''I am not a number, I am a free man'' - those were the words spoken by Number 6, the main character played by Patrick McGoohan in the late 1960s cult tv series The Prisoner, which was filmed at Portmeirion on the North Wales coast. Known only as 'The Village' throughout the 17-episode series, its inhabitants were all brainwashed nameless prisoners, identified only by numbers and controlled by the mysterious Number 2 - it was only Number 6 who had the desire and determination to escape. Portmeirion itself was only identified as the filming location in the credits at the end of the very last episode.
Set within 70 acres of mixed woodland on a private peninsula on the southern shores of Snowdonia, Portmeirion was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis over a 50-year period from 1925. The Italian-style village, which pays tribute to the Mediterranean architecture which Williams-Ellis loved, is made up of around fifty buildings, most of which are used as hotel and self-catering accommodation for tourists. There are also shops, a tea room, cafe, ice cream parlour and a restaurant, and the building used as Number 6's home in the tv series is now a Prisoner-themed souvenir shop; many of the village locations used in the series are virtually unchanged to this day.
Down on the shore the bay is overlooked by the Hotel Portmeirion and the heated outdoor swimming pool, and along the promenade the Amis Reunis, a stone boat, is built into the quayside. Many years ago the original Amis Reunis was docked at the quayside but was shipwrecked following a very stormy night, and after failing to bring her back for repair Williams-Ellis decided to build a stone replica. From the promenade a coastal walk passes a few quiet sandy coves and a replica lighthouse then meanders up into the surrounding woodlands.
The Central Piazza is the main hub of the village, with the original tennis courts having been converted to the present-day gardens. Here you'll find, among other features, the Bristol Colonnade, the Gothic Pavilion, a statue of Hercules, a pond with a fountain and the lawn which played home to a giant game of chess in Episode 9 of The Prisoner. Visit during the spring and summer months and there'll be flowers everywhere; in ornamental tubs and pots, in flowerbeds and alongside the lawns, and with hydrangeas in full bloom the whole area is a riot of colour - backed by the brightly-painted walls of the surrounding houses and cottages the Central Piazza is a very pretty place to spend some time.
Situated just outside the small coastal town of Porthmadog, Portmeirion is easy enough to get to, and though vehicles aren't allowed in the village itself there's a large pleasant car park just outside the entrance. For anyone holidaying in that area of North Wales a visit to this unique and slightly surreal village is definitely to be recommended; photos of Portmeirion can be found in my post from July 11th 2011.