The small town of Harlech, with its steep and narrow streets, gathers at the feet of the spectacular medieval Harlech Castle which rises from the rock towering above, dominating the local landscape. Built by Edward I over 600 years ago, the castle was designed to form part of the king’s colossal ‘Iron Ring’ of fortresses, built after his invasion of North Wales to defend his acquisitions from the rebellious Welsh. When it was built, the waters of Tremadog Bay would have lapped at the castle walls, where passing ships would come alongside to offload supplies. Now, the sea has receded, leaving the castle some way inland.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, despite its fearsome setting, Harlech Castle also became known as the ‘castle of lost causes’ as it was subject to invasion so many times. It was captured by the Welsh leader Owain Glyndwr in 1404 and later, in the Wars of the Roses, the castle held out against a siege for seven years, inspiring the popular Welsh hymn ‘Men of Harlech’.
Battlements extend around three sides of the castle and up here the views are incredible, with the lofty mountains of Snowdonia on one side and the sea on the other. You’ll need a head for heights up here – the walls are low, and the drops are sheer! If you prefer to take in the views without the vertiginous drops, then the castle café has a platform area where you can enjoy a cup of tea while simultaneously drinking in the marvellous view.
Harlech is an upmarket and attractive seaside town with no shortage of antique shops, gift shops and tea rooms. There are several restaurants and cafes here serving good quality meals.
The beach at Harlech, easily reached from the town, is one of the finest you’ll find anywhere in Wales, with four miles of cream-coloured sands, backed by a mighty dune system. The microclimate here encourages rare plants and bird life, and the dunes are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The beach is rarely crowded even in summer, and is the perfect place for a stroll, enjoying the expansive views and watching the waves rolling in off the Irish sea.