Portmeirion, Plas Brondanw and Nant Ffancon Pass
|Portmeirion (The Masque of Mandragora location)
|Plas Brondanw Garden (The Five Doctors location)
|Plas Brondanw Castle (The Five Doctors location)
The fourth day started early, well it seemed that way anyway. My room at the Ty Newydd B&B in Porthmadog had a shower and it was a treat to be able to jump from the bed strait in without having to make myself presentable incase I bumped into someone in route to the facilities. After gathering my things and packing I set out for a bit of an explore around the house. An old municipal building that was originally a courthouse now converted to a comfortable home business, the warm toned wood stairway was a nice subject for a few shots with the Richardwho traveling Bear. Simon, Matt and Sarah were up and about for the 8:30 am breakfast call we arranged the night before, meeting in the homey eating area. The Landlady laid on a full English breakfast with Eggs, Chips, Tomatoes, Fried Bread, Sausage, Mushrooms, Cereal, Toast, Coffee, Tea, Juice and Beans. Beans for breakfast? It was far too much food for us to eat but we put a huge dent in it anyway, leaving the table well satisfied and me giving my belt a bit of slack so I could breathe again.
Eager to get on with the days events we dashed up to our rooms to collect our luggage and met in the parlor to settle up the bill. Sarah and the Landlady exchanged a few pleasantries and started into a chat about the house and it's history. One of those conversations that is difficult to end politely when you don't want to be rude. Sarah seemed trapped and time was slipping by. I have not been known for my polite disposition, being more of a "to the point" kind of guy, so I intervened with a comment that made it clear it was time to go. That did the trick and we were out the door. I am not likely to ever make it back to Porthmadog again so I wanted to snap a few pictures of the village surrounding the B&B.
I went out side and down the road snapping a shot hear and there when I saw this little old lady standing across the road waving at me. She must have been 70 years old and barely 5 feet tall, just waving as hard as she could. I waved back and she gave me a frantic expression pointing down the street. When I looked it was clear what she wanted, a bus was on its way up the road and she wanted to get on. I just happened to be standing at the bus stop and she was trying to get me to stop it for her. I did as she requested and watch as she shuffled across the road. She smiled at me as I helped her up the steps into the bus. Turning to face me at the top step, she said a few words I didn't understand but presume to be "Thank you" in Welch. I responded with "You are more then welcome" and her eyes opened as wide as saucers with and expression on her face that you would be certain she had just seen an alien from outer space. The doors closed as the bus started to move so I waved and her tiny wrinkled hand slowly raised and waived back as the bus trundled out of sight.
Not wanting to freak out any more locals I returned to the B&B where the three other adventures were waiting, eager to get on with the days events. We piled into the Vetra and made our way to Portmeirion over some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen. There were lush rolling hills painted with every hue of green imaginable bordered occasionally by rocky coastlines. Quite spectacular. I was so fascinated with the scenery that I have no idea how long it took to get to Portmeirion from Porthmadog but it couldn't have been more then five miles or so. When we did arrive the weather took a turn for the warm, heading toward hot.
Portmeirion Village is the most amazing assemblage of buildings, gardens, courtyards and woodland walks, tucked away in the cliffs above the Afon Dwyryd River. Clough Williams-Ellis spent 50 years constructing the village as a demonstration of how a location could be developed without spoiling its natural beauty. Completed in 1976 it has become one of Wales's most popular visitor attractions. The village was the location used for the filming of the late 1960's television series "The Prisoner" and the 1976 Doctor Who Story "The Masque of Mandragora", which is why we came.
With our reference material in hand we began exploring the village searching out all the scene locations and shot angles we could find. Re-staging many of the character positions with stand-ins from our party. Matt, ever full of energy, zipped about pointing out the sights as he spotted them. Simon did a good job keeping pace with Matt, but I just could not keep up with them. The many staircases and steep roads required me to maintain a steadier pace. Sarah took pity on me keeping me company as I plodded along. It was getting unseasonably warm as the morning progressed and by noon it was down right hot. The long walk down to the waterside displays was quite refreshing and we lingered at the waters edge for some time. The trek back up those same hills was an entirely different story. I huffed and puffed my way back to the top and had a nice long sit down when I finally did make it.
