It is hauntingly beautiful. It sits in its own part of a lovely estuary, just east of Porthmadog, in the south of Snowdonia, Wales. Its name is Portmeirion and it was the life-work of an architect named Clough Williams-Ellis, who held a passionate belief that a ‘tightly-grouped coastal village’ could be developed in that majestic mountain setting, and that its development would illustrate how such a design could grow into the landscape without spoiling it.
In the late 1960s it became the setting for the ITV series “The Prisoner”, created by and starring Patrick McGoohan, famous for the Danger Man series. The then head of ITV, Lew Grade, eventually got fed up with funding the rather eccentric series, causing McGoohan to bring it to a premature conclusion after only seventeen episodes. The final episode caused the television company’s switchboard to be jammed for hours, as tens of thousands of people rang in, demanding to know what it all meant!
The Prisoner became a cult classic, overnight, and is still written about and quoted today. Something in it captured the imagination of the 1960s audience and was in-tune with the darker side of post-war civilisation and the cold war era, with its emphasis on the psychological aspects of dissent.
Today, a high proportion of those visiting Portmerion do so to follow in the footsteps of McGoohan’s character, the kidnapped British spy ‘No 6’, who had mysteriously resigned from the secret service to find himself drugged and transported to the surreal ‘Village’ so that his motives could be probed- psychologically and in increasingly deadly ways…
So what was it all about? McGoohan would never say. It may be significant that, as a devout Catholic, McGoohan had refused many other roles on moral grounds, including that of James Bond (twice). We can assume that the inner meaning of The Prisoner was close to his heart and portrayed something morally essential about mankind’s nature.
The Silent Eye holds four workshops a year. The main event, in April, begins our spiritual year, but the other three mark the nearest usable points to the dates of the summer and winter solstice and the autumn equinox. The midsummer period is very special, as it allows us full use of a long day with a chance of good weather. This year, we are using the landscape of Portmeirion and the story of McGoohan’s resigned and kidnapped spy, No 6, to create a ‘walk and talk’ basis for a weekend (Friday 16 – Sunday 18 June) of shared insights, fun and exploration in this beautiful landscape.
For each of the ‘themes’ referenced below, we invite you to bring (or, if you wish, create) your favourite readings of any nature, to share with the group at a time you find appropriate.
In “The Village”, No. 6 experienced different stages of separation and rebellion as he fought to find who was ‘No. 1″. His catch phrase, often shouted at cameras that were monitoring his every move was “I am not a number, I am a free man.” Nowadays, we all have numbers, and if those who seek to control society succeed, we may soon be expected to be ‘chipped’ so that the whole of a population may be tracked – purely to prevent terrorism, of course; and ‘those who have done nothing wrong have nothing to fear’, though my history books tell me that may have been used, before…
No. 6 experienced disbelief, as he woke from his drugged transportation to find the pastel-coloured and surreal ‘Village’ as his new home. This act of non-acceptance becomes one of our core themes for the weekend.
What do we do when we wake one morning to find that our world has changed, forever? That we don’t even live in the same land we thought we inhabited?
There are so many parallels in our domestic and political lives at present. On the Friday (16th June) of the weekend, we will explore what kind of things we can, psychologically, ‘Resign From’. The venue for this will be a via short walk along the coastal path from our base at Porthmadog to the beautiful cove of Borth-y-Gest, where drinks and dinner await us at the Moorings Bistro.
Saturday morning, 17th June, will be spent at the village of Portmeirion. We will meet at the famous No. 6 Cafe, just inside the Portmeirion village boundary. There, over a coffee or two, we will watch the beginning of the first episode of the Prisoner TV series… to set the scene for the day.
Our arrival will be timed to join one of the guided tours of the Village.
Following our guided tour, we will visit some of the key places from the Prisoner series, before taking a short coastal walk around the boundaries of the gardens and the forest, beyond. Here, our theme will be the consideration of the word ‘Resistance’. Does it have value? What forms does modern resistance take? And what we – who have lived in an age of relative peace and prosperity – have to learn from history?
We will then have an hour’s free time to wander and take in the beauty of our last moments in Portmeirion, meeting at the No. 6 cafe for our departure to the next destination.
Harlech, with its famous castle, lies about 30 minutes drive south of Portmeirion. Weather permitting, we will take a late lunch on the wooden deck on the Castle Museum’s cafe, looking down on the castle and the steeply-sloped valley that sweeps down to the sea; and points back at Portmeirion.
Here, we will consider the nature of ‘Authority’. How much effect does it have on our individual lives? Do we adapt our lives to ignore it or is it a constant pressure on our freedom and creativity? What are the sources of oppression in our lives? Are they all real or do some of them originate in ourselves?
Harlech is a tiny town with a big castle and its ancient streets hold many pleasant surprises… some of which may be hard to resist…
Our final destination for the Saturday afternoon is a secret; but there we will conduct a simple group ritual to mark the coming summer solstice, before returning to Porthmadog for a period of rest before drinks and dinner at one of the restaurants in the town.
It will have been a day well spent…
Sunday 18th June will be spent considering the theme of ‘Escape’. Is there really such a thing as a noble escape? Are we greater or lesser if we take such a choice? Perhaps there are certain situations too intolerable which requires us to say, ‘enough’, and use all our energies to leave?
Our ‘escape’ will be from Porthmadog, rather than the Prisoner’s Portmeirion.
The Porthmadog Quayside also hosts the station from which the famous restored steam trains depart for the mountains of Snowdonia. After exploring our destination, we will have a light lunch and return via the train to say our goodbyes and make our departures.
These events are open to all. They are useful, informal occasions if you are interested in meeting the people behind the Silent Eye’s enneagram-based consciousness programme, delivered, with personal supervision, as a correspondence course.
For all but the main April workshop, those attending make their own arrangements for accommodation and share in the cost of the meals. We charge an administration fee of £50.00 per person for each weekend.
For details of any of our events, see the website at: www.thesilenteye.co.uk
Or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
All text and images ©️Stephen Tanham.