It’s better to travel than arrive. This old maxim just doesn’t apply to the magical folly that is Portmeirion village. At least, it doesn’t for me. You see, there is an energy about this place that is positively alchemical, and being there feels like travelling and arriving all at the same time.
And, simply on the rise of a spontaneous feeling, I had an urge to be there. So Fen and I journeyed along the coast and through the Welsh countryside on a balmy September day to find Portmeirion and its multitude of pleasures.
The Italian-styled village, created by architect, Clough Williams-Ellis over a 50 year period between 1925 and 1975, sits snug on a private peninsula overseeing the Traeth Bach tidal estuary on the Snowdonia coast of North Wales. Its 70 acres of sub-tropical gardens, woodland, lakes, temples, colourful architecture, and gazebos are flanked by a rock-edged shoreline with ever-changing views across the water to the hills beyond.
There is a beautiful hotel on the shore; colourful cottages with names such as Unicorn, Dolphin and Mermaid; a lightless lighthouse; a boat that never leaves the shore; a castle; statues of Hercules and Goddesses; a golden one-armed Buddha; and a shell grotto and hidden caves. These are just some of the wonderful finds, but it’s the landscape and nature’s presence that holds you enchanted here.
You possibly know Portmeirion for the 1960s surreal spy TV series, The Prisoner, which was filmed there. That’s how I first came to hear of the place. However, as a writer, I was intrigued to discover that Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit there in just 6 days! And, that does not surprise me. There is a potent creative energy here, born on the breeze and carried in by the ever ebb and flow of tidal waters. This energy rises from the sands and bedrock and, higher still, through soil and dense foliage. There is something spirited about this wild place, which permeates everything, despite its touristy overtones.
“An architect has strange pleasures,” Clough Williams-Ellis wrote in 1924. “He will lie awake listening to the storm in the night and think how the rain is beating on his roofs, he will see the sun return and will think that it was for just such sunshine that his shadow-throwing mouldings were made.”
Clough, who aspired to beauty- ‘that strange necessity’- built the tollgate, his last offering to the village of his dreams, in his 93rd year. His motto was “Cherish the Past, Adorn the Present, Construct for the Future.” Wise words from this wonderful wizard.
I aim to return to Portmeirion to write, to further explore and research, and simply to enjoy the magic that flows through this timeless place. No doubt, the experience of being there is already working its way into my writing as boldly as it has woven into my imagination.
Have you visited Portmeirion?