Thursday’s Special ~ Being Serially Arrested In Wales

This week Paula’s Pick A Word  challenge is giving me the chance to post more views from our March trip to the Conwy Valley in North Wales. Projecting, arresting, pastoral, convex and communal are the prompts, and this distant shot of snow-dusted mountains pretty much covers the first three. However, I won’t let that stop me.

Arresting is my word of choice for all the following images; Wales was at  its magical, magnificent best – from the glittering waters of the River Conwy to the surreal towers and ramparts of Conwy Castle. It made you want to burst into song. Cue: Land of My Fathers, the Welsh National Anthem, which you can join in with at the end, and so definitely cover the communal. It doesn’t matter if you can’t speak Welsh; humming will do. Besides, there is nothing quite like the quality of Welsh singing voices.

Also look out for Thomas Telford’s amazing suspension bridge in the next shot of Conwy Castle. It was built between 1824-26 to improve access between Holyhead on Anglesey and Chester, and was also part of Telford’s larger road and bridge improvement scheme to enable swift and safer travel to London for Irish Members of Parliament. A triumph, then, in both function and form.

The castle was built between 1283 and 1289, and is another of Edward I’s overbearing edifices to oppress the Welsh. Not only did he invade, he also cleared out the monks who occupied the site and set about building both a fortress and a model town below it, the latter confined by massive defences. Today, these walls still surround the town, and you can walk around them, though I should issue a warning: the wall-top walk is not for the faint-hearted or those prone to vertigo. But if you don’t mind heights, they provide striking views in every quarter.

P1070393

IMG_4124

*

A few miles upstream from Conwy is the market town of Llanrwst. It is claimed that in 1947 its town council made an unsuccessful attempt to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council as an independent Welsh state. One has to admire this piece of Celtic chutzpah. I’m sorry they did not succeed. P1070238

Anyway, one of the present day arresting features of Llanrwst is this bridge, the Pont Fawr or Great Bridge. It was built in 1638 and still cars drive over it. There are other names too – the Shaking Bridge – because if you tap the central parapet the whole structure vibrates, and also Pont y Rhegi – bridge of swearing, explained by the fact that the carriageway is too narrow for vehicles to pass, and the height of the central arch too steep for forward visibility,meaning that everyone meets in the middle and this happens…!&?#!

The view through the central arch shows the ground on which the National Eisteddfod was held in 1989. The town is currently campaigning for a return of this annual extravaganza of Welsh culture in 2019. Which is a good point to bring on the choir. Croeso – welcome!

Marvellous Magnolias ~ And More From Bodnant Garden

IMG_4169

You could say that one of Britain’s loveliest gardens grew from a cosmetic nicety – the means to make white soap from brown. This new Victorian product was invented by one Henry Pochin (1824-1895), an industrial chemist who developed a process to clarify rosin, a brown resin that was used to make soap. He then sold the rights to white-soap-making to fund a new development: the production of alum cake from china clay, so creating a vital ingredient for the manufacture of good quality paper.

After that it was full steam ahead for Mr. Pochin, and literally too. He bought up china clay works in Cornwall and South Wales, and the Cornish Gothers works had its own tramway system on which ran a fleet of small steam locomotives, known at the time as Pochin’s Puffing Billies. And so he became a major industrialist, with further interests in iron, steel, and coal. He was also an all round pillar of the community, including serving for a time as a Liberal Member of Parliament. His wife, Agnes Pochin, was also politically active and a passionate suffragist.

P1070470

In 1874, Pochin bought the Bodnant Estate in the Conwy Valley, North Wales. The estate included Bodnant House,  25 farms and 80 acres of gardens, and for the next 20 years Pochin set about acquiring specimen trees from around the world.  He employed the notable landscape gardener Edward Milner, and together they re-landscaped the steep gorge below the house, planting American and Asian conifers along the banks of the River Hiraethlyn that runs through the gardens.

Some 140 years on, you can see the astonishing results – towering Douglas Firs, Giant Redwoods, Japanese Umbrella Pines. This part of the garden, known as The Dell, has over 40 champion trees, now on the UK list of notable and ancient trees.

As we wandered through the pinetum we wondered at the vision of these men – to plant trees whose full glory in that setting they would never live to see. It struck us too, that the world could well do with more of this forward, long-term planning, the creation of a living legacy for future generations.

P1070431

When Pochin died, his daughter Laura McClaren inherited Bodnant, and since that time the gardens have been developed by successive generations of the McClaren family, in particular Pochin’s grandson, Henry McClaren, who created the more formal gardens and the astonishing laburnum arch. (We were too soon to see it in bloom.) It was also he, who in 1949, gave the garden to the National Trust, although it is still managed on behalf of the Trust by a member of family. And it is still growing and expanding, with new areas being planted and opened to the public this year.

