We were way too early at Portmeirion. Our companions were not due until ten, the gates did not open until half past nine, but we wandered over anyway about twenty past, just to get a first glimpse…and were allowed in straight away. This proved to be a real gift as we had the entire Village pretty much to ourselves for a while…just long enough to get the best shots of what was to prove a far more interesting place then we could have imagined.
I have always wanted to see the place, having only seen it in pictures. I was aware that it had been inspired by the Italian village of Portofino, that it had been used for the filming of the iconic TV series, The Prisoner, and that it had been built, almost in the spirit of a folly, by the vision of one man. Other than that, I knew nothing.
I was prepared to be disappointed, simply because I didn’t want to be. At first glance, from the gate, it looked none too promising. The No 6 cafe where we were to meet our companions, some fairly drab tarmac and what looked like a cardboard cut-out of a mermaid. Nightmare scenarios of a small-time Disneyland began to whisper in my mind.
It just goes to show how little you can judge anything at first glance. Had we but known it, we had already blithely walked past several important clues to the nature of the place. I’d even photographed them… but I had only looked at, not seen, them. And that is always a mistake.
We thought that the gracious Italianate villa was really the first thing of interest, but only because we had accepted the vision of normality presented to perception by eyes and lens.
We should have been more attentive… and suspicious… passing beneath the carriage gate. But why would we be? It sort of reminded me of France. And Italy…and Scotland… but. apart from the mural within the ceiling of the inner arch, I paid it too little notice, focussing on the details instead of looking at what was in front of me.
The drama started as soon as we were through one arch and faced with another. The elegant pastels were replaced with hotter colours and even stranger details… modern brick walling coupled with mullioned stone windows and wrought iron.
Yet, the other side of the building went back to primrose yellow… with Georgian windows and canopies, more of the modern bricks and a pair of caryatids… But trying to resolve that anomaly had suddenly become the least of our problems.
Definitely not Disneyland… you could tell. There was more to it than showmanship. It reminded me more, somehow, of Alice’s Wonderland… I can honestly say that I have never seen anything quite like it. But even then, caught perhaps by astonishment, we still didn’t ‘get’ it. Not even when we had both commented on the juxtaposition of the hanging black sheep beneath the declaiming Christ.
The guy who had built this place had a weird mind. That was the first and obvious conclusion. What kind of weird remained to be seen…