Here's another gem from my fellow writer, Judith Frances Duddle. Her book Daytrips Scotland & Wales features 37 one day adventures throughout both lands. Readers of a certain age will remember that wonderful British TV series that also played on America's PBS network, The Prisoner. This strange tale took place in a very strange place, which you can visit on an easy daytrip from either England's Shrewsbury or Wales' Aberystwyth — both popular tourist destinations.
Just three miles south of Porthmadog is the spectacular Italianate village of Portmeirion, created by the architect Clough Williams-Ellis between the years 1926 and 1976. He had one purpose in mind, and that was to show how a naturally beautiful location could be developed without spoiling it. Clough died on April 8, 1978.
Today, Portmeirion is owned by a registered charity, the Second Portmeirion Foundation. The grounds are designated as a Conservation Area and most buildings are listed Grade II. The village attracts over 240,000 visitors a year from all over the world; the admission charge levied at the tollgate contributes directly to the maintenance of the grounds and buildings.
During 1966-67, Portmeirion was used as the setting for one of the UK's and USA's most famous television series, The Prisoner. Many daytrippers of a certain age will remember Patrick McGoohan, who played "Number Six" in the series — a retired secret service agent not allowed to roam free in the world with the knowledge in his head and so was sent to a top-secret establishment for the rest of his life, known as The Village — a safe house, where Second World War spies "retired" until the war was over.
Within the village itself are many wonderful restaurants and shops to mooch around in. With Portmeirion being only two hours from either Shrewsbury or Aberystwyth, you can easily make a full day of it — but don't forget your camera — this daytrip is a memorable one.
Refer to the train information in the Portmadog chapter. From the Australia Pub in Porthmadog catch the Bus Express 98, which leaves for Portmeirion at 10:10 a.m. and 2:10 p.m. The return bus departs Portmeirion at 12:06 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
By Car from Shrewsbury follow the A5 and A487 roads to Portmeirion, 1.5 miles west of Penrhyndeudraeth, signposted at Minffordd. The total distance is 79 miles, with a journey time of two hours.
By Car from Aberystwyth, take the A487, A470, and again the A487 routes to Portmeirion, as above. The total distance is 57 miles, a journey time of about 1½ hours.
A WARNING — Do not go into the estuary without first checking the tide times. Also there are many steps and steep paths and the woods and beach are not accessible to wheelchairs.
FOOD AND DRINK:
Castell Deudraeth Bar & Grill (Portmeirion) Brasserie style menus based on fresh local produce including lobster, crab, and scallops from the Lyn Peninsula, rock oysters brought in daily from the shores of Anglesey, Welsh beef and lamb hill-farmed from the farms around Bala. ££
Cadwaladers Ice Cream Parlour (Portmeirion) Uses fresh local dairy produce to create its traditional ice creams. Tea and coffee also served. Open March to November, 10-5. T: (01766) 522-478. £
The Town Hall Restaurant (Grade II listed building in Portmeirion) Also known as Hercules Hall, it was designed to house a Jacobean ceiling, panelling, and mullioned windows salvaged from Emral in Flintshire. Self-service restaurant with seating both inside and outdoors. Offers a choice of hot and cold meals as well as snacks from 10-5. £ and ££
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
Click on map for a larger view.
Portmeirion has 45 points of interest, and far too many to mention here. However, I will point out to you just some of the key buildings and areas that were used in The Prisoner episodes, so you can have your photograph taken where Patrick McGoohan stood.
To help guide you around the vast village I would suggest accessing the Portmeirion website and print out the Guidebook, or alternatively you can buy the Guide Book from the Portmeirion Gift Shop once there.
Portmeirion is a beautiful and unique attraction, one that should not be rushed. Even though the location sites from The Prisoner are highlighted as the tour in this chapter, be sure to visit every magnificent piece of architecture within the village.
