Wales Fam 2011
Sept 8th - 13th, 2011

September 10th, 2011
We had breakfast, checked out and were on our way through the Snowdonia Mountains…it was incredible. We stopped at the Pen y Pass to get out and take some many hikers so early in the morning here. Mist in the mountains, just a beautiful site to behold. We saw lots of sheep on the mountains and Donna was telling us that they are ‘hefted to the hills’ meaning they are born to this, it is in their genes and must be passed down in order to survive. We also saw Welsh black cattle and salt marsh sheep…these are sheep that feed in the salt marshes and are now called designer lamb…more expensive because their meat is much different. We are also seeing a lot of heather still in bloom.

Plas Brondanw

We arrived to be greeted by Gwynedd Roberts, the head gardener and Manager.

"It had been at about my twenty-fifth birthday that my father unexpectedly handed over to me the control of the old (Williams) family property of Plas Brondanw which I would ultimately inherit," wrote Clough Williams-Ellis. “Gradually but surely the old house and its rehabilitation became my chief absorbing interest outside my profession.”

The estate was enlarged when Clough bought two adjoining mountainous properties threatened by mining. The Brondanw Estate has never been bought or sold and is now owned by a charitable trust for its protection The gardens are open to the public.

John ap Hywel finished building Plas Brondanw around 1550, and a later member of the family William Williams, made improvements in 1660. In 1807 The Reverend John Ellis married Jane Bulgin, heiress of the Williams estate and from then the two names were joined to make Williams-Ellis.

Clough Williams-Ellis was brought up on other family property. In 1908 he was offered the Brondanw Estate by his father: "Nothing, just then, could possibly have been more ecstatically welcomed by me... The guardianship of a rambling old Carolean Plas set in a wildly romantic little estate among the Welsh mountains, that had been held by my family for over four centuries, was well calculated to inflame me."

In 1915, during the First World War, Clough married Amabel Strachey and when the war was over the Plas again became a family home. He became devoted to the rehabilitation of the house and the development of the gardens.

The gardens at Plas Brondanw are not as famous as his village of Portmeirion, but many people consider them to be Clough's most marvelous creation. “It was for Brondanw’s sake that I worked and stinted, for its sake that I chiefly hoped to prosper. A cheque of ten pounds would come in and I would order yew hedging to that extent, a cheque for twenty and I would pave a further piece of terrace.”

This devotion continued throughout Clough's long life - he lived to 95. As the gardens grew and matured the avenues extended outward into the fields with vistas up to the mountain peaks, as he had planned.

The Foundation is a charity that was founded by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in 1972, to protect his property and ensure its conservation. The charity was re-registered in 2007 as the Clough Williams-Ellis Foundation. The Foundation is managed by up to eight trustees. Some are descendants of Sir Clough. All are volunteers who bring expertise in a range of areas.
The Foundation seeks to ensure Clough's vision continues, specifically to "Cherish the past, adorn the present and construct for the future."

I had seen Portmeirion before so was looking forward to seeing it again but this one grabbed my fancy in that this was where is really first began. What a talented man…and what a couple. You see their wedding photo and you see them much later on and they are happy, a happy loving couple who put everything into this plot of land. It borrows the landscape around it and this makes it seem so much bigger and yet cozy at the same time. You feel in a bubble of time. I think what makes it so special is that it is so personal. You walk around and see what he thought about and put in place. So very different from the other and yet very much the same man. There is a bust of Inigo Jones there. His father was born in Wales.
A beautiful old tree, centuries old with a bench circling it now, inviting people to come and sit for a bit and see ‘what I see and why I love it here so much’. A chair to sit and dream about what it must have been like to know him and work with him. The not perfect pruning lines that throw you off a bit and make you smile.

Then a short distance to Portmeirion

History of the area..’ Clough acquired the site in 1925 for something under £5,000. It was then, as Clough wrote, "a neglected wilderness - long abandoned by those romantics who had realized the unique appeal and possibilities of this favoured promontory but who had been carried away by their grandiose landscaping...into sorrowful bankruptcy." Clough immediately changed the name from Aber Iâ (Glacial Estuary) to Portmeirion: Port because of the coastal location and Meirion as this is Welsh for Merioneth, the county in which it lay.’;lID=1

History of Clough Williams-Ellis;lID=1

History of the Gardens;lID=1

Portmeirion is one of Wales' premier visitor attractions, welcoming 250,000 visitors every year.

Taking nearly 50 years to complete, Portmeirion was a homage to Sir Clough Williams-Ellis' love of the Italian Riviera. Possibly why the bust of Inigo Jones in his own garden as Jones loved Italy as well.

The village was the backdrop for Patrick McGoohan in both The Prisoner and Danger Man, as well as providing the setting for episodes of Doctor Who, Citizen Smith and countless films, many of which use it as an alternative to filming on location in Italy.

In 1926 he opened the main house on the shore as the Hotel Portmeirion to finance his venture. Over the years Williams-Ellis designed and added many buildings to the village, completing his work in 1976, when he was over 90 years old.