We were having a difficult time finding one of the locations used in the show, where Tom Baker jumps a particular railing. Simon started interrogating shop workers for information while Matt and Sarah set out in a direction that looked promising. I headed off in a different direction but was suddenly surrounded by a crowd of men in tuxedos and women in fancy formal dresses. I had stumbled into a wedding party that was in the middle of picture taking and bouquet throwing. Obviously out of place, I pushed my way out of the crowd and found a bench to sit on and wait for the merriment to subside. After many minutes of waiting I abandoned my quest for the elusive rail, starting back the direction I came, reconnecting with Matt, Sarah and Simon. The full entourage of four made one last attempt to find the rail Tom had jumped, we went back down the path I had originally been assigned. This time the wedding party was gone and low and behold there it was, the prize, not 50 feet passed the spot I had given up at before. We snapped the pictures we wanted, announced it a successful shooting location visit and headed back to the car.
The next destination, Plas Brondanw, a mere 5 miles away, was the location used for several scenes in the 20th anniversary story "The Five Doctors". The Gardens were used for the capture of the First Doctor by the time scoop and the castle folly the location used as the Eye of Orion Archway in the Peter Davison opening scenes. Plas Brondanw was the ancestral home of Clough Williams-Ellis, the builder of Portmeirion, and was built around 1550. Clough began construction on the estates lavish gardens in 1908 after his father had gifted the house and land to him. Plas Brondanw is hidden away just off the A4085 with a barely distinguishable sign identifying its location. You will drive right by it if you are traveling faster then, say, a snail. We did. But Simon's quick eye spotted the minor, tiny, minuscule road as we went by it. Quickly backtracking to recover our route we turned onto the 8 foot wide road bordered by a bottomless shear drop on one side and a vertical rock cliff on the other. Plenty of room for our Vectra, that is until the 7 foot wide trash truck met us head-on. Big Dirty Trash Truck. Little Cute Shiny Rental Car. Who do you think gave in first? Of course we did, backing down the grade to a spot that allowed the beast by and somehow for us to turn around. I don't know how we did that trick; I had my eyes closed the hole time. We decided not to make another run up the road in the car and parked it in a clearing where the main road and the carriageway to death met. The quarter mile walk was very pretty and a lot easier on our nerves.
You enter Plas Brondanw Garden through an unattended simple wooden gate that hides the splendors on the other side. The back of the gate has a coin box that you are expected to put your entry fee in. How trusting! If the gardens were in America there would have been a armed guard on both sides of the gate and a third person collecting the money. All three would be talking on a cell phone and doing their best not to make eye contact with you. We slipped the 9-pound fee (for all four of us) in the box and stepped into the garden. What a marvelous place, the perfectly manicured lawns, sculptures, ponds, exotic plants and buildings are beautiful. The only thing I've ever seen like it is some of the gardens at Disney World, but they don't come close to the splendor. The second thing that hit me as we started exploring was that there wasn't another sole in site. There was an elderly couple leaving as we entered but that was it, no one else. This huge garden all to are selves.
The cherub filled pond with the little fireman fountain is just inside the gate, larger then it appears in the story. Matt quickly found the grand staircase that Richard Hurndall descends just before sensing the time scoop approaching. We all took our turn taking the Doctors position on the stairs for a photo. We set out in different directions in search of the lawn area that was used when the scoop snatches the Doctor. I later found Matt and Sarah in a large lawn area at the foot of the house's main entrance. This is it, he ran from here down that way to the bushes down there", Matt said, pointing to a meticulously trimmed 10 foot bush at the far end of the lawn. We wandered in different directions around the grounds for a while and I made my way back to the entrance where I found Matt, Sarah and Simon talking to a man in big green rubber boots.
