Harlech is one of the eight castles built by Edward I as part of his formidable Iron Ring surrounding the coastal fringes of Snowdonia and designed to secure a hold on North Wales.
Erected between 1283 and 1289, Harlech is one of Edward I's four concentric castles, along with Caernarfon, Conwy, and Beaumaris. All of them are now UNESCO-designated World Heritage sites. Concentric castles possess two or more concentric curtain walls, with an inner and outer ward, and represented the apex of military technology in the 13th century. They were inherited from the Krak des Chevaliers in Syria, one of the crusaders' most spectacular strongholds in the Holy Land, where Edward I had stayed during the Ninth Crusade (1271–72).
The location of Harlech Castle was carefully chosen, perched on a rocky outcrop facing the Irish Sea to give it extra protection. Back then, the waters of Tremadog Bay would have reached the bottom of the cliff, preventing any land attack from that side. The other side was defended by the particularly massive twin-towered gatehouse.
In 1400, Owain Glyndŵr, the last native Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales, instigated the Welsh Revolt against the rule of Henry IV of England, which lasted until 1415. Following a long siege, when starvation reduced the garrison to just twenty-one men, Harlech Castle fell to Glyndŵr's men in 1404.
The Welsh prince set up his court at Harlech for the next four years. He went on to establish the first Parliament of all Wales at nearby Machynlleth, but held his second parliament in Harlech in August 1405. Harlech Castle was retaken in 1409 by Prince Henry (later Henry V), during which Glyndŵr's wife, Margaret Hanmer, two of his daughters and four grandchildren were captured, later to be imprisoned and die.
During the Wars of the Roses, Harlech took the side of the Lancastrians. Following the defeat of the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton (1461), Edward IV controlled the country and Harlech eventually became last major Lancastrian stronghold. The ensuing seven-year siege of the castle (1461-1468) is the longest recorded in British history, and inspired the galvanizing military march 'Men of Harlech'.
Harlech Castle is open daily except for 24th, 25th and 26th December and 1st January. Visitors can access the castle from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm between 1st March to 31st October (until 6:00 pm in July and August). The rest of the year it is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm (Sunday from 11:00 am). The last entry is 30 minutes before closing. Admission to the premises will incur a charge of £3.80 for adults and £3.40 for concessions.
How to get there
Harlech Railway Station is located on the Cambrian Line running from Shrewsbury to Pwllheli via Welshpool, Newtown, and Aberystwyth. Watch out that local trains calling at Harlech require a change at Machynlleth, from where it is an 80-minute ride. If you are already in Porthmadog, you can catch a local train from there too (20 min). Once at Harlech Station you can't miss the castle, it stands just opposite the southern side of the station. Note that there is no direct train connection from the North Wales Coast Line, Heart of Wales Line or South Wales Main Line. These lines require a change at Shrewsbury.
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