August 9th, 2019
Join us as we head to one of Wales’ most famous villages and discovers that there’s a whole lot more than just numbers. Read all about our adventure on a weekend in Portmeirion – the jewel in the crown of North Wales attractions……
“I am not a number….. I am a freeeeeeee man” I wail as we walk through the gates and several people turn to stare.
“You can be Number 1 if you like” I say as the village begins to come into view below us.
“For goodness sake, there was no Number 1. You are Number 1,”
“Eh? Ah well, I am too young to remember it” I tease.
We had come to explore the village of Portmeirion, near Porthmadog on the coast of North West Wales. It’s not really a traditional Welsh village as you might expect, and nor is it a model village either, but something in between. Aside from being a popular tourist attraction, it was the setting and filming location for the 1960s hit television show The Prisoner.
The Prisoner was set around the fictional location of The Village, and starred Patrick McGoohan as the unfortunate ex-secret agent who was kidnapped and held while the powers attempted to brainwash and interrogate him. Everyone at The Village was assigned a number, and McGoohan’s character (whose name is never revealed) was Number 6. He tries his best to resist the indoctrination and mind control, hence his outburst (“I am not a number, I am a free man!”) but his escape attempts are hampered by a huge and menacing moving balloon that chases runaways across the beach.
Sound bizarre? Well, if you’ve ever seen an episode then you may agree that it is somewhat bonkers, but it is precisely the eccentricity and ambiguity of the series that turned it into one of the cult hit programmes of the 60’s and 70’s. And it has not been forgotten, even almost 50 years later. Every year, the Prisoner Appreciation Society (Six of One) holds a convention at Portmeirion to celebrate and commemorate the hit series, with a whole host of events like re-enactments, debates, screenings, special guests and a riot of Prisoner themed costumes.
On a sunny day, as we amble through the village “streets” it’s easy to see why Portmeirion was chosen as the filming location and eccentric setting for The Prisoner. It’s a maze of brightly coloured Mediterranean style buildings, plazas, gardens, ponds and nostalgic statues, which look as though they’ve all been thrown at the hillside at random. The colourful Italian-inspired architecture is the exact opposite of the traditional Welsh stone and slate that usually make up villages in this corner of Wales. Portmeirion is the work of architect Clough Williams-Ellis, and it was his life’s work between 1925 and 1975. He designed and built the village in a bid to prove that a naturally beautiful setting needn’t be spoilt by development that was thoughtful and sympathetic.
Clough Williams-Ellis bought the manor house (now the Portmeirion Hotel) and the surrounding land in 1925, describing it as a “neglected wilderness” and set about transforming the wild landscape into a coastal village utopia. His desire to capture the peaceful atmosphere of the Mediterranean is clear. Having grown up just a stone’s throw away from it, I know it well and it’s one of my favourite places; I’ve never come across anywhere quite like it in the world.
Today, Portmeirion is an immensely popular tourist attraction, but there’s plenty to explore besides the stunning village centre. The village sits in 70 acres of exotic and sub-tropical woodland, known as “the Gwyllt” (literally meaning “wild”). Footpaths and trails zig-zag through the towering trees, wild plants and colourful flowers, and you never know what you might stumble across next – from a cemetery just for dogs to a model lighthouse and an oriental fish pond. Big and little kids will love exploring all the hidden surprises.
One of the highlights of a trip to Portmeirion is a walk down to the long sandy beach, aptly named Whitesands Bay. As well as re-enacting scenes from The Prisoner here (you’ll need a giant beach ball, the wind in the right direction and a willing participant) it’s a great place to sit back and take in the scenery that makes Portmeirion so special, because the views from the beach are absolutely stunning. On a clear day you can see westwards down the craggy arm of the Llŷn Peninsula, and east along the wide mouth of the Dwyryd Estuary and to the hills beyond Harlech and Barmouth on the opposite side.
Portmeirion is a magical place to visit at any time of year. For a touch of luxury enjoy lunch in the hotel and a visit to the glamorous spa or for a family day out pack a picnic, head down to the beach and grab an ice cream and a Number 6 badge on the way back!
Be seeing you there…..