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Is Portmeirion The Weirdest Place In The British Isles?

Portmeirion Village in Gwynedd, North Wales, is a truly unique place, filled with magical sights and an unusual combination of architectural styles. We think it's the weirdest place in the UK, and here's why!

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The History of Portmeirion

Via © Portmeirion Village

Designed and built between 1925 and 1975 by the famous architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, Portmeirion Village was created in strict guidance with his personal vision. He bought the tract of land in 1925 for less than £5000 (about £250,000 today), and quickly set about trying to achieve his dream of creating a fun and beautiful town, without spoiling the natural beauty of the area. / Via © Stefano Costanzo

Though he denied it was based on Portofino – saying that he merely wanted to pay tribute to the Mediterranean – he expressed a deep love for the Italian fishing village, and the resemblance is more than passing!

Via © Portmeirion Village

The main building of Hotel Portmeirion and three of the holiday cottages predate Portmeirion itself, dating back to the 1850s, on an estate called Aber Iâ. Williams-Ellis interpreted this as meaning “frozen mouth”, realised that this wasn’t the most appealing of monikers, and changed the name to the much nicer Portmeirion.

Portmeirion's Architecture

Via © Tim Richmond

Portmeirion Village looks pretty out of place on the Gwynedd coast – it is entirely unlike the traditional Welsh villages found nearby. This is no bad thing: it looks as though someone has taken a slice of the Italian Riviera and plonked it down in North Wales! There are all manner of adjectives you could apply to the place: magical, wondrous, bizarre.

Via © Martin Vaughan

You won’t find any stone cottages here! Instead, expect to see houses painted in various bright colours, statues of Greek gods, and even palm trees dotting the landscape. And all of this overlooks a gorgeous bay – what more could you want?

The Piazza

Via © Martin Vaughan

This was once a tennis court, but now it’s a simply beautiful area in which you can unwind and relax. There are some gilded dancers and a glorious decorative façade, as well as four columns rescued from the 18th-Century Hooton Hall colonnade.

The Bristol Colonnade

Via © Tim Richmond

The Bristol Colonnade was built all the way back in 1760, but wasn’t brought to Portmeirion for another two hundred years, and even then in a state of disrepair. Weighing a few hundred tonnes, it had to be delicately taken apart and transported the 200 miles before being put back together again.

Unicorn Cottage

Via © Tim Richmond

Unicorn Cottage is arguably the most fascinating of Williams-Ellis’s creations. As you approach the beautiful Georgian manor house, you begin to suspect that perhaps something isn’t right… In reality, the building utilises a number of different visual tricks to appear much more grandiose than it is – it’s actually a small bungalow! The archways lead nowhere, and the first floor is actually on the ground.

Castell Deudraeth

Via © Tim Richmond

Williams-Ellis bought this property – a Victorian castellated mansion – from his uncle, and hoped to do it up and turn it into a luxury hotel. Sadly, he was unable to do this in his lifetime, but it was eventually incorporated into the Village in 2001. It’s pretty special!

The Wild Garden

Via © Tim Richmond

Lastly on the architecture side of things, we have the wild garden, which is older than Portmeirion itself – it was created by George Henry Caton Haigh and houses a significant rhododendron collection. As you can see, it’s a beautiful setting.

The Beach

Via © Tim Richmond

There’s also a gorgeous sandy beach here. The River Dwyryd passes by the Village, causing the land to become an island at high tide. It’s a beautiful place to kick back and soak up some sun.

Doctor Who / Via

Portmeirion was the filming location of a four-episode story arc of the 1976/77 season of Doctor Who. Featuring the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, ‘The Masque of Mandragora’ was set in San Martino, an Italian province, during the Renaissance, and Portmeirion was the only place that fit the part!

The Prisoner / Via

Portmeirion Village was one of the stars of ‘60s cult series, The Prisoner – a truly bizarre surrealist spy show. Portmeirion wasn’t actually revealed as the setting until the end of the very last episode, and an entry fee was added to the Village to stop the place being overcrowded by fans. / Via © Deborah McDougall

The show has an enduring popularity even today. It had a mini-series remake in the US in 2009 with Sir Ian McKellen and James Caviezel; there are numerous blogs dedicated to the study of it (like this one and this one); and there is even an annual Village Convention, known as PortmeiriCon, where various aspects of the show are recreated and re-enacted.

Festival No. 6

There is another annual festival that’s held in Portmeirion, and this also takes inspiration from The Prisoner. Named after the main character, Number Six, Festival No. 6 was launched in 2012 and takes place each September. It’s probably the most unusual member of the UK festival scene, and this year’s music line-up includes the likes of London Grammar and Beck!

Interesting Thing #1 - The Wishing Tree

Via © Portmeirion Village

Portmeirion’s woodland is home to a wishing tree or two. A wishing tree is a British tradition that has its origins in the 1700s – you stick a coin into a tree trunk and wish away an illness or bad spirits. If someone else takes the coin, they take the misfortune with it!

Interesting Thing #2 - Bear Grylls Likes It!

Bear Grylls likes Portmeirion! He voted it in the top 5 of a Welsh bucket list, while a number of other stars have said the Village has influenced them in some way, including Paul McCartney, Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman, Frank Lloyd Wright and Noel Coward.

Interesting Thing #3 - The Lighthouse

Via © Tim Richmond

There’s a light-less lighthouse! This folly marks the southernmost tip of Portmeirion, and you can go up to see the view from the top – it's breath-taking.

Interesting Thing #4 - The Amis Reunis

Via © Tim Richmond

There’s also a stone boat in Portmeirion. How does it float, you ask. Well... it doesn’t – the former trading boat has been built into the path on the harbour. A weird and wonderful sight!

Interesting Thing #5 - Adelaide Haig's Dog Cemetery

Flickr: eccentricscholar / Via © Craig Conley

One of Portmeirion's notable former residents was Adelaide Haig, an eccentric woman who wouldn’t allow harm to come to any living thing. This led to her allowing the grounds to become a complete wilderness while she lived there. She lived without any human company, using a pack of mongrel dogs as a suitable replacement. She used to read to them in the house from behind a screen, and guests can still pay a visit to her Dog Cemetery today.

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