July 18th, 2005

me: ooh!

Cymru is not for sale

Last week, svanzoest and jade_van_zoest came to stay with us. We rented a car and, after initial confusion involving gearshifts located on the left and not being able to get the car into reverse, we were off to Eryri in Cymru (Snowdonia, the Place of the Eagles, in Wales). Like northwest Ireland, northwest Wales remains the stronghold for both the written and spoken forms of the Welsh language. Also like northwest Ireland, it is not very accessible via train or other forms of public transport, so making a quick one or two-day visit necessitates driving.

Snowdonia National Park covers 838 square miles. Unlike the national parks in the States, humans inhabit and farm the area. The bulk of it is privately owned. It covers several mountain ranges, including the highest peak in England and Wales, Yr Wyddfa (Uhr Wuth-vah), "The Tomb", and Cadair Idris, "The Seat of Arthur." Just outside the park to the west in a small inlet of the larger Tremadog Bay, lies a strange little town known as Portmeirion. Fans of the British TV series "The Prisoner" will instantly recognize it as the site of the architect's folly known as The Village. That was our destination.

Portmeirion, however, contains much more than the strange hodge-podge of Mediterranean-influenced architecture and Victorian-era sculpture, much of which was also swiped from other cultures and adapted to the English aesthetic. Sheltered from the sea by an intricate series of coves and by the great western sweep of the Llyn Peninsula, its climate is surprisingly mild. This permitted the eccentric designer, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, to devote large areas of his property to botanical conservation. The gardens of non-native plants and trees blend together seamlessly, with occasional structures like the red Chinese bridge paying tribute to the great variety in their origins.

We arrived in the early evening and stayed in one of the cottages away from the main hotel, which gave us the opportunity to explore Portmeirion during the long twilight after it closed to visitors, in the dark, and in the early morning before it re-opened. The overnight stay and the gorgeous weather let us observe and appreciate the place in a way that the day visitor can't, I think.



Click the ship to view the gallery.