Harlech Castle

Castles of Northern Wales – Part II

Caernarfon Castle. Probably the finest castle in Wales and one of my favorite in the UK. Unlike many castles, it does not occupy a high ridge or mountain top, but rather is set strategically at the mouth of the River Seiont and the Menai Straight on the western coast of Wales.

A view of Caernarfon Castle from across the River Seiont.

A view of Caernarfon Castle from across the River Seiont.

The town of Caernarfon, like Conwy, is enclosed by walls with the castle in a corner of the fortifications.

The Exchequer Gate, the main entrance into the the medieval village of Caernarfon.

The Exchequer Gate, the main entrance into the the medieval village of Caernarfon.

For a map of castles visited in Wales click here.

Construction began in 1283 and was not yet complete when building efforts stopped in 1330. Caernarfon is famous for a number of reasons, not the least of which is due to it being the site of the investiture of Prince Charles as the Prince of Wales in 1969 by Queen Elizabeth. The future king of England is of course the father of Prince William and Prince Henry, known in the British military as ‘William Wales’ and ‘Henry Wales’. The first Prince of Wales, who became Kind Edward II in 1307, was born here (if you’ve seen the movie ‘Braveheart’ he is depicted as the weak heir to King Edward I) and in 1911 the investiture of Prince Edward took place here (he was an uncle of Queen Elizabeth, who became Edward VIII, but abdicated the crown and never became king) .

The  Granary Tower (center left) overlooks the Upper Ward and the investiture site of Prince Charles.

The Granary Tower (center left) overlooks the Upper Ward and the investiture site of Prince Charles.

The Eagle Tower (center right) and Lower Ward. Greatest of all the castle's towers, it contains several apartments.

The Eagle Tower (center right), and Lower Ward. Greatest of all the castle’s towers, it contains several apartments.

Caernarfon is a massive castle and has many interesting features, including octagonal (rather than round) towers and red brick bands in the walls that are reminiscent of the famous Walls of Constantinople (Istanbul), which was on purpose. The town of Caernarfon was a Roman settlement anciently, and some ruins of the Roman days are still present, not far from the castle. Just about all the towers are open for visiting, with various exhibits and great views from the viewing platforms. There are many corridors to explore too. I really loved this castle.

The Well Tower on the left and Chamberlain Tower on the right. The great hall was in front of and below the Chamberlain Tower.

The Well Tower on the left and Chamberlain Tower on the right. The great hall was in front of and below the Chamberlain Tower.

The town of Caernarfon is about 22 miles west of Conwy (see my post on Conwy Castle here).

Harlech Castle. About 30 miles south of Caernarfon is Harlech Castle. This was another of King Edward I’s fortresses in northern Wales. Construction began in 1283, the same year as Caernarfon and Conwy castles. Harlech castle sits on a rock outcropping high above the surrounding landscape, with the sea visible in the distance.

A view of Harlech Castle - with its commanding position, it would have been very difficult to attack.

A view of Harlech Castle – with its commanding position, it would have been very difficult to attack.

The view from Harlech Castle's walls. The Irish Sea is in the distance.

The view from Harlech Castle’s walls. The Irish Sea is in the distance.

In the 13th century the coastline was just below the castle, allowing access to supplies from ships during times of siege, which were not uncommon in this castle’s history.

The interior ward of Harlech Castle. The main entrance is to the right.

The interior ward of Harlech Castle. The main entrance is to the right.

The original gateway into Harlech Castle.

The original gateway into Harlech Castle.

The longest siege was 7 years during the ‘War of the Roses’ (the long battle for the English crown in the 15th century). The castle has a great setting and history, but does not contain as many rooms and interior features as Caernarfon or Conwy castles.