P1070478

This is the view from the house (still privately owned) – the Carneddau mountains of Snowdonia as a backdrop. What a setting. And what a garden. Here are a few more glimpses:

IMG_4182

IMG_4172

IMG_4204

 

Serpent’s Eye View From Llandudno’s Great Orme And A Spot Of Lamb Retrieval

IMG_4230

It was Monday morning, and here we were cresting the head of a sea serpent – the mighty Welsh marine worm. At least that’s what how the invading Vikings saw Llandudno’s Great Orme, and named it accordingly.

It is indeed an extraordinary craggy eminence that juts into the Celtic Sea, very much like a gigantic head. Amazingly, too, you can drive to the top, and see mountain mirages like this one. I’m looking south down the coast of North Wales, and this real-life illusion took little editing apart from cropping and reducing the brightness.

And now that I’m looking again at this still, blue scene, it is hard to believe it was blowing a gale as I took this photo.

Next are a couple of windscreen shots as we ascend and descend – rather more mythic edits this time and in keeping with this amazing slice of 300 million year old geology:

P1070513

P1070519

*

And now we come to Operation  Lamb Rescue –  a kind man restoring very little twins to their mother. They had slipped down the bank towards the road, and couldn’t climb back up. So this was more nightmare than illusion – but with a happy ending:

P1070533

*

Finally, a distant view of the sea serpent, taken from Anglesey on a still, but warm day in late December, when yet again Wales was in dreamy illusion mode. Perhaps we imagined it – the Great Orme, the mighty worm, snaking its way across the Menai Strait:

P1060459

 

In this week’s Thursday’s Special, Paula asks us for illusions however we wish to present them.

Going All Symmetrical At Portmeirion

100_4692

100_4667

100_4694

100_4693

Surely only a wizard could have conjured this  place – or so I thought, aged six, when we, the Ashford family first made pilgrimage to Portmeirion on the North Wales coast.

Story continues with more photos at Arch Wizard of Wales: Clough Williams-Ellis “Architect Errant”
Symmetry

Farewell, Little Digital…

100_7187

My trusty Kodak EasyShare camera died on Christmas morning. We were striding along Newborough Beach on Anglesey, in North Wales, me happily snapping away here and there. As you can see, the light was wonderful, and the mountains of Snowdonia across the Menai Strait, a mystic blue-grey. And then the camera began to die. Touchingly, it’s last shot is of me with my specs on, peering down at its lens, and wondering what on earth was going on with it. Under the circumstances, I’m not sure how the photograph happened, but happen it did. (An unintended selfie?) And so there you have it, little Kodak’s last click. Aaaah.

100_7193

Perhaps it knew what was coming; that I was about to desert it for a smarter, whizzier model. For yes, when we got back to the house, and the present opening, it was to find that Santa, aka the Team Leader, had bought me a new Lumix Panasonic. Oh, so many more modes and functions. But at least it has forced me to make one New Year’s Resolution: to learn how to use it properly. There! Now I’ve committed myself in print. Anyway, here’s a preliminary attempt in monochrome mode: looking towards mainland Wales.

P1000153

Portmeirion: Pastiche in pastel?

100_4693

Cee’s challenge this week instantly conjured vivid childhood impressions – of Edinburgh Rock, those tartan packs of sugar sticks that delivered instant tooth decay in soft shades of lemon, apricot and rose; my long-lost, but once treasured set of Lakeland crayons whose red plastic wallet held so many delicious colours of mauve and blue, and Portmeirion, the Welsh cliff-top confection of architect Clough Williams-Ellis. All three come in colours that, even now, I long to bite into. Bizarre, I know. Anyway, I have already written about Portmeirion HERE. But now for some more soft-hued scenes of an Italianate village and its ever surprising setting on the rugged North Wales coast. It is a place that has fascinated me for fifty years. It is also the place where The Prisoner, the cult TV series of the late 1960s starring Patrick McGoohan, was filmed. Devotees still gather there. Curiouser and curiouser…(allusion to Alice in Wonderland fully intended).

100_4695

100_4715

100_4633

100_4716

IMG_0669

holiday 098

Cee’s fun foto challenge: soft pastels

Arch Wizard of Wales: Clough Williams-Ellis “Architect Errant”

Surely only a wizard could have conjured this  place – or so I thought, aged six, when we, the Ashford family first made pilgrimage to Portmeirion on the North Wales coast.

100_4683

“Cherish the past. Adorn the present. Construct for the future.” This was the life-long credo of Clough Williams-Ellis, the man who dared to build an Italianesque village on a beautiful Welsh headland.

*

It was like stepping into a living picture book or melting through the mirror into Looking Glass Land. The houses were the rich, powdery, pastel shades of Loveheart sweets (does this strange confection still exist?). There were mythic frescoes in places were a child might least expect them, and best of all, a shell grotto that was just like the Little Mermaid’s deep-sea garden.

