Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis (1888-1978) was the visionary architect of Portmeirion village in North Wales. He inherited his fathers house, Plas Brondanw, sitting high above Porthmadog in 1908.
He served in WW1 and was awarded the Military Cross. He was an advocate of rural preservation and helped establish many National Parks, drawing the boundary for Snowdonia national park. He was closely related to Owain Gwynnedd, Prince of North Wales and returned to his rightful kingdom from Northampton where he was born.
The gardens at Plas Brondanw are not very big but beautifully formed. The turquoise colour which is evident all over Portmeirion is also in the gardens.
His eye for classical form with arches, long passageways with a sculpture on a plinth, ponds, long borders and fruit trees, pleached high hedges, something taking your eye on every corner.
Everywhere you turn is something in the distance pulling you in. If you love Portmeirion, these gardens are a must. A jewel in his crown. If you do go, there is a castle folly on a trail outside of the gardens up on a hill, which is well worth the climb. It has an outstanding view and could be easily missed. There is a fantastic quarry garden on the trail back down.
The gardens are 45 minutes from Abersoch. There is a cafe and if you buy something the parking fee of £2 is returned, at time of writing, entrance to the gardens is £5. We went with friends, Trish, the Bowdon version of Clough Williams-Ellis, was entranced by his clever use of planting and vision and I can easily see a turquoise moment coming on….
His classical yet quirky style is very evident in this beautiful house and gardens. As he was working on his gardens in the 1920’s he was looking for the perfect spot for his big project. He found and acquired, for £5,000, a run down hotel on a balustraded terrace on a local hillside. He had been looking world wide for a site yet found the perfect spot 6 miles from where he lived. It sat on a harbour surrounded by an overgrown neglected wilderness overlooking the Dwyryd estuary. It became the magical kingdom of Portmeirion.
Portmeirion is just past Porthmadog. I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. The entrance fee is £15 or you can buy a yearly pass for £30, a bargain. The large castle like restaurant at the entrance has a deal. If you have 2 courses for £25 you then get free entrance to the main site.
It’s fairy tale like entrance, all chalky pastels and arches, turrets and statues is a complete sensory overload.
He started building the site in 1926 and it took him over 50 years to complete.
He was a great recycler and salvaged interesting artefacts and structural bits and pieces from old buildings and demolition sites all over the country. The colonnade in the centre was from a 1760’s Bristol bathhouse.
The mermaid railings which are all over the site came from the Liverpool sailors home.
I love the fact it is so eclectic with Siamese dancing Apsara’s on unbelievably high Ionic columns, life size chess boards, a building that looks like a cathedral all weaved together into a mystical pastel hued kingdom of joy.
A boat that had been sunk in the estuary was cleverly reinstated on the edge of the harbour.
Frank Lloyd Wright the famous American architect came to visit him in 1956 and interestingly was also of Welsh heritage, his mother’s family had emigrated to the US in the mid 1800’s. They met at Portmeirion after he had been awarded an honorary doctorate from Bangor University. I was blown away by the photo of them both together. He died 3 years after visiting aged 91.
To understand the true measure of his accomplishments you just need to look at how often it’s on TV programmes, film sets, music videos and how much its loved. Some of it is well built and other parts of it are glorious fakery. If ornamentation, quirkiness and colour is a crime in architecture then he is guilty as charged. For the many thousands who visit and love its escapism, colour and humour he will never be forgotten. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and will come again when it’s quieter in the autumn. If you do come make a picnic, take your time. Or buy lunch there are cafes and places to eat. Bring your walking boots for the forest walk or walk the coastal path. Stay and soak up the atmosphere, there’s nothing quite like it.
Country life once said of Portmeirion “a pirates lair, drawing together romance and baroque with little bits of Italy, Cornwall and Wales too” If you have never visited you really must make the journey, it’s magical and he was without doubt a true magician.
He died in 1978 aged 94. 20 years after his death some of his ashes were loaded into a marine rocket and it was launched in a New Years Eve firework display over Portmeirion and the estuary according to his wishes. Now that’s the way to go……
4 thoughts on “The joy of the Llyn peninsula and Wales”
So interesting as usual .PM is somewhere I have been but I would go again there is so much to take in as you say . Keep enjoying your summer and sharing it with us . Love Dawn xxxx
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beautiful and you don’t look to bad yourselves xx
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