July 14, Tuesday
The previous night’s rain had cleared by morning. Except for a few scattered clouds, the day was promising, but as we readied ourselves to drive to the seaside town of Portmeirion, there crept in premonitions. Thinking of the long, winding, narrow road in and out of Beddgelert that we would travel twice, I could not shake off parallels to Woody Allen’s fears depicted in Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex as a sperm-trainee preparing to be shot down a pre-moistened urethra to an uncertain fate.
Wales has an answer to William Randolf Hearst’s castle in the artificial village of Portmeirion built on an estuary along the middle coast of the country. The Hearst estate is described as Mediterranean Revival, while Portmeirion is a touch less formal, more playful, and referred to as “Italianate.” It, as fate would have it, was a receptive ovum.
This work of a rich architect, started about five years after San Simeon (Hearst’s castle), was created in part to protect an important estuary from untamed development. It is self-sustaining both by sales of parking/entry fees, by the rental of cottages and rooms, and by the sale of overpriced doodads at the gift shop and poorly prepared food at the 50s-style restaurant-dinner. Come to think of it, the limp fries and dirty water glasses might have been an intentional concession to the the period. Otherwise, the little village made for a thoroughly enjoyable few hours.
Portmeirion has been used by film studios as a set, most notably as the set for the short but popular British series The Prisoner from the late 60s, when it served as “the village” where the title character was held. The series kept the location unidentified until the credits of the last episode, giving the caretakers time to arrange for fee collection when the adoring swarms descended.
I cannot resist this quote from Wikipedia, which car rental agencies could use to prod cheap customers into springing for the GPS option no mater how overpriced:
The village is located in the community of Penrhyndeudraeth, on the estuary of the River Dwyryd, 2 miles (3.2 km) south east of Porthmadog, and 1 mile (1.6 km) from the railway station at Minffordd, which is served by both the narrow gauge Ffestiniog Railway and Arriva Trains Wales (Cambrian Line).
We returned to Beddgelert without incident. Smiling though we are, it is sad to think that we are unlikely to return to this unusual part of the civilized world. Our three nights in Wales will long standout among the most charming destinations we have had the good fortune of finding.