Tuesday 1 June 2010

Croeso y Cymru, boyo

Much happier today, after going to the doctor and getting the good drugs, yeah!

Now that I'm able to concentrate, I'm writing a story about northern Wales, specifically Harlech Castle and Portmeirion - architectural opposites within sight of each other in Cardigan Bay (which only sounds like a nerdy name to those who don't remember the excitement of watching the famous 1960s NZ race-horse who was so successful and adored that he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show).

The castle, despite the whiny complaints of an anoraked Brummie ("I'm disappointed, Wilma, I thought it was going to be a real castle, and instead it's a ruin"), is a classic: growing out of a cliff, serious grey stone with turrets and crenellations, an imposing gatehouse with murder holes and arrow loops, walls within walls, ranks of mournfully cawing crows along the battlements, and wide views over Snowdonia. Its very lively 700-year long history includes record-breaking seiges, the dashing Owain Glyndwr, a secret staircase and a link to the stirring song Men of Harlech which no-one who lived in England through the seventies can fail to hear without thinking of Christmas Day and Michael Caine, thanks to the ritual annual screening of Zulu*. Even though we trailed over, under and through more castles in Wales than you could shake a stick at, I remember Harlech clearly as one of the best. Well worth a visit.

And along the coast a bit, across the estuary, is Portmeirion, again with TV connections, this time The Prisoner, a mysterious series filmed there in 1967 starring Patrick McGoohan that not only beat Lost to that whole 'keep the viewers guessing' thing, but also made men's polo necks sexy.

The whole place is a folly of the highest order, a faux-Italian village cobbled together out of rescued buildings, and bits of buildings, from all over the place by Clough Williams-Ellis, pre- and post-WW2. What else could you expect from an eccentric toff who favoured tweed plus-fours and yellow socks, than a pastel-painted hotch-potch of arches, colonnades, towers and domes in a manicured garden of palms, pools and topiary? And yet, twee though it sounds, it's lovely - very pretty, quaint and appealing: a little treasure tucked unexpectedly into a hidden valley on the edge of Snowdonia's vast and glowering landscape.
* Inspiring James's deathless joke: "For fk's sake, Ivor, sing them something they like."


the queen said...

You mean the Prisoner wasn't on a set? That's an actual place? No big white balls popping out of the ocean, were there? I think "eccentric" is an understatement, bt then again isn't it always supposed to be?

TravelSkite said...

No, though I kept a lookout for it, I didn't see Rover. Would have been very tempted by a "I am not a number: I am a free man!" Tshirt in the shop, had they stocked it in my size.


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