You probably never heard of Porthmadog and Portmeirion but the charming railroad, privately owned and restored town and more will make you want to explore.

Porthmadog and Portmeirion: Two (almost) unknown Welsh towns and one with The Prisoner history

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If you're going to visit somewhere off-beat, then there's no better way to get there than to use a rather off-beat form of transport. If you've arrived in the Welsh town of Porthmadog, you can ride on the quaint little narrow-gauge Ffestiniog Railway, originally intended to haul slates down from Blaenau Ffestiniog to be transferred to ships in the port. The train might even be hauled by one of the railway's famous 'double-ended' Fairlie steam locomotives.


Another narrow-gauge train also brought slates to Portmeirion, from the Nantlle Valley. The Welsh Highland Railway was restored from almost complete extinction, and now runs tourists along the southern side of Snowdon, to Caernarfon.

Slate quarrying is now all but non-existent, and the harbour is now an extensive pleasure-boat marina, but artefacts from its former days can be seen at the Maritime Museum on the quayside. There's an art gallery on Snowdon Street, cafes, pubs and restaurants abound and plenty of accommodation is available. There are many easy walks around the town and in the surrounding area, and, if you want to venture further afield, the Snowdonia National Park is in easy reach; if you didn't bring a car, the Snowdon Sherpa bus service (Service S97) calls at Porthmadog.


If you ride the Ffestioniog Railway over the embankment across the estuary of the Glaslyn River and get off at Minffordd station, it's a walk of about 1 1/2 miles to the entrance of the private village of Portmeirion. -- there's a car park right outside the gates, if you don't want to walk that far.
 You probably never heard of Porthmadog and Portmeirion but the charming railroad, privately owned and restored town and more will make you want to explore.

The village is the brain-child of architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who thought of Portmeirion as a 'home for fallen buildings'. He acquired the land in the 1920s, and set out to prove that development of a beautiful site did not necessarily mean it was spoilt. Two of the buildings were already on site when Williams-Ellis bought the land; others came from elsewhere; sometimes, saved from demolition and re-assembled here.

The architecture resembles that of just about any town or village on the Italian Riviera. The colours are there; bold and brash in some places; a pleasing pastel in others. There's even an Italian style campanile. People often remark that the village reminds them of Portofino, in Italy. It does, in a way, but really, it has a charm of its own. Williams-Ellis, always repeatedly denied claims that his layout was based on that village. I think I once read somewhere that he claimed he'd never been there.

There's something other-worldly about the place, too; it's almost as if, having paid your entrance fee at the gate, you stepped into a sort of alternate reality. There's a lot more to do here than just wander round and look, although that is a satisfactory experience in itself. For a start, here's a pottery. Portmeirion pottery is sold all over the UK, but it adds a little cachet if it's bought at source, cafes, a spa, restaurants ... you can stay at one the two hotels or the 14 self-catering cottages here. You can even get married here. And, of course, there are shops, selling mainly souvenirs, but other items from books to 'Prisoner' memorabilia. This last is sold in the shop on the upper floor of the house in which 'The Prisoner' lived.

The Prisoner was a TV series filmed here in 1967. The viewing audience was, I think, hooked by the setting rather than the plot. And, probably to whet the appetite of the viewer, Williams-Ellis stipulated that the location should not be disclosed until the credits rolled on the last episode.

The series gained a cult following, and, every year 'Festival No 6' ('No 6' was the hero of the series, played by the late Patrick McGoohan) for the show's affictionados is held here. And, if your visit happens to coincide with this festival, that will really increase the 'other world' experience.

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Having written as a hobby for many years while serving in the Royal Air Force, Keith Kellett saw no reason to discontinue his hobby when he retired to a village in the south of England, near Stonehenge. With time on his hands, he produced more work, and found, to his surprise, it 'grew and grew' and was good enough to finance his other hobbies; travelling, photography and computers. He is trying hard to prevent it from becoming a full-time job.

Published June 19, 2017

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