Portmeirion Village

Portmeirion

Portmeirion Village is popular tourist destination in North West Wales but there’s more to it than just its scenic value.  Portmeirion Village is a life size model village. It’s an entirely artificial construct which has no historic roots in the locality at all. Portmeirion Village is to all intents and purposes a living museum, a kind of up market Disneyland, hence its slightly eerie ambiance. Portmeirion Village was designed, built and developed by, and is the lifetime achievement of an exotic personality called Sir Clough Williams Ellis. He built Portmeirion Village between 1925 and 1975 in the style of an Italian Village. The site is now owned by a Charitable Trust (Ymddiriedolaeth Clough Williams-Ellis Foundation) which owns the whole Peninsula on which Portmeirion Village is itself built.

Portmeirion Village

Portmeirion Village

Portmeirion Village as a Film Location

Portmeirion Village’s great leap to fame came in the 1960s when it was the setting for the iconic sixties TV series ‘The Prisoner’ where it was known merely as ‘The Village’, a strange location for a strange story line. Portmeirion Village has served as a location in a number of movies and TV programmes ever since. It also serves as a great location for TV Ads. So, even first time visitors to Portmeirion Village routinely experience a strange sense of déjà vu. Sir Clough Williams Ellis denied claims that he had lifted the design of Portmeirion Village from the layout and architecture of the town of Portofino in Italy. He claimed that Portmeirion Village was a generic tribute to the ‘atmosphere of the Mediterranean’. The geographical location of Portmeirion Village however made that goal something of a challenge, with the Northern part of the Irish Sea to the West, Snowdonia visible nearby in the other direction and regular torrential North Wales rain as the main distinctive weather feature. Sir Clough however did admit to an undying love of Portofino. He constructed and designed Portmeirion Village between 1925 and 1975 incorporating bits of demolished buildings which included works by a variety of other architects. But the final outcome in the form of the completed Portmeirion Village is better than it sounds. It’s regarded as having been influential in the development of postmodern late 20th Century Architecture.

Portmeirion Village now contains an important exotic plant and rhododendron collection which were in place before Sir Clough Williams Ellis’ involvement and have continued to be added to since his death. A few buildings in Portmeirion Village were already there before the intervention of Sir Clough Williams Ellis. Notably the hotel and the cottages, ‘Salutation’, ‘Mermaid’ and ‘White Horses’, had been there since the 1850’s on the site of an 18th Century boatyard and foundry. The estate was called ‘Aber Iâ’ which in English is ‘Ice Estuary’, (an indication of the unsuitability of Portmeirion Village as a location for a pseudo Mediterranean style village. Remains of Castell Aber Iâ, Castell Gwain Goch and Castell Deudraeth, (three early medieval castles referred to in 1188 by ‘Gerald of Wales’ (Giraldus Cambrensis),) still lie in the woods just outside the boundary of Portmeirion Village, Unfortunately Sir Clough mistranslated the  original Welsh name. Thinking it meant ‘Frozen Mouth’, he renamed the location Portmeirion. ‘Port’ means the same as it does in English and ‘Meirion’ derives from the County name of Meirionydd. (Merioneth(shire)).

In 1931 Sir Clough Williams Ellis bought a Victorian mansion (also known as Castell Deudraeth) from his uncle Sir Osmund Williams (Bt) intending to merge it into the Portmeirion Village hotel development but for various reasons (not least intervention of the Second World War), the project failed to get off the ground. Sir Clough however always regarded the mansion as being the most important building on the Estate and eventually after his death, and with the support of the European Regional Development Fund, the Lottery Fund and the Wales Tourist Board, Castell Deudraeth opened in 2001 as a restaurant and a hotel incorporating 11 bedrooms. Portmeirion Village is now owned by the Charitable Trust and is run as a holiday camp/hotel/tourist attraction. The majority of the buildings in Portmeirion Village are used as cafes teas rooms, self catering cottages, additional hotel rooms etc and Portmeirion Village is the top attraction for Tourists to North Wales. There is an admission charge for entry.

Portmeirion Village

Portmeirion Village

Portmeirion Village location

Portmeirion Village is located about a mile from the main Network railway station of Minfordd, but which is also served by the Ffestiniog Narrow Gauge Railway. The real local community in which Portmeirion Village is situated is Penrhyndeudraeth located two miles South East of Porthmadog on the estuary of the River Dwyryd. Despite its artifice Portmeirion Village is a welcome addition to the natural and other nearby tourist destinations (including Mount Snowdon).  Portmeirion Village has been the inspiration from writers as well as movie and TV producers, and more recently even pop video makers.  Noel Coward wrote Blithe Sprit whilst staying in what is now Portmeirion Village. Paul McCartney and Hollywood icons Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck have visited. Jools Holland following visits there was so taken by the design of Portmeirion Village that he had his house in London modified to reflect its appearance. All manner of TV programmes such as Doctor Who various children’s programmes and others have been shot there. Portmeirion Village was never actually identified in ‘The Prisoner’ until the serious had finished. Sir Clough Williams Ellis maintained that he charged an entry fee so that it would not become too crowded and felt that identifying the village on the TV show would defeat the purpose.

Since Sir Clough’s death however the Trust is less fastidious. Portmeirion Village is now the setting for ‘Prisoner fan conventions’. The building which was used as the home of the main character in the show is now a ‘Prisoner’ inspired souvenir shop which even sells Patrick McGoohan style iconic stripy jacket. More recently another ‘Prisoner’ inspired cultural event, the ‘No 6’ music Festival, was held there and attracted acts like ‘Primal Scream’ ‘Spiritualized’ and ‘New Order’. ‘No 6’ was ‘the Prisoner’s’ number. Amongst its more unusual attractions Portmeirion Village contains a ‘pet cemetery’. The graveyard is located in a woodland area and  has an eerie feel to it. The bodies of the dead pets are buried there and commemorated with markers. The graveyard is fine to visit during the day but may not be such a relaxing location at night. Indeed even the village itself when completely deserted in the early hours of morning is quite a disturbing place to be alone in. Intruders who have entered Portmeirion Village alone at night after the pubs close are rumoured to have gone mad with fright during the night. Wags comment however, that they must have been mad to start off with, and in any event, are invariably drunk. But even in the day, visitors to Portmeirion Village comment that ‘there’s something strange about this place’. But that’s half the attraction.