There are an amazing amount of castles in Wales, many of them very close to each other. After visiting Harlech Castle, we went to take a look at nearby Criccieth Castle - the two castles are just fifty years apart in age - making them over 700 years old. Like Harlech, Criccieth Castle is a ruin - not really surprising considering its age, and it sits on top of a hill looking down over the sea and local town.
Criccieth is situated in North Wales, between Porthmadog and Pwllheli on the A497. The town itself is small, although there is plenty in the way of gift shops and cafes, and like Harlech, the castle is immediately obvious on the approach to the town because it is situated at the top of a hill. There is no car park for the castle itself, but it is possible to park for free on the pretty little street that runs alongside the castle. Obviously, in the height of the holiday season, it would probably be better to find a car park and walk.
Entrance price and opening times
Adults are just £3, concessions are £2.60, family tickets (2 adults and any children under 16) are £8.60 and children under the age of five are free. Like a lot of places of interest in Wales, those who live in Wales and are over 60 and under 16 should be able to get in for free.
The castle is open to visitors from 9am to 5pm from April 1 through to October 31. The rest of the year, it is open on weekdays and Saturdays from 9.30am to 4pm, and on Sunday from 11am to 4pm. The brochure I picked up at the Castle says that the castle is open outside of working hours, but is unmanned - I'm not exactly sure how that works, because you need to walk through the ticket booth and shop in order to get in.
The Castle was originally built in the 1230s by the Welsh, but was taken over and remodelled in the 1280s by the English, only to be burnt by the Welsh two centuries later, which was to be the last major rebellion by the Welsh against the English. The location is perfect for guarding both attacks from land and sea.
What there is to see
There was originally an inner and outer wall to the castle, although the outer wall is now largely razed to the ground. It is still possible to see where it would have been though. The inner wall is in much better condition, although it is much smaller than Harlech Castle. There are two towers either side of the gatehouse, which presumably would have housed a portcullis type gateway at one point. There would have been at least two stories, although it requires a fair bit of imagination to work that out now. The only things left intact are the slit windows looking down over the town.
Just outside the gatehouse is a set of steps seemingly leading to a platform; this apparently would have once housed a stone-throwing machine, put in by the English, to stop anyone coming up the hill to the castle! I would love to have had an idea of what the machine would have looked like, but maybe even the experts aren't completely sure.
On the way up to the castle, there are a couple of paths leading around the hill to overlook the sea and, provided the weather is good, it is well worth sitting for a while because views really are amazing. If warm enough, a picnic would be great fun.
There isn't much in the way of information about the castle outside of the brochures, which are given out free with the entry price (and are incredibly basic). There is the odd sign at various places of interest around the castle - the stone-throwing machine for example - but not really enough in my opinion. There is an exhibition in the entrance area, but again, this doesn't give a great deal of information about the Castle, although there are a lot of photos about other castles in the area. There is a small cinema, but there was certainly nothing showing at the time we were there - probably because it was slightly out of season.
There are few staircases to climb and those that exist are in fairly good condition. However, children would need to be closely supervised because of stray rocks and the coastal location and anyone with mobility problems would have great difficulty in even getting up the hill to the castle.
There are toilets in the entrance area, although I didn't notice any handicapped toilets and the female toilets are to narrow for accessibility in case of mobility problems. There are no changing facilities in the toilets and very little room to do it on the floor either. There is a small shop by the ticket office, but it has very little of any interest unless you want to buy Celtic jewellery or the odd children's toy. There is nowhere to buy food or drink - but there are plenty of cafes at the bottom of the hill and round the corner.
Compared to Harlech Castle, Criccieth Castle does seem like a slightly poorer relation. However, it is still fascinating, particularly when considered in the context of history and the location is every bit as amazing as Harlech. I think on a rainy day, it could be a bit of a wash-out, but on a good day, it would make a really enjoyable day out - especially when you consider the price. If you're in the area, it is definitely worth a visit, although it is perhaps not worth going too far out of your way unless you're particularly interested in that period of history. Recommended.