'Little Italy' hidden in a forest not far from Liverpool with 'Venetian canal'

Historic buildings and structures in ‘Little Italy’
Historic buildings and structures in ‘Little Italy’ -Credit:Ddraig Wen

A hidden gem dubbed a "Little Italy" consists of a huge number of replica buildings nestled within a small woodland.

Volunteers have uncovered hundreds of ornate Mediterranean-style structures within Eryri National Park in Wales. Jonathan Fell, the site's colourful curator, said each new find has made him admire the site's creators, Mark Bourne and his wife Muriel, even more.

He views their homage to Italian architecture, located on the fringes of Corris, between Dolgellau and Machynlleth, as a testament to their obsession, perseverance, and creativity.

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The area is dotted with iconic Italian structures ranging from the Duomo of Florence to the Rialto Bridge of Venice. Among the more recent finds are some unexpected elements: a miniature English village, a cat cemetery, and what appears to be a Venetian canal, which may have once carried flowing water, North Wales Live reports.

Jonathan dismisses those who refer to it as a model village and has little patience for any comparison with Portmeirion, the renowned Italianate village in Porthmadog. "I absolutely love this place," Jonathan said. "I don't like to call it folk art because it's much more than that. It's such an important site – one of the most important in Wales, far more so than Portmeirion, which had all that money thrown at it."

Historic buildings and structures in ‘Little Italy’ on a hillside above Corris, south Gwynedd
Historic buildings and structures in ‘Little Italy’ on a hillside above Corris, south Gwynedd -Credit:Ddraig Wen

Mr Bourne previously ran a caravan site and poultry unit. He would often vanish to Italy for weeks on end, coming back with sketchbooks brimming with architectural drawings.

Over a quarter of a century he hauled thousands of buckets of water and ballast from the Afon Deri in the valley below to be mixed with concrete to make mortar. A modest Datsun 4x4 and trailer did some of the heavy lifting but, for the final stretch, up through the garden, sheer physical strength was required.

Jonathan said: "This guy spent 25 years carrying hundreds of tonnes of concrete, water and ballast up a hillside with a slope that ranges from 30 to 45 degrees. At its steepest, it's hard to walk up and he had to build paths up there before erecting a workshop, laying foundations, and starting on the objects.

Historic buildings and structures in ‘Little Italy’, the garden folly created by Mark Bourne and wife Muriel
Historic buildings and structures in ‘Little Italy’, the garden folly created by Mark Bourne and wife Muriel -Credit:Ddraig Wen

"With a job like this, I would have used winches and flywheel to lift everything up the slope. I certainly couldn't have carried all those buckets up there. It was a huge amount of work just building the steps. Probably his wife helped him. I remember Muriel still walking up the track from Corris, carrying two shopping bags, at the age of 84.

"Maybe he had a mixer for the concrete rather than doing it by hand. But if I was taking a mixer up there I'd need six people two for lifting, two for braking, and two on drag lines. How he did it I've no idea."

To protect the cottage and gardens the site was placed into a trust before the pandemic hit. Volunteers recently found a miniature Italian "street" complete with a row of perfectly proportioned houses.

It took them some time to understand what they had discovered, but every nook and cranny is filled with hidden treasures, and it's just a two-hour drive from Liverpool.

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