Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

Walking in the footsteps of Number 6 (aka The Prisoner in Portmeirion)

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Back in the 1960s, there was a cult TV programme called The Prisoner.

Up until this year, I had only watched one episode (I wasn’t around in the 60s and somehow missed the repeats in later years), and my impression was that it was rather surreal and was about a man (played by Patrick McGoohan) who finds himself trapped in a peculiar but colourful place named only as The Village.

He has resigned from the Foreign Office and it appears that he is involved in espionage, but now, having been kidnapped one night, he finds himself in a seemingly never-ending Kafkaesque nightmare.

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Picture postcard courtesy of http://www.portmeiriononline.co.uk

Now Number 6, he no longer has an identity or a name. No matter how many times he proclaims, ‘I am not a number!’

But there are questions…  Why is he there? Why did he resign? More importantly, how can he escape?

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Picture postcard from http://www.portmeiriononline.co.uk

Before our visit to Bethesda in Wales, we realised that the town isn’t that far from Portmeirion, which is actually where The Prisoner was set.

Simon bought DVDs of the series and we watched one episode a night on our holiday to get in the right mood for our visit to the mysterious ‘The Village’.

Funnily, my black and white spring coat, which I had bought from a charity shop a couple of years before, thinking it looked smart, seemed rather reminiscent of the jacket Patrick McGoohan (aka The Prisoner aka Number 6) wore. When I wore it in The Village, I wondered if I would be seen as a ‘super fan’! You can actually buy jackets in Portmeirion just like the one Number 6 wore!

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I expected Portmeirion to play on the fact an iconic 60s series was filmed there, but apart from The Prisoner shop (pictured above), it was more about the architecture, atmosphere, nature and the man behind this curious and unique holiday village.

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The architect was Clough Williams-Ellis and he acquired the site – then a ‘neglected wilderness’ for under £5,000 in 1925. The area itself – previously called Aber Iau – dates from at least 1188, with a mention of two stone castles by Gerald of Wales. Over time, it gained a foundry, small shipyard and some cottages.

Clough designed his holiday village from 1925 to 1939 and completed the finer details between 1954 and 1976.

As a whole, the village has a feeling of the Italian Riveria. When one looks more closely at the buildings, one sees classical, Arts and Crafts style, Palladian, and so on, with many buildings salvaged from demolition sites.

The Dome is the most memorable, built in 1960/61, and is a listed Grade II monument. There is also The Bell Tower, also called The Campanile, which housed a turret clock from a demolished brewery in London. The Piazza is the centrepiece of the holiday village and can be seen in The Prisoner.

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I don’t have space to go into detail about all the beautiful architecture, suffice to say, the more we looked, the more we found. Little details, statues, carvings…

Obviously these quaint, colourful buildings are attractive enough in their own right but there is a beach (also seen in The Prisoner) and a picturesque and varied tree trail, from the Persian Ironwood Tree (apparently its wood is used as toothpicks in Iran) to the St Helena Island Weeping Willow (from a cutting taken from the weeping willow at Napoleon’s Tomb on St Helena) – there is even a Dancing Tree (New Zealand Papauma Broadleaf)!

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Disappointingly, it doesn’t really dance, but the nickname is fabulous. Every time he passed the tree, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis thought the rustling shiny leaves sounded like dancing music – and so it became known as the Dancing Tree. 

There are other nature walks too, including one to the Ghost Garden! No ghosts though, it was so named to commemorate the garden of the ferry cottage which was once located there. 

These days, 200,000 visitors per year flock to Portmeirion. We were day visitors, of which I think most people are, but it is possible to stay at the hotel or in one of the buildings for a holiday. Not the cheapest of places but it would certainly be a unique stay.

I went to Portmeirion thinking of it as a set piece for a 1960s TV series. But I left feeling it was so much more, with something for lovers of architecture, nature, beaches and beautiful places… For The Prisoner, The Village was a hellish experience but for visitors of Portmeirion, it is quite the opposite. We were in no hurry to escape from ‘The Village’!

Be seeing you! 😀 (As they say in The Prisoner’s ‘Village’!)

Fact of the Day

Did you know playwright Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit while staying at Portmeirion? 

Background information for this post comes from the guide books, Portmeirion from Robin Llywelyn and Portmeirion Tree Trail

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Author:

Interested in environmental issues, wildlife, spirituality, gardening, self-sufficiency and mini-adventures. There are two blogs, one is https://mysabbatical2014.wordpress.com/ and the other, more recent one, is - https://cosycottageandthequestforthegoodlife.wordpress.com/ ☺️

12 thoughts on “Walking in the footsteps of Number 6 (aka The Prisoner in Portmeirion)

  1. Love this post, Clare – it brought back some happy memories of two family holidays we had in Portmeirion in the 1980’s. It’s a wonderful place. I didn’t know Noel Cowerd wrote “Blithe Spirit” there (coincidentally my favourite Cowerd play!) 😊

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    1. I can see why it brings back happy memories Julie, it’s such an unusual place with what feels like a happy holiday/Mediterranean atmosphere. I only found out about Noel Coward through reading the guide book. I’ve heard of Blithe Spirit and would like to see it but haven’t done yet. I never realised it was written there. I can see why such a place would inspire Noel Coward or anyone else to write!

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  2. Great post, Clare. I flew over Portmerion when I did my Castles From the Air post on my recent Welsh castle quest, and managed to get a photo of it. It’s very distinctive from the sky – very colourful and that bright blue pool in the front. I didn’t know about the Dancing Tree, which looks beautiful. I should visit it on the ground one day too! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s certainly distinctive, I’m not surprised it can be seen so clearly from the sky. It’s definitely worth seeing from the ground too, it’s such a fascinating place. Very quirky. 🙂

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    1. Thank you Darlene, glad you liked it. The Prisoner is such a fascinating TV programme. I haven’t watched all the episodes yet but it does feel ahead of its time and just as relevant these days. I love the catchphrases as well, I am not a number! And Be seeing you! 🙂

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    1. I would definitely recommend a trip to Portmeirion. It’s a very unusual and beautiful place. I haven’t read or seen Blithe Spirit but after hearing it was written there, I’d like to read it or watch it at the theatre. I can see why Noel Coward felt inspired to write there. 🙂

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