A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Welsh Italianate

The next morning I woke to the boom of thunder, the flash of lightning and the pelting of hailstones. The storm lasted intermittently for several hours. I stayed snoozing in my sleeping bag. Mid-morning I reluctantly made an undignified, backward exit from the tent. Hailstones were banked up around it several inches deep. I decided to head for the southern coast of the Lleyn Peninsula which is the northern arm of Cardigan Bay. If it's bad weather in the mountains, it's often sunny there. And so it was.

The Lleyn Peninsula juts out into the Irish Sea for about 30 miles and is one of the most atmospheric and ancient parts of Wales. The Peninsula was trod for centuries by pilgrims en route to the sacred site of Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli in Welsh) about which I've written before. On the way there I stopped for a couple of hours at Portmeirion. This is a fantasy village in the Mediterranean style (it's said to have been inspired by Portofino on the Italian Riviera) created by the Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1973 (1st pic). The estate is now a registered charity and is managed by his grandson.

Clough Williams-Ellis was a passionate conservationist and wanted to develop this naturally beautiful site (a peninsula in the estuary of the River Dwyryd) without spoiling it (2nd pic). In this he largely succeeded, though the place is open every day of the year and attracts a huge number of visitors especially at holiday times and during the summer months, when it's best avoided. The village looks like a filmset - indeed, it has been used extensively by film and TV companies, most famously in the 1966-1967 cult classic TV series The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan as ex-secret agent Number Six. How I used to love this series in my early teens. 2 lines of Number Six have passed into TV film legend: I am not a number; I am a free man! and I will not be pushed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered! My life is my own.

You can wander through 70 acres of sub-tropical garden and woodland at Portmeirion - which I did. I came across this Japanese bridge and gazebo (3rd pic) and this exotic-looking yellow flower (4th pic) - I think it's the Yellow Arum aka Skunk Cabbage - all of which provided a bright contrast to the surrounding muted greens and greys. I had my picnic in this temple overlooking a tranquil pond (5th pic). Could there be a more delightful spot for lunch? Someone had left behind 2 carmine flower heads in the centre of the circular stone table.

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