Hey everyone, welcome back to pinned on places. This time we’ve ventured north in our north wales walking tour series, join us as we explore the spectacular Harlech Castle. Seen from just over a bluff of rock to the south of the town of Harlech, both the view of the castle and the sea panorama is truly breath-taking. Even after seven centuries it remains testament to a military architect and genius, Master James of st George, where he adapted the natural strengths of the site to the defensive requirements of the age and created a building which combines an interesting sense of magnificence with great beauty of line and form.
Harlech was begun during King Edward Is second campaign in North Wales, It was known as part of an iron ring of castles that surrounded the coastal fringes of Snowdonia, and eventually stretching from Fflint right around to Aber-ryst-wyth. Following the fall of the welsh stronghold at Castell-y-bere, King Edwards forces arrived at Harlech in April 1283 where the building work commenced. Over the next six years a huge army of masons, quarriers, labourers and other craftsmen were drafted and were busily engaged in construction.
The final result of this was a perfectly concentric castle, built where one line of defences is enclosed by another; unfortunately what remains today is now ruinous and fails to convey the true 13th century effect. The natural strength of the castle rock and cliff face meant that only really the east face was open to a possible attack. Here it is the gatehouse that still offers an brazen display of power. The gate passage itself was protected by a succession of no less than seven obstacles, which included three portcullises. One either side of the passage, there were guardrooms and the upper floors of the gatehouse provided the main private accommodation at Harlech. The first floor would have probably been for the constable, or the governor, who from 1290-93 was actually Master James himself and the comfortable rooms of the top floor probably serves as a suite for visiting vips, including the King.
The gatehouse has two tall towers with corner turrets that were built up from the curtain wall, echoing the D shaped towers of the main gatehouse. The windows here emphasize its dual purpose where the windows are narrow and small which was suited to defence. The interior face of the gatehouse is dotted with three large, grand window openings on the upper two floors where a wide and stately staircase leads up to the main apartments on the first floor.
The inner ward of Harlech is surprisingly small, and as the foundations stand they show a great deal of room was originally taken up by the array of domestic buildings. To the rear lay the great hall and kitchen, then against the north wall lay a chapel and a bake house and finally to the south, a granary and a second hall. The corner towers provided further accommodation and today we are able to scale the sets of stairs to the wall walks on top of Harlech giving you those beautiful views in all directions. Undoubtedly the most impressive and most terrifying part of exploring Harlech is walking around the battlement , where behind you have the stretch of mountains of Snowdonia and in front the stunning sea that separates Wales from Ireland. You can imagine back in the day being an archer, you’d have such an incredible perspective on any unfolding battle. If you are wary of heights, this trip up the ramparts may not be for you, as the castle is protected by Enesco, the site cant install safety barriers, some of the walls barely reach shin height so just be careful, although for us we thought this was so cool as everything is left untouched and would have been true to what the castle walls would have been like back in the day.
One of the castles interesting and remarkable features is the way from the sea, it’s gate and fortified stairway, that lead down 108 steps to the sea and plunges almost 200 ft down to the very foot of the castle rock, this was used for access for supplies from the sea when once it was an important feature in a time when ships provided by far the easiest and least expensive mode of transportation, but the tide level has since receded leaving Harlech almost isolated upon its rock.
We stayed here for a good hour and a half just to take in everything and explore, and would recommend around that time too for your visit, there are toilets and a gift shop just outside the castle, run by CADW and if you step out into the town itself, you’ll find some beautiful cafes and tea rooms in the upper part of Harlech Town. Another bit of information for you is parking, you can park right outside the castle, it was £1 an hour with about 30-40 spaces, so just be mindful that you may have to venture around the town for this as it got busy very quickly.
Harlech is one of those castles you have to visit, for a true Welsh castle tour, it is spectacular and that important that it’s a Enesco world heritage site, very few other castles have that status, so they know that this one is important. We would advise adjoining your trip to Harlech with other nearby castle ruins like castell criccieth and castell y bere.
Thanks for reading! Till next time. 📌😊