The man turned out to be "Ron", the "Head Gardener and Caretaker" of Plas Brondanw for the past forty years. Ron was there during the filming of the story, protecting the welfare of the grounds from the hordes of people and generally enjoying the spectacle of it all. The catering van was a pleasant place to hang about he remembered. Ron told us of his card games with Peter Davison, who he described as "The guy with the wife that had a voice that sounded like crushed cats". Apparently Sandra Dickinson (Trillian in the 1981 Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy TV series) would pick up Peter occasionally after the shoot and they would drive to their local accommodations together. Ron is still upset with Peter, "Spitting feathers" as he said, because at the last card game Peter went to get them some beers and never returned. Ron started showing us around the garden identifying all the places the BBC filmed. He pointed out where foliage painted canvas had been used to make pathways look narrower, where painted plywood statues were placed to embellish the look, where the crew had their equipment placed and the exact spot that the cameraman and camera fell into the pond.
Ron then told us the story of all the things that were left behind after the crew departed. A sad story it was. When the location shooting was all done and the BBC packed and left, they apparently left behind many items. Most of it was trash that Ron disposed of but not all of it. Richard Hurndall forgot to take his hat with him, not part of his costume, just the one he wore between shots. He also left his black cape hanging on a bush, Ron wasn't sure if it was part of the costume or not but thought it was. Peter Davison left a pair of sunglasses behind at the card game. Then there was the full Tardis that was left behind. Described by Ron as having a top two sides and a front door, held together with hinges. He went on to tell us that he didn't want to throw these in the rubbish in case the BBC came back looking for them. He stored them away in the garden's main garage to protect them until collected. "Did the BBC ever come back for them?" we asked. "Oh no, they just sat there collecting dust and taking up my storage space" Ron replied. "What happened to them then?" Sarah Asked. "I burned them two weeks ago", Ron's reply. All four of our chins hit the flagstone patio at the same time. "BURNED THEM?"
"You see I'm retiring next month", Ron announces as he continues the story. Because he was leaving, he wanted everything cleaned up and ready to pass on to the next caretaker. He needed to make room in the garage for a cheery picker that had to be moved inside. Ron asked the lady of the house what to do with all the junk in the garage and she instructed him to burn anything that wasn't used to maintain the grounds. Ron did as instructed and held a grand bonfire that included a possiable OB Tardis. "Is any of it left?" Matt asked. "No, it was a rite good fire," replied Ron. Stunned by the story we all said our Thanks to Ron for talking with us and that we hoped he enjoyed his retirement.
We stood there for a long time after Ron left discussing what we just heard. Matt and Simon then set out to see if they could find the location of the bonfire and possibly any remaining pieces of the Tardis. We found a likely location just the other side of a gated hedgerow baring a sign that made it clear it was not a public area and to stay out. That didn't slow Simon down and in he went. Indeed he found the likely location of the fire but there was little but ash left and not a single blue Tardis bit to be seen. With some great photos and a wonderful story to take back with us we called this another satisfying location visit and decided it was time to move to our next spot. The "Eye of Orion Archway"
We made our way back out of the garden and strolled across the road on to a stony walkway into a dense wooded area. The path led to a magnificent view down into a gray slate colored gorge with a waterfall spilling into it. Farther up the hill you could just make out through the trees a stone structure at the top. Off we went dodging the mud and sheep droppings. At the top was the Tranquil Eye of Orion. Looking like one scaled down elevation of a castle it over looks a green rolling valley on the other side. Officially called an Outlook Tower it was built in 1915 by the Officers of the Welch Guard as a wedding gift to Clough and Amabel Williams-Ellis. During World War II the tower was used as a military strong hold to repel the German invasion if that were to happen.
Obvious we were the first visitors in quite some time, other then the sheep that apparently hang out on the bottom floor at night, we had the whole mountain and castle to ourselves. We recreated some of the classic shots from the show with Matt standing in for Turlough and Sarah doing the Tegan parts. We explored the tower, scaling the staircase inside through all three of the floors. The view from the roof is spectacular! You can see why Turlough wanted to draw it. We lingered and looked, and lingered and looked, it really is the most peaceful place in the universe. If I ever make it to Wales again I will come back here with a picnic lunch and make a day of it. But not today. We have to get moving if we are going to make it to the next location. Nant Ffrancon Pass.
