If you are planning a holiday in Snowdonia, then you really must find time to visit one of our historic castles. Harlech Castle is a world heritage site which towers above Cardigan Bay atop a spur of rock. The castle was built by Edward I in the 13th century as part of his formidable ‘iron ring’ of fortresses designed to keep a watchful eye over the troublesome Welsh. The other iron ring castles, at Conwy, Caernarfon, and Beaumaris, are within a day’s marching distance of each other and can be similarly supplied from the sea.
Designed by master architect James of St. George the iron ring castles are acclaimed as being among the best examples of medieval castles in the world with Harlech recognised as being the most photogenic. UNESCO considers Harlech to be one of “the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe”, hence its classification as a World Heritage site.
Harlech is a concentric castle with one line of defences enclosed by another. A high inner curtain wall defended by huge round towers at its corners is enclosed by a lower curtain wall. The inner wall has no towers to defend it except for a small gatehouse. As the surrounding cliffs make it virtually impossible to attack the castle from any other direction than the east, this side houses the imposing inner gatehouse which is flanked by two ‘D-shaped’ towers. The entrance was further defended by at least two heavy doors, three portcullises and murder holes.
Harlech does have one unusual feature: the ‘way from the sea’. Edward’s forces were often harassed on land but did enjoy total supremacy on water. As a result, many of his castles were built with sally ports so that they could be supplied from the sea in the event of a siege. However, Harlech’s water gate is more elaborate and is approached by a fortified stairway that hugs the rock and descends 61-metres to the foot of the cliffs. Over the last few centuries the sea has retreated masking the importance of this defensive feature. However, the garrison were certainly thankful for its existence when the castle was besieged by Madog ap Llywelyn during his rebellion of 1294-95 as this maritime lifeline was credited with enabling the defenders to wait-out its attackers.
Construction of the castle started almost immediately following Edwards’ sacking of Castell y Bere in 1283. The castle took seven years to build at a cost of £8,190 and employed over nine hundred men at the peak of its construction. When completed the castle was garrisoned with 36 men.
Men of Harlech
‘Men of Harlech’, or ‘The March of the Men of Harlech’, is a military march said to be inspired by the longest siege in British history (1461-68) which took place during the War of the Roses. The castle, a Lancastrian stronghold at this time, was commanded by its Welsh Constable Dafydd ap Leuan who held out for seven years before finally surrendering to the Yorkists. Others argue the song is more closely associated with the earlier, and much shorter, siege of Harlech around 1408, which pitted the forces of Owain Glyndŵr against the future Henry V of England.
The nearest railway station is Harlech and there are services every two hours on weekdays. For an up-to-date schedule visit the National Rail enquiries web-site. Keep your ticket to take advantage of Harlech Castle’s 2 for 1 admission offer and save some of your holiday cash.
The castle is a 200-metre walk from the station.
Opening Hours 2013 – 2014
Last admission half an hour before closing. Normal Admissions:
|1st March to 30th June||09.30 – 17.00 daily|
|1st July – 31st August||09.30 – 18.00 daily|
|1st September – 31st October||09.30 – 17.00 daily|
|1st November to 28th February||10.00 – 16.00 Monday to Saturday – 11.00 – 16.00 Sunday|
|1st March – 31st March||09.30 – 17.00 daily|
Closed 24th, 25th, 26th December, 1st January
|Adults||£4.25 reduced rate £3.20|
|Family Ticket||£12.75 – admits 2 adults and up to 3 children under 16 years|
|Children under five||Free|
If you are planning on visiting a number of Snowdonia’s historic sites, then Cadw’s Explorer Passes are worth investigating. Three or seven day passes are available and give you free admission to the historic sites in the care of Cadw. Visit Cadw’s web-site for more information.
You can also save a few holiday pounds by taking advantage of the 2 for 1 admission offer with a valid rail ticket. You will need to redeem a voucher to be eligible for this offer and these are available for free from local Tourist Information Centres, staffed railway stations, as well as at the Caste itself.
The castle does not house a museum or a café but there are toilets and a small gift shop. If you haven’t packed sandwiches, then there are tea-rooms in the upper part of Harlech town. You can explore the castle in around three hours at a steady walk but don’t skip a trip up one of the towers as the views are spectacular. Harlech also has a dungeon with which you can scare any young children you happen to have trailing you.
When you are done with the castle you can elect to either take a quick tour of Harlech itself or spend time time on the beach. Alternatively, if you still have energy to burn, visit Harlech Ardudwy Hamdden Leisure. The Ardudwy Hamdden Leisure Centre is a not for profit community run social enterprise run by a board of volunteers with support from the Friends of Harlech Pool. They have 25m Swimming Pool together with a state of the Art Climbing Wall and a handy cafe. If you don’t fancy the wall, then pick-up a sandwich and spend the rest of the day on the beach. The centre is a 10 minute walk from the castle and can be found at Beach Road, LL46 2UG.
For pictures of this famous castle please visit our blog.