I ticked off a few bucket list items last week as my wife and I traveled in England and Wales.
We visited Stonehenge, Avebury and Silbury Hill. We tromped around ruins and climbed spiral stone stairs in ancient castles. We went from Tower Bridge and the Tower of London on one side of town to Kensington Palace on the other. We visited Whitby Abbey (which Bram Stoker used in "Dracula") and explored the medieval tunnels under Dover Castle by the legendary white cliffs.
I had to talk my wife out of driving the English Channel Tunnel just so we could add France to our list of countries visited. She had to talk me out of buying every book I found or our luggage would have kept the plane from leaving the ground.
As truly awesome as it was to lay hands on the stones of Avebury and to walk in the footsteps of Stoker, as filled as the full English breakfasts left us, one of the absolute highlights of the journey was the day we spent in the Welsh resort of Portmeirion.
Nestled in the foothills on the shore of the river Afon Dwyryd near Penrhyndeudraeth (try saying that once or twice), Portmeirion village was built by Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1973. It includes two hotels, a cluster of historic cottages, iconic architecture, a spa, stylish shops, award-winning restaurants, casual cafes, an Italian ice cream parlor, exotic gardens and sandy beaches.
It is dotted with pieces of architecture salvaged from locations around the world, statues of the Buddha and Hercules, a chess set sized for use by living chess pieces, and much more. It has been the favorite vacation spot of George Harrison and other celebrities.
But it was important to me because its unique setting was used as "The Village," an inescapable "retirement" community for former spies from both sides of the Iron Curtain, as seen in the 1967 TV series "The Prisoner."
Created by Patrick McGoohan (who also starred as an unnamed agent identified as "Number Six") and George Markstei, the series employed the surreal design of Portmeirion to good effect; viewers could believe that surreal psychological experiments might take place in such a heightened environment.
In the 17 episodes of the series, Number Six sought to outwit his captors, escape from the Village, and expose the place to the world at large. He argued that he would not "be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered," but his name is never revealed.
Most fans believe the character is John Drake, the agent McGoohan previously played on the series "Danger Man," or "Secret Agent" as it was called in the U.S. — and for which Johnny Rivers recorded the more famous theme song, whose lyrics include, "They've given you a number and taken away your name."
Now, even I'm not old enough to remember "The Prisoner" when it first broadcast in the U.S. I became a fan in the late 1980s, when CBS reran it as a late-night drama. The mix of 1960s style, experimental camera work, secret agent thrills and surreal storylines hit all the right notes for me, especially at a time when I was feeling more like a cypher and less like myself.
Our visit to the Village included a tour led by a Welshman named John, who shared some funny turns of phrase when talking about the "Prisoner" fans who gather at Portmeirion each year. Among them: "They wear pretty rainbow-stripe capes and bowler hats and black jackets with numbers on them, but they seem to be having a good time, so we try to leave them be."
Be seeing you.
Tony Simmons is not a number. He writes this column for The News Herald most weeks, but he claims he remains a free man.