We made our way back down the hill to our car in much less time then it took to get up there. After a quick raid of the cooler in the trunk (boot) we had an impromptu lunch of chips (crisps) and soda. The UK has the most unusual selection of potato chips. I had chicken flavor, there was a bag of bacon tossing around and a Chinese spare rib making the circuit. Yes these are chips, I swear!! Nourished, we headed off to find Nant Ffancon Pass, the shooting location of the 1967 story "The Abominable Snowmen". All we had to go on was the name of the area and the general map location. It is essentially just a spot in a mountain range so we headed off down the road that ran parallel to it. We drove along admiring how pretty the hills were snapping photos out the car windows. Satisfied we had seen what we could of this location we turned the car around and headed toward Llangollen and our reservations at Cae Crwn Farm.
The drive to Bryneqlwys on the A5 was relaxing with plenty of countryside views to see. Once we turned onto the A5104 and zeroed in on the Farm the roads became smaller and smaller, eventually turning into a dirt trail barely the width of the car. We were not lost, it was just a rural area. We were greeted at Cae Crwn Farm by the Landlady several dogs two young children and several chickens. It was a real farm B&B, not a I use to be a farm now I'm a B&B. The horses and sheep were up the hill behind the house and the tractor was in the barn. We were showed to our rooms. Simon's room would be the envy of any 6-year-old girl, with frilly things all over. Mine, was basic and clean with a window overlooking the chicken filled driveway. Matt and Sarah got the master suite with a double bed and sink in the classic country look. We tossed our luggage in the rooms and the landlady gave us the grand tour of the house. Lounge with piano (leave it alone Simon), dinning room, large bathroom with a huge deep maroon tub. Where is the shower? "Oh that's over here, but its not working." Only a bathtub! I haven't sat in a bathtub in 10 years. This should be interesting. The four of us went out side to explore the property leaving the landlady behind. We were quickly intercepted by the 8-year-old grandson who insisted he accompany us on our walk. All my attempts to shake him from our heals failed miserably. My only defense was to sacrifice the others and briskly walk up the hill leaving them to deal with him on there own. The novelty of the farm quickly turned to thoughts of food. We planned to have dinner in Llangollen that evening so it was time to start making our way there.
We started the 10-mile drive to Llangollen keeping to the major roads for simplicity and avoiding the direct route through the back roads. When we were within a mile of our destination we started seeing the most amazing road signs. They had Daleks on them! We have to be in the right place when there are Daleks on the road signs. I made Simon stop the car so I could take a picture. We found our way to a public parking lot in the middle of town only to find out that an antique fair was being held in the town over the weekend so there were people everywhere. We found our way to a pub that had an inviting menu and made our orders. I decided on a Lamb Shank, being assured I would love it even though I have never had a lamb meal that I liked. They were right it was great and I had no trouble clearing my plate.
By the time we finished the meal the sun was making it's final appearance of the day so we decided to go over to the Exhibition Center where the Doctor Who Experience is. Just a bit of advance scouting for the event scheduled the next day. We walked there using the scenic path along the River Dee winding up at the front door of Dapol. I peered into the windows and snapped a few pictures. I was primed for a visit to the exhibition and ready for a bit of rest.
We made our way back to the farm and amazingly got there with out getting lost once. In the Dark Even! The house was quiet and everyone agreed to meet in the morning at 8:30 am for breakfast. We all scatted and went to our rooms. I ventured back out to the bathroom to give the bathtub a try. I will save you the gory details but it will be another 10-years before I use a tub again. I am a reaffirmed shower man. Off to bed I go, dead tired after a glorious day of Dr Who.
|| Back to Day 3
|On to Day 5 |
|Photos from the days events
|Portmeirion (The Masque of Mandragora location)
|Plas Brondanw Garden (The Five Doctors location)
|Plas Brondanw Castle (The Five Doctors location)
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