Leave the car park to the Tollgate (1), where you will pay your admission charge. Follow the map to the Battery Square (2). The surface is delightfully cobbled and surrounded by a pair of archway-linked buildings — The Round House (3) and Lady Lodge (4) will be easily recognisable to The Prisoner show fans as Number 6's residence and the village store. The Round House is a Grade II listed building and is one of a pair of Baroque shops linked by an overhead walkway. In actual fact the house is too small to accommodate a spacious lounge, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen as was seen in the series, so all the interior shots had to be filmed at the MGM studios. The building now houses Number Six, the Prisoner Shop. The other Baroque shop — Lady Lodge, has a beautiful semi-circular mural above the bay window by Hans Feibush. Originally Lady Lodge was built as a lock-up garage, but was converted in the early 1960s into the Battery Stores and then The Peacock. Both signs are featured in The Prisoner. The shop is now called Siop Bach (little shop) and above it is the Lady Lodge Beauty Parlour.
Directly across the road from Lady Lodge, below the dome, is a pantiled loggia housing a gilt statue of Buddha, which Clough Williams-Ellis managed to salvage from the film set of the Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman.
Follow the map to the Gothic Pavilion (5), which was built to front the Gloriette beyond its pool and fountain. The lawn in front of the Gothic Pavilion is where the human chess game was played in The Prisoner through laying white square on the grass.
Straight in front of you is the Piazza (6). This part of Portmeirion Village was prominently used in the making of the series. You can easily see why — a beautiful fountain pool, surrounded by exotic plants and flowers, where you can sit and think and imagine that you, too, are part of that fabulous television series, set somewhere in a secret location, far, far away. Also a part of this masterpiece, two gilt Burmese dancers stand on Ionic columns, and just beyond, the majestic Gloriette. The "Dance of the Dead" episode was filmed at the Piazza.
The first episode of The Prisoner was titled "Arrival," where the mysterious Rover Mark II made its debut at the top of the Gloriette (7). As you may remember, Rover was the 7-foot inflatable balloon that appeared from nowhere and chased McGoohan across Portmeirion's beach. During the series over 5,000 balloons were used, mainly because they kept popping. To keep Rover from floating away the makers of the series had to fill the balloon with a mixture of helium and air for buoyancy and a pint or two of water to hold it down. In the episodes "The Chimes of Big Ben" and "Free for All," Rover grew two "babies" — absolutely mind boggling, but anything was possible in this surreal TV show.
Follow the map to Salutation (8). This Grade II listed building, erected sometime between 1842 and 1858, is now the Salutation Restaurant and a shop specialising in Portmeirion Pottery. Clough's daughter Susan and her husband Euan designed and painted the colourful mural of vines and cupids with a fountain and white doves on the courtyard side of this building. Prisoner fans will recognise it as the café area used in the television series.
Stroll along to the Observatory Tower (9). This part of the beach was used in the film scenes for "The Queen's Pawn (Checkmate)" and features the Tower/Camera Obscura in the rear shot. At the foot of the Observatory Tower is a Coade stone figure of Nelson, given to Clough by Sir Michael Duff from Caernarfon. Close by is a weeping beech tree given to Clough by his friends on his 80th birthday.
The last visit of our Prisoner tour is to the White Horses (10). This 18th-century building was originally a fisherman's cottage. White Horses is so called because with a spring tide and a south-westerly gale, crested breakers batter its walls and occasionally even break and enter. Clough for a short time used it as a workshop for weaving and dyeing until 1966 when he converted White Horses into habitable accommodation by adding two bedrooms raised on arches above the beach footpath. One of the first residents to stay at White Horses was Patrick McGoohan in 1966-67 while filming The Prisoner.
Open every day of the year from 9:30-5:30. Admission: Adult £5.30, seniors £4.20, children £2.60 (under 5 free), and family (2+2) £12.60.
Copyright © 2004 Judith Frances Duddle
Interested in photography? Check out my "Assisting Avedon" blog.
SO, just what Little Adventure am I up to now in 2013? WHY, just the most challenging one of them all! CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT.
CHECK OUT Daytrips Scotland & Wales by clicking below, and The Prisoner TV series DVD set in the next box.