Portmeirion was developed in two phases, 1926-39 and 1954-72, the break a result of William-Ellis's wartime service. He first acquired the site of the existing village, then the land beyond it, and eventually the lands surrounding Deudraeth Castle - and the 'castle' itself. It was owned by his uncle, Sir Osmond Williams, a descendant of David Williams, an attorney and the first Liberal MP for Meirioneth. The authentic castle has long since been destroyed and is marked by a tablet near the base of the Campanile:

"This tower, built in 1928 by Clough Williams-Ellis, architect and publican, embodies stones from the 12th Century castle of his ancestor Gryffyrd ap Cynan, King of North Wales, that stood on an eminence 150 yards to the west. It was finally razed c.1869 by Sir William Fothergill Cook, inventor of the Electric Telegraph, "lest the ruins should become known and attract visitors to the place." This 19th Century affront to the 12th Century is thus piously redressed in the 20th Century"

Among the stars to say Portmeirion has influenced their work are Noel Coward, Sir Paul McCartney, Frank Lloyd Wright (a close friend) Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman and Jools Holland.
When you visit, see if you can find the wishing trees. The first tree was felled to make way for a path and now there are many tree trunks full of coins.

Sir Clough's daughter Susan, who was an artist and trained under Henry Moore, established Portmeirion Pottery in 1960. In the '50s Susan and her husband Euan had taken over the running of the village shops, for which Susan had designed many ceramic ranges. Eventually the company took over premises in Stoke on Trent and now exports contemporary and re-launched designs from the 1960s around the world.

As well as his interest in colourful architecture and landscape design, Williams-Ellis was an advocate of rural preservation, amenity planning and industrial design, and the collection of buildings and 'borrowed' architectural features serves as a preserve of elements of architectural history from around the UK. In 1971 Sir Clough was knighted for services to architecture and the environment.

Portmeirion is owned by a registered charity, the Second Portmeirion Foundation, and managed by Robin Llywelyn, grandson of Willliams-Ellis. Portmeirion is signposted off the A487 at Minffordd between Penrhyndeudraeth and Porthmadog. The village is open for visitors and guests at the resort all year round.

Our last visit of the day was a simple one…not requiring too much walking. It was the place the created the nation’s unofficial anthem, loved by rugby fans and regimental bands alike.
Spectacularly sited Harlech Castle seems to grow naturally from the rock on which it is perched. Like an all-seeing sentinel, it gazes out across land and sea, keeping a watchful eye over Snowdonia. The English monarch Edward I built Harlech in the late 13th-century to fulfill this very role. It was one of the most formidable of his 'iron ring' of fortresses designed to contain the Welsh in their mountain fastness. Ironically, in 1404 it was taken by Welsh leader Owain Glyn Dwr who proceeded to hold a parliament here. A long siege here during the Wars of the Roses inspired the stirring song 'Men of Harlech'. Although an imposing edifice, Harlech is at one with its surroundings, a quality rare in the great Edwardian castles. There is a sense of harmony at work here, created by the way in which the castle builders took care to exploit the site's natural advantages.

Looking seawards, Harlech's battlements spring out of the near-vertical cliff-face, while any landward attackers would first have to deal with a massive twin-towered gatehouse. The sea, like Snowdonia, is one of the key to Harlech's siting. Sea borne access was crucial in times of siege, and although the waters of Tremadog Bay have receded over the centuries, they may originally have lapped the cliffs beneath the castle. The fortress's massive twin inner walls and towers still stand almost to their full height. The views from its lofty battlements are truly panoramic, extending from the dunes at its feet to the purple mass of Snowdonia in the distance. Harlech, a combination of magnificent medieval military architecture and breathtaking location, is an unmissable castle, a fact reinforced by its status as a World Heritage Inscribed site.

It’s secret weapon was a 200 foot long stairway which still leads from the castle to the cliff base. They said it was a steal of a deal when built. It only cost about 8200 British Pounds. James of St. George, Master of the King’s Work oversaw the structure being built.

Tonight we were staying at Dolserau Hall, a Victorian Country House Hotel in Dolgellau, Gwynedd. Set in the heart of the beautiful Snowdonia National Park, Dolgellau, North Wales. The hotel's position is stunning, with panoramic views from every room looking over the surrounding pastures to the hills on either side of the valley. My room (#15) here was cozy, a single bed on the top floor with a dormer window and simply a princess feel with satin comforter. I loved it even though I had to manoeuvre a huge suitcase in. A nice big bathroom, tea making, cookies and a t.v. What more did I need!

Dinner in these types of hotels is wonderful. You come down at a certain time and sit in the lounges until you are called. They want to make sure your whole group is there and then you go in at one time. It’s nice because you have already made your choice so the kitchen is prepared for you.

The area surrounding the hotel is beautiful and this has just recently changed hands so expect even more wonderful things to happen. Especially with the gardens. When walking around the Coach House, I discovered a walled garden in need of some loving care. They will be doing that. The walls are dry stack and covered with shrubs right now but what a sight that will be when renovated.

I forgot to mention all the sheep, it was soothing to hear them in the background….and if you are a guest here every afternoon enjoy Afternoon Tea!


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