CAERNARFON, superbly set at the southern entrance to the Menai Strait, has a lot going for it. Its distinctive polygonal-towered castle is an undoubted highlight, the Welsh Highland Railway connects the town with the slopes of Snowdon and Porthmadog, and the modern marina development adds Galeri Caernarfon, a modest but interesting arts centre. The town walls are no match for Conwy’s, but there is some great accommodation nearby, making this a good base for exploring both sides of Snowdon, the Llŷn and even Anglesey.
In 1283, Edward I started work on Caernarfon Castle, the strongest link in his Iron Ring, a decisive hammer-blow to any Welsh aspirations to autonomy and the ultimate symbol of Anglo-Norman military might – it withstood two sieges by Owain Glyndŵr with a garrison of only 28 men-at-arms. As you enter through the King’s Gate, the castle’s strength is immediately apparent. Embrasures and murder holes between the octagonal towers face in on no fewer than five gates and six portcullises, and that’s once you have crossed the moat. Inside, the huge lawn gives a misleading impression as the wall dividing the two original wards, and all the buildings that filled them, crumbled away long ago. The towers are in a much better state, linked by an exhausting honeycomb of wall-walks and tunnels. The tallest is the Eagle Tower whose three slender turrets are adorned with eagle sculptures and give the best views of the town. The Northeast Tower houses the Prince of Wales Exhibition, just outside which is the slate dais that was used for Charles’s investiture in 1969.