by Stuart and Lesley King
Kent Se7ens members, Stuart and Lesley King report on their first trip to Portmeirion with the International 7 Network and the fun and friendships that were made.
Following their trip to Donnington to celebrate 60 years of the 7s - Stuart hankered after a longer ‘road trip’, so they chose this year’s International 7 Network trip to Wales.
Having hankered after a Caterham since his teens and following a visit to the original Caterham showroom in Caterham village, a chat to Guy Munday and a short test drive - my husband Stuart was hooked. He built his first Caterham Classic kit in 1990; over the two week Easter school holiday with our 10 year-old son; in a carpeted garage and subsequently used for his daily commute to work (in all weathers) He built his second kit in 2017 – a limited edition Superlight 20.
Fearing spinal injuries during this round trip from Kent of over 500 miles, I declined the Classic and settled for the more modern Superlight. However, Stuart’s choice of a lowered floor pan confined my forward views to the dashboard, so he rushed to raise my passenger seat ahead of travel. An MOT was also due, and the test centre had never had a car with such low millage, at just 400 miles in the past three years.
Packing a Caterham has long been considered an art-form and our efforts were no exception. So, with ‘E’ bag, tunnel bag and all the carefully measured crevices stuffed, we managed and were quite pleased with our choices. We agreed that any longer than a short break would involve laundering the ‘smalls’ J One change Stuart is making following discussions with more experienced travellers, is the replacement of his emergency tool kit with spare parts – on the assumption that the AA would have the tools, but not the parts.
I admit to viewing this journey with trepidation, as it would be our longest Seven journey ever. Fortunately, the day dawned dry, but with showers forecast. We only encountered ‘mizzle’ over the Welsh mountains – so were pleased to remain ‘topless’ throughout. It did get cold at the higher altitudes, and I received some strange looks on arrival in the warm Portmeirion sunshine – dressed in woolly hat, scarf, gloves and a waterproof jacket. Stuart is generally averse to motorway journeys in a Caterham, but this time he conceded on the grounds of speed. I think we were the penultimate arrival around 5pm – a journey time of 7 hours, including our comfort and fuel stops. Not bad and something we really enjoyed – especially crossing the Snowdon Mountain range through real ‘Driving Country’.
As previous visitors will testify, this Village is absolutely enchanting – a unique ‘hidden gem’, with its own microclimate and a very special, magical ‘feeling’. A day visit is insufficient to absorb the atmosphere and see everything, so this 4-day break was perfect.
We stayed in the Gwestry, with the remaining buildings throughout the Village serving as self contained hotel rooms so many of our group chose to stay in some very quirky accommodation! (serviced apartments are also available in the village) Unfortunately, we were not able to stay in room number 7, but realised that our room 11 was a better option, as larger with spectacular views across the estuary. The Hotel was well appointed, comfortable, with lovely staff and plenty of good grub! We also felt safe, as the Covid restrictions in place at this time, while annoying - were reassuring. An unusual sight were the individual, plastic ‘pods’ arranged across the lawn – very Prisoner-esk.
However, it surprised us to see so many day trippers, considering the resort was operating at just 50% occupancy with pre-booked ticket holders only. So definitely somewhere to avoid at the height of the season, with full occupancy! There were still ‘pinch-points’ which we chose to avoid, but staying on site proved magical ‘after-hours’, when the Village was quiet and the lights twinkled in the summer warmth.
Ideas for daily ‘blats’ in the beautiful, wider area were provided, which many chose to join; with some forming informal groups. The first day saw a mix of Lotus and Sevens setting off to drive the EVO triangle with lunch at the famous Ponderosa café on the Horseshoe pass, however, some of us decided that our first full day would be Caterham-free - to explore the Village and walk off the journey. The following day we donned our inter-coms and headed for the hills in search of a reservoir, promising spectacular, far-reaching views.
Unfortunately, we found the advised route a serious challenge, as the lane narrowed and the grass grew longer! Chickening-out just shy of the summit, we still enjoyed our snacks in the peace and sunshine. Undeterred, we explored some spectacular beaches close to Harlech, whizzing beneath the Castle ramparts. Definitely on our to-‘do list’ when we return, as there is plenty to see and do in this part of North Wales. Others chose the little steam railway with the hotel providing a lift to the station, others a blat to the famous beach café on the peninsula and others just sat by the pool , ate ice creams and got sunburnt.
Each day dawned with a superb Welsh breakfast (my favourite meal) and the Welsh laver bread and leek sausages come highly recommended. Following our daily jaunts, we gathered each evening for a superb dinner together – twice in the Castell and once in the Gwestry.
This was a brilliant idea, as we got to visit the Castell and experience different styles of catering and menus. As ‘newbies’ we were delighted to be sat with different groups each time; allowing us to get to know a number of fellow owners. We heard some amazing tales, absorbed snippets of invaluable Seven and Lotus related experiences and advice, while fascinated by others ‘hobbies’. It seems owners not only own unusual cars, but live equally unusual lives.
On our second full day, we were alerted us to the imminent ‘Grand Parade’ through the Village – an annual tradition for this trip when conditions allow. We made haste and were this time the last to join the line, ahead of driving in convoy for two laps around the inner road – hallowed ground for visiting Lotus or Caterham 7s.
In celebration of The Prisoner series and for all Patrick McGoohan fans, this provided a unique photo-opportunity for a surprised ‘Joe public’ and a delight for us. During a final visit to the excellent gift shops, I spied a couple of long wished-for items that we had absolutely no room for!! Note to self – arrange for the shop to post these home next time.
The Gwestry even hosted a returning pair of Oyster Catchers, nesting on the flat roof below our bedroom windows. Their three babies woke around 3am starving and needing a worm or more and the parent’s piercing calls echoed around the bay. However, their family life was a joy to watch and we forgive them our early alarm call. This estuary supports abundant wild life and birds, with up to 8 herons regularly fishing the shallows at low tide! Brave souls also risk a walk across the bay at low tide – something not to be attempted by us ‘newbies’.
All told, this was a thoroughly enjoyable trip we would highly recommend and have booked for next year. The organisation throughout was superb, as we fully appreciate what is involved and sincerely thank Christine Abbott for all her efforts. The group were just lovely, and we look forward to catching-up next year, as no longer the ‘newcomers’. We are also considering staying overnight en-route, so that we arrive at Portmeirion earlier and extend our time in this magical, fairy tale village. If you would like to join us – email Christine firstname.lastname@example.org