Summer is here… or so it has been rumoured. I am not too sure about it myself! But what better time to indulge in an cream tea with my dear husband in celebration of Father’s Day – even though our adult ‘child’ was teaching all day and couldn’t join us.
We chose Portmeirion, home of the world renowned pottery of the same name and where the 1960’s cult T.V. series, ‘The Prisoner’, was filmed. I haven’t visited here for some time and we left home bathed in warm sunshine and sporting sunglasses and walking shoes with every intention of exploring some of the 70 acres of gardens and woodland before arriving at the hotel for tea.
Unfortunately this is Britain, and as all us U.K. residents know, the last thing that can be relied upon is the weather. True to form, by the time we reached Portmeirion – only a thirty minute drive from our home – the skies had darkened ominously. The other thing about us British is that we are extraordinarily naive and optimistic about our weather. Oblivious to the warning signs we deposited the car in the car park and sauntered off down the hill into the village.
Now, for anyone who hasn’t been to Portmeirion, let me explain that this ‘village’ is a unique oddity within the landscape of the North Welsh mountains and coast. Built by Clough Williams-Ellis back in the 1920’s to demonstrate how a beautiful site could be developed without spoiling it, Portmeirion is an amazing collection of Italianate buildings painted in Mediterranean colours. More than that, it is a stunning fantasy world of frescoes, water features and statues set in manicured gardens and intriguing woodland along the banks of the Afon Dwyryd estuary. All the buildings there are either shops and cafes, self catering holiday accommodation or serviced hotel rooms.
By the time we had reached the centre of the village large fat drops of rain were splashing all around us so we decided to skip the idea of a walk and made straight for the hotel. Sitting by a window in the dining room and looking out across the sands towards the mountains of Meirionnydd we watched the heavy storm clouds roll in and the vista rapidly disappear from view. But we had something else to feast our eyes – and our appetites! – upon once our afternoon tea arrived!
We were being treated to the full works – minus the glass of alcoholic fizz which was an option, but I personally do not feel that it fits with ‘tea’. I am far too fond of my traditional beverage and was delighted to find that Ceylon Orange Pekoe, grown in Nuwara Eliya, was on the menu. When I was a child, staying with my mother in Sri Lanka, we sometimes used to travel up-country to Nuwara Eliya just to get cool. While the coast sweltered in tropical heat, 6,000 feet up in the mountains was often chilly, cloudy and damp – very like North Wales or the Lake District in both character and appearance – and the perfect place to grow tea. As our friends used to tell us, the best tea is grown in ‘high gardens’ and these, (including the steep, snaking road full of hair-pin bends used to reach it), were certainly high enough!
The rest of our tea quickly followed: dainty sandwiches with fillings of cucumber, egg with chives, smoked salmon, ham and mustard and cheese with relish and fresh rocket were followed by baskets of warm tiny scones, pots of strawberry jam and thick clotted cream, luscious slices of moist fruity bara brith, mini trifles of fresh raspberries and cream, lemon cream shells, caramel cheesecake and macaroons.
Afternoon tea contains some of my favourite foods and I love getting together with family or friends to enjoy it – whether it be a simple cup of tea and slice of cake, such amassed dainty sweet delicacies like we enjoyed yesterday, or the more substantial farmhouse high tea – and all variations in between. It is an incredibly genteel, enjoyable and sociable meal and can lend itself to many different occasions. This time two years ago we were with our American goddaughter at her wedding in North Carolina and their family wedding reception was an extremely elegant – and very beautiful – afternoon tea.
Completely satisfied and replete, we prepared to take our leave, but the rain was still pouring and my jacket was in the car. Time for a ‘Singing in the Rain’ moment! My husband was better prepared and his Harris tweed jacket kept him relatively dry. I was not so lucky – but we were soon back home so no harm done. We had enjoyed a really lovely afternoon and we proceeded to spend an equally lovely evening sat around the Aga, drinking coffee and playing card games – needless to say I love games with words! Meanwhile the wind roared around the eves and the rain lashed against the window panes – more reminiscent of a January storm, but just another British summer’s afternoon!