Kind of Mauve not Blue at Plas yn Rhiw

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Looking back, it was a mauve sort of a day, the day we went to visit the old Welsh farmhouse of Plas yn Rhiw on the Llyn Peninsula. The sea in the bay below the house was peaceful, and the air still and dreamy. If you listened hard you  might hear echoes of the past along this ancient pilgrims’ path to Bardsey Island, the place the Welsh call Island of Currents. It was late September, and Wales was very much in end-of-season mode with many places closed; or if they were open, then looking as if they wished they were closed. It’s often like that in Wales. Even the stalwart National Trust, that now has care of Plas yn Rhiw, was slow to open up. We had to go away and come back. In fact that was a bit of good luck. Further down the peninsula in Aberdaron we were taken by surprise at Y Gegin Fawr, The Big Kitchen cafe, where the owner was enthusiastically hospitable.

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It turned out that she was keen to uphold  a 700 year-old tradition of feeding pilgrims. We had some very excellent hot chocolate there, not something the saints would have recognised. Or if they had, and if they had seen Graham’s mug overtopping with whipped cream, they would surely have pronounced it a sin of the flesh, and to be eschewed at all costs.

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Back at Plas yn Rhiw we stepped into another time-warp.

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Here, the seventeenth century farmhouse had been lovingly restored from ruin by the three Keating sisters, who at the urging of friend and architect, Clough Williams-Ellis (he of Portmeirion fame) scraped up the funds to buy the place in 1938. They lived there until they died, filling the house with personal treasures. When you wander from room to room, there is a feeling of benign, if eccentric spirits. They don’t seem to mind us peering at their books and nick-nacks…

 copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

For more of this story:

Gazing into Hell’s Mouth at Plas yn Rhiw

 

Jennifer Nichole Wells One Word Photo Challenge: Mauve

Going All Symmetrical At Portmeirion

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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

Portmeirion: Pastiche in pastel?

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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).

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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.

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“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.

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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

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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.

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Caffi Morannedd by the sea at Criccieth

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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Arches at all angles.

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

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The village from the estuary.

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

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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