Address: Castle Ditch, Caernarfon, Gwynedd LL55 2AY

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Phone: +44 (0) 1286 677617

 

Caernarfon Castle History

Whilst the castle was built in 1283, the town had been a strategic stronghold for many years before that with the first main military presence being the Romans, who set up the nearby fort of Segontium around a thousand years before. This was finally abandoned in 394 and the area remained in control of the Welsh until the Normans invaded and built an earth and timber castle on a nearby peninsula in 1093.

By 1115, the area of Gwynedd had been recaptured by the Welsh princes and this was held until 1277. There was a first war with the English when the Welsh prince, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd refused to pay homage to Edward I and this resulted in the English building six castles in north Wales, but they didn’t build one in Caernarfon. War resumed in 1282 and after refusing a bribe of money and an estate, Llywelyn was killed.

Edward then built the castle in Caernarfon and established a number of other strongholds along the north Wales coast. The castle construction was started in 1283, and in 1284 Edward II was born within the walls to become the first English Prince of Wales. Caernarfon then became the administrative centre for much of north Wales.

The castle was built in two stages, 1283-92 and 1295-1323. In 1294, the Welsh revolted and caused much damage to the town – this resulted in repairs and rebuilding taking place over the next thirty years. The castle was never completed as planned and today there are several internal stone joints visible, these ready to accept the walls that were never built.

The Welsh, under Owain Glyn Dwr, besieged the castle in 1403 and again the following year. By 1620, the various battles had taken their toll with much of the internal structure in ruin, and the only roofs remaining being those of the Eagle Tower and the King’s Gate.

In 1642 the English Civil War broke out and the Castle was garrisoned for the king. Parliamentary forces gained its surrender in 1646 and in 1660 the government ordered the castle to be demolished. But this was never done.

By the nineteenth century, the town had moved on from its wars and battle strewn past and had become more of a cultural and commercial centre, with the arrival of the railway bringing in artists and antiquarians. A new quay was built and, due to nearby quarrying, Caernarfon became a major slate exporting town. The castle became the focal point and much restoration took place.

In 1908, care of the castle and walls took a more formal approach, with a national body set up to look after it. This was in time for the great event of 1911, the investiture of the future Edward VIII as Prince of Wales. This set a precedent and in 1969, Prince Charles received the same title in an investiture at the castle. This was done by his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

In 1987, the castle and town walls were declared a World Heritage Site.

 

Caernarfon Castle Visit

Caernarfon Castle certainly provides a great day out. It’s a quaint town and has a nice location on the banks of the Menai Straits. Look over the Straits and you can see the Island of Anglesey, look inland and you can see the mountains of Snowdonia and these are surrounded by Snowdonia National Park. Visit these places and the castle can form part of a great trip in a wonderful area.

With the castle, it pays to do your homework. There are a series of towers, with interconnecting walls and walkways, this pretty much standard in castle construction. But whilst you see many castles around the country being little more than foundations and a pile of stones, you’ll find Caernarfon pretty much intact and this makes it a great spectacle. You don’t need much imagination with this one.

It certainly impresses and uses its facilities well. They realise that there are only a certain number of stone steps you can climb, or stone walled rooms you can see or views you can enjoy before you feel you’ve seen them all before. To combat this, they’ve installed three places of interest to break up the visit.

In the Eagle Tower, there’s an exhibition detailing the history of the site and this gives a great insight into what’s gone on in the past. Further on in the tower you’ll find a free film show, and this is really quite good. It gives an interesting story about the town and castle and tells about the other north Wales castles down the coast. The Romans are mentioned and it gives  a good account of the history of the area and tales of the English invasion and the Welsh resistance.

The second area of interest is the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum. This really is worth coming for! You don’t have to have a military interest to be in awe of some of the displays, but if you do have an interest, you could spend hours here. This isn’t like looking at old relics in a conventional museum. Here you can’t help being captivated by the human feelings, the hardship, the heroism, the humour, the astonishing bravery that’s at the very core of regimental life. What sort of tales would these items tell if they could talk – you can only imagine! Over 300 years of regiment history is on show.

The other display is in the North East Tower and is about the two investitures that have taken place here. It’s called ‘The Princes of Wales’. It doesn’t quite give you the goose pimples of the museum, but it’s well worth seeing nonetheless.

Whilst you can be captivated by the displays, let’s not forget the castle itself. The cleanliness strikes you, with even the foundations of the Kitchens and the Great Hall almost gleaming. The stonework’s very tidy also.

In walking the castle, it’s tempting to try and see every room of every tower and every walkway and every part of the site, but after a while you welcome a blocked off passage and you tend to look forward to finishing if you’ve done too much earlier on. It can be quite a physical trip. Each tower is almost 100 steps high, with the Eagle Tower another fifty or so more. I’d advise you to take your time and maybe be selective in what you explore, unless you relish it, in which case see all you can.

They don’t burden you with commercialisation, which is good. OK, there’s a small shop at the entrance and one in the museum, but that’s it. No food at inflated prices – in fact there’s no food at all apart from sweets and drinks in the shop, although the shops in the high street are across the road.

Whilst the history may bypass them to a degree, the kids seem to have a good time, exploring and playing with the wooden swords etc.

Very pleasant staff made it an enjoyable trip and reasonably priced too.