Jonathan Ray heads to north Wales and braves both Welsh rain and Welsh wine in search of the fabled Welsh salt marsh lamb.
Portmeirion was as beguiling as ever and the Welsh summer weather as vile. My wife, Marina, and I and our two teenage boys are just back from spending a week in one of Portmeirion’s quirky cottages and we had a hoot.
We were last there five years ago – also in high summer – when it sheeted with rain all week. This time we did a little better and had five days of rain and two of blinding sunshine. But, having visited the Italianate fantasy folly that is Portmeirion many times over the last forty odd years, my memories of it are always bright and sunny.
I remember meeting its creator, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, on my first visit as a ten year-old and have been obsessed with the place ever since. It’s always just such a lark, Portmeirion, with something to tease the eye and delight the soul around every corner.
I’ve been with my parents, I’ve been with my mates, I’ve been with my girlfriends and I’ve been on my own. Indeed, I remember three very happy solo, get-away-from-it-all, Christmases there; just me, a box of London Library books, a case of Berrys’ wine and a whole Paxton’s ham. Bliss! Most splendid of all, though, Marina and I even spent part of our honeymoon there.
This time we were en famille, travelling with our mates Mike and Bibi and their three boys who took one of the village’s other cottages. We had a glorious day on the vast white sand beach at the end of Portmeirion’s peninsula (recently named one of the ten best beaches in the UK) playing cricket, hunting for crabs and barbecuing fabulous sausages bought en route from Ludlow Food Centre; we wandered around Bedgelert in driving rain and paid our respects at poor Gelert’s grave; we hiked high above the Mawddach estuary in lung-filling, body-buffeting wind and had a dire, pretentious, microwave-reliant lunch in the George III Hotel in Penmaenpool; we spent a morning in Caernarfon Castle and had an unexpectedly fine lunch at the Castell Hotel in the town’s square (it looks a dump and the menu is deeply uninspiring, full of burgers and nachos, but everything right down to the barbecue and tartar sauces is homemade and utterly delicious and my gammon steak was a thick and juicy, straight-from-the-butcher delight and the boys’ burgers sublime) and we even went paint-balling and cycling.