portmeirion, instead being filmed at Metro- Goldwyn studios in Borehamwood. In relation to the Prisoner Williams-Ellis can be quoted as saying:’Portmeirion itself seemed, to me, at least, to steal the show from its human cast’. A statue of Patrick McGoohan is located at the side of the Toll House on Battery Square.
Not far from the Round House lies the Pantheon which was built between 1960 and 1961 and was given Grade II listed status in 1971. During the 1950’s Williams-Ellis decided that the village lacked dome deficiency so decided to remedy this by building the Pantheon.
Within the Pantheon hangs a painting of Sir Christopher Wren, Sir Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir John Vanbrugh all quizzing the arrival of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis (following his knighthood in 1972). From the balcony of the Pantheon is a view of the Bell Tower with
views of Snowdonia in the background.
That then brought to a close what had been a fantastic day exploring the wonders of Portmeirion. It’s not everyday you come across an Italian village in Wales but Portmeirion is a prime example of how innovative of an architect Clough Williams-Ellis was. I think it is fair to say that there isn’t anything else like it in the UK!
On a warm, sunny day there isn’t anything better than a day trip to the seaside so next time you’re thinking of taking a trip to the coast, why not visit Portmeirion?!
Hope you all have a nice Easter,