It would be hard for me to think of any word besides "bewitched" to explain my husband's bizarre obsession with the 1960's British sci-fi classic "The Prisoner." The year he decided to re-watch the show in it's entirety, he started walking around the house shouting "I am not a number! I am free man!". Between bites of toast at breakfast, he would cheerfully discuss the pros and cons of each Number Two, eventually landing on Leo McKern as the favorite. Overnight, a blue blazer with white piping on the collar became the height of fashion in our household. Turtlenecks in summer were no longer faux pas. Thus, when Britton first proposed we add Portmeirion to our U.K. itinerary in 2017, I knew the depth of his enthusiasm for this place.
Three hours off the beaten path through abandoned slate mines, over babbling brooks, and in between the rain-drenched glacial peaks of Snowdonia National Park, we arrived by car at the bottom of a very busy little road leading down to the Portmeirion hotel.
When we arrived we were greeted with one of the most tranquil hotel rooms I had ever seen. The bay window overlooked a shallow estuary, framed on both sides with rolling moss-green mountains. A layer of mist wreathed the glass panes, giving you the impression it was much too cold and damp outside. Best to stay in and snuggle. Though the day was overcast, the natural light in the room was warm and glowing, inviting you to curl up, pour a glass of their complimentary sherry, and read a book. Some mornings I still wait to open my eyes, hoping to find myself back here again.
Portmeirion is an ad hoc tourist destination, designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in the mid-twentieth century to resemble an Italian fishing village. I had little hope I would find something worthwhile to see here. After all, it's only claim to fame was it's relationship to an obscure 50 year-old television show...surely my husband was the only pilgrim still longing to visit it! I'm going to turn this post over to an equally accomplished yet less prolific writer to help you understand how wrong I was. Here are Britton's first impressions...
Our “Arrival” (coincidentally, the title of the pilot episode for “The Prisoner”) occurred shortly after mid-day. The road to enter Portmeirion branched off to the left from the main road. We were immediately greeted with a sign that had the striking Pennyfarthing logo from the series and the words “Prisoner 50th Anniversary 1967-2017”. The excitement of that sight caused a lapse in concentration, and my perfect record of driving a manual on the wrong side of the road was broken as we stalled out. I quickly re-composed myself and we proceeded to the main parking area.
One of the lessons I constantly re-learn is that the reality of a situation often falls short of expectations. Fortunately, this was not such an occasion. We were instructed to proceed to the “Hotel and Quayside” to pick up our room key. At first, we could only see the rear of various small structures, but that all changed once we cleared the archway that welcomed us into the Central Piazza. There it was, the main square from the show, in all its surreal, Mediterranean blue, yellow, and coral glory! Sir Clough William-Ellis successfully demonstrated with Portmeirion that an area could be developed while still maintaining its natural beauty.
Britt stayed behind at the hotel room while I struck out on my own. In my mind, she was a double agent, relaying my every move back to The Village’s Control Room while I did my best to test the boundaries of our prison. It was shortly after 4pm, by which time most of the tourist groups had left. This could not have been more ideal as it allowed me to re-create the opening scene of the series where a disoriented Number Six frantically sought to gain his bearings in a completely empty Village. I only covered a small fraction of the surrounding trails, but at no point was I attacked by a giant, white weather balloon or surveiled by stone statues and busts. No, Portmeirion did not have a sinister underbelly at all. What it had instead were beautifully placed plants, impeccably manicured lawns, and the most intricate cast iron fences. I would tender my resignation in a heartbeat if it meant I’d spend the rest of my life there!