Charming HARLECH, twenty miles northwest of Dolgellau, is one of the highlights of the Cambrian coast, with its time-worn castle dramatically clinging to its rocky outcrop and the town cloaking the ridge behind, commanding one of Wales’s finest views over Cardigan Bay to the Llŷn.
Harlech’s substantially complete castle sits on its 200ft-high bluff, a site chosen by Edward I for one more link in his magnificent chain of fortresses. Begun in 1285, it was built of a hard Cambrian rock, known as Harlech grit, hewn from the moat. Harlech withstood a siege in 1295, but was taken by Owain Glyndŵr in 1404. The young Henry VII withstood a seven-year siege at the hands of the Yorkists until 1468, when the castle was again taken. It fell into ruin, but was put back into service for Charles I during the Civil War; in March 1647, it was the last Royalist castle to fall. The first defensive line comprised the three successive pairs of gates and portcullises built between the two massive half-round towers of the gatehouse, where an exhibition now outlines the castle’s history. Much of the castle’s outermost ring has been destroyed, leaving only the 12ft-thick curtain walls rising up 40ft to the exposed battlements. Only the towering gatehouse prevents you from walking the full circuit.