It was enchanting from the moment we stepped through the gatehouse entrance. How could there be so much colour, so many decorative flourishes to catch the eye, so many mermaids – here on a wooded Welsh headland with the lowering grey sky above? And the weather was gloomy on that first visit; I was forced to wear my dull brown mac over my pretty summer dress. The photos taken that day show me looking pensive and withdrawn. But I did love the place, and was quick to register the tones of admiration in my parents’ voices whenever they uttered the name of the man who had conceived this folly to beat all follies – Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis, self-taught architect and champion for the preservation of rural Britain.

Clough Williams-Ellis (left) with Frank Lloyd Wright at Portmeirion in 1956

*

Of course he built Portmeirion to prove a point: that a beautiful site could be developed without wrecking  it. When he bought the land in 1925  he described it as “a neglected wilderness.” There was “a pale mansion, a hundred years old, spread along the balustraded terrace on the sea’s edge.”

That house became the Portmeirion Hotel, and some of its associated cottages were integrated in the village plan. The two previous owners from the 1850s onwards had planted the site extensively with specimen oriental trees and exotic plants, many of which still survive. The planting, along with the building of a close-knit hillside village continued from 1925 under Clough’s direction for the next fifty years.

Many of the original plans still exist. The first phase of development was influenced by Clough’s interest in the Arts and Crafts movement. Later buildings followed Classical lines. He also made use of what today we refer to as architectural salvage, and indeed he called Portmeirion  “a home for fallen buildings.” With this architectural bricolage are references to some 5,000 years of architectural history from around the world. Critics of modernist inclination thus tend to overlook Clough’s contribution to architecture. This is a mistake. On our most recent visit to Wales we discovered his Caffi Morannedd Cafe at Criccieth, a few miles north of Porthmadog.

100_4741

Caffi Morannedd by the sea at Criccieth

*

Of course it was at Portmeirion that I first learned there was such a thing as architecture, and that this was something altogether more momentous and wonderful than drawing pictures of “our house” as one endlessly did at primary school.

Clough was also intent on giving people pleasure. He fought all his life to create and preserve beauty, which he called “that strange necessity.” But this did not mean that he was against development. “Enterprise by all means,” he said in 1931 when he was Chairman of the Council for the Rural Protection of Wales, “but reasonable, seemly development where it is in the public interest and nowhere else.”

And oh how fine it would be if English planning authorities were ruled by such objectives, instead of developer aspiration.

100_4627

As a child, I liked the way the houses seemed to have grown out of the rocky hillside, and that there was a mysterious “smugglers’ path” through a tunnel of overgrown rhododendrons that led to a secret sandy cove and the little tin lighthouse on the headland. It was all such fun, and created by a man who, like any magician, or indeed a wizard, wanted everyone to take delight in his illusions.

And now, since this post was prompted by Sue Llewellyn’s Word A Week arch challenge, here are some more views of Portmeirion – naturally with arches of all kinds in mind – all taken last week in Wales under mostly sunny skies.

 100_4672.jpg

100_4692

Unicorn Cottage: this illusion of a stately home is in fact a bungalow

*

100_4643.jpg

Arch with a view: glimpse of the estuary below the village

100_4645.jpg

 

IMG_0676.jpg

100_4631

In the foreground, behind the palms, is the colonnade from a Bristol bathhouse built in 1760. Another view below.

100_4636.jpg

*

100_4661

There are cafes and restaurants in the village, and cottages to let.

*

100_4666

Mermaid Cottage was already on the site when Clough bought the land. It was built in the 1850s, and Clough adorned it with the canopy and added the palms for the Mediterranean look.

100_4668.jpg

*

100_4680

*

100_4667

The Hercules Gazebo, complete with cast iron mermaid panels, serves to disguise a generator.

*

100_4672

*

100_4673

*

100_4674

The Prisoner, the cult TV series of the late 1960s starring Patrick McGoohan, was filmed at Portmeirion. It put Portmeirion on the map and its association with the place is still celebrated.

*

100_4677

Arches at all angles.

*

100_4691

Archway to the Piazza and (below) the Piazza itself below.

100_4693

*

IMG_0670

The village from the estuary.

IMG_0660

The arc of the Dwyryd Estuary taken from the esplanade at the Portmeirion Hotel

*

4363309520_fcd2edd736[1]

Clough Williams-Ellis 1883-1978  Photo: Polandeze Creative Commons

A man who lived creatively in all senses, and whose work has delighted millions.

copyright 2013 Tish Farrell

References:

http://www.portmeirion-village.com/en/visit/clough-williams-ellis/chronology/

http://www.brondanw.org/english/history/portmeirion.html

http://www.100welshheroes.com/en/biography/sircloughwilliamellis