Caernarfon is 20 miles away from Porthmadog by car and is also is the end of the line of the Welsh Highland Railway which starts at Porthmadog (although this is slightly longer at 25 miles).
The town of Caernarfon lies on the North coast of Wales on the opposite side of the Menai Strait to the Isle of Anglesey (Ynys Môn in Welsh). The castle and town walls are now part of a World Heritage Site, listed as ‘The Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd’. The town has a population of 9,615.
The Romans occupied the area until the end of their rule of Britain in 382, when Caernarfon became part of the Kingdom of Gwynedd. Before that the area was occupied by the Celtic tribe, The Ordovices.
William the Conqueror ordered a motte-and-bailey castle be built at Caernarfon as part of the Norman invasion of Wales, however the invasion failed and Wales remained independent until around 1283.
In the thirteenth century, when Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was ruler of Gwynedd, he refused to pay homage to King Edward I of England, which was the main provocation for the English conquest of Gwynedd. Shortly after, the construction of Caernarfon Castle began and the English County of Caernarfonshire was formed in 1284 and Caernarfon became a county and market town and the seat of English government for North Wales. Relations eased during the time of the House of Tudor during which time the Castle fell into disrepair.
There were two main Anglicised spellings of the name; Carnarvon was dropped in 1926, with the other, Caernarvon, following just under fifty years later in 1974. Queen Elizabeth II granted the area Royal Borough status in 1963 which changed to ‘Royal Town’ in 1974 which coincided with the final name change. As the English-only letter ‘v’ was dropped for the Welsh ‘f’ (which is still pronounced as a ‘v’) the pronunciation has remained pretty consistant through the centuries.
A brute of a fortress. Caernarfon Castle’s pumped-up appearance is unashamedly muscle-bound and intimidating. Picking a fight with this massive structure would have been a daunting prospect. By throwing his weight around in stone, King Edward I created what is surely one of the most impressive of Wales’s castles. Worthy of World Heritage status no less.
Most castles are happy with round towers, not Caernarfon! Polygonal towers were the order of the day, with the Eagle Tower being the most impressive of these. You will also note the colour-coded stones carefully arranged in bands.
The site of this great castle wasn’t chosen by accident. It had previously been the location of a Norman motte and bailey castle and before that a Roman fort stood nearby. The lure of water and easy access to the sea made the banks of the River Seiont an ideal spot for Edward’s monster in masonry.
Edward wasn’t one to miss an opportunity to tighten his grip even further on the native population. The birth of his son, the first English Prince of Wales, in the castle in 1284, was a perfect device to stamp his supremacy. In 1969, the investiture of the current Prince of Wales, HRH Prince Charles took place here.
Whilst you're visiting this formidable fortress, don't miss the opportunity to see the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum, which is housed in two of the castle’s towers.
Along with Harlech Castle, Conwy Castle and Beaumaris Castle, this monument has been part of the Castles and Town Walls of Edward 1 World Heritage Site since 1986.
Text courtesy of CADW.