An attractive cluster of stone-built houses, hostelries, cafes and shops, within narrow streets, are dominated by Harlech’s main attraction its castle.
Standing magnificently atop a 200ft rocky crag, Harlech castle was built in 1283, as a poignant reminder to the Welsh of their dominance by the English. Taking six years to construct, it was one of the ‘iron ring’ of castles, built for King Edward 1, to prevent the Welsh from challenging the sovereignty of England.
When originally built, the sea lapped at the base of the rocky outcrop, giving natural security from three sides when under attack and ease of supply if under siege. The eastern flank was protected by a devious succession of defences, including a moat, three portcullises and a magnificent gatehouse. The castle’s lofty position gave it commanding views in every direction. The sea has long ago receded, but even today, Harlech Castle’s unrivalled position, its majestic stature and panoramic views of the mountains and the sea, give today’s visitor an impression of the invincibility of the fortress.
The castle survived an attack from the Welsh uprising at the end of the 13th century, but was unable to prevent Owain Glyndwr from gaining control after a long siege in 1404. Glyndwr used the castle as his home and headquarters and is also believed to have held parliament there. Only after another long siege, this time by the English in 1408, was the castle retaken.
Sixty years later the castle was once again successfully besieged, this time by the forces of the House of York against the defenders from the House of Lancaster, during the War of the Roses. The unofficial anthem of Wales, the rousing song ‘Men of Harlech’, was believed to have been inspired by this event.
In 1647 Harlech castle was the last Welsh royalist stronghold to fall to the parliamentary forces.
The foundations of the castle are believed to have been built on a 6th century fortress known as Twr Bronwen, possibly the home of Maelgwn Gwynedd an early Welsh prince. In turn, Twr Bronwen was probably built on the remains of a Roman fort. In the hills to the east of Harlech, there have been several finds of Roman coins and artefacts and just to the south, there is evidence of an early settlement, known as Muriau Gwyddelod, or Irishmen’s Huts.
On the plain below Harlech Castle, the wide sandy beach, backed by sand dunes, stretches for miles and never gets crowded. Behind the dunes, is the world famous Royal Saint David’s Golf Course.
A popular starting point for rambles across the Rhinogs Mountain Range is at Cwm Bychan, a few miles east of Harlech. A lake, waterfalls, feral goats and the ‘Roman Steps’, all await the keen walker.
Harlech is centrally located within Gwynedd, so offers easy access to Snowdonia, the Lleyn peninsula, the Cambrian Coastline and all their attractions.