Newest Review: ... opening times and special events can be found on the website http://www.harlech.com/ There is limited parking right near the castle, whic... more
'I can see for miles and miles...'
Harlech Castle (Wales)
Member Name: sunmeilan
Harlech Castle (Wales)
Advantages: Beautiful location, fascinating history
Disadvantages: Not much to do if the weather's bad
A recent trip to Wales resulted in several trips to the many castles that exist, one of which was Harlech Castle. Although now in ruins (well it is seven hundred years old!), it is an imposing sight, situated, as it is, on the top of a hill overlooking the sea. And, providing that the weather isn't too dreadful, there is plenty to see and do.
Harlech Castle can be found in the centre of Harlech town, a small coastal town in Wales, not too far away from Portmadog. You can't miss the castle - it stands out a mile - but careful watching for road signs is necessary to find the way to the entrance. The town itself is geared up for tourists, in that there are plenty of places to eat and shops selling souvenirs - however, there is little in the way of other shops. There is a small pay and display car park just outside the castle, as well as roadside parking in the town.
Entrance price and opening times
The price is £3.60 for adults, £3.20 for concessions and £10.40 for two adults and all children under 16, although very young children will get in for free. If you're under 16 or over 60 and live in Wales, you should be able to get in for free, provided that you ask!
From the beginning of April to the end of October, the castle is open daily from 9am to 5pm. Between the beginning of November to the end of March, it is open from 9.30am to 4pm on weekdays and Saturday and from 11am to 4pm on Sundays. It is closed over Christmas and again on New Year's Day.
The building of Harlech Castle began in 1283 by the English King Edward I, who was responsible for constructing a string of castles aimed at protecting the new principality. By 1289, it was largely complete, although it has been constantly added to over the years. Much later, in 1647, Harlech Castle was the last royalist strongholds to fall during the Civil War, after which it was nearly demolished. Thankfully, it wasn't, and after undergoing much consolidation of the stonework during the First World War, it was added to the World Heritage's list of outstanding historical buildings.
Layout of the castle
The castle is bascially square in shape, with a tower at each corner and a massive gatehouse at the front. Virtually built into the rock, it is a fair size, taking some 1000 men, mainly from England, but with some from Wales, Ireland and as far afield as France. There is an outer and inner ward - the outer ward is largely ruined now and is used mainly for viewpoints over the sea; however, the wall of the inner ward is largely intact, although the buildings inside of this (the chapel, halls, granary and kitchen) are now demolished. A word of warning - if the day is even slightly windy, it can be incredibly rough, especially in the outer ward - for young children, it could be really precarious. The castle is accessed via a set of wooden stairs, so would be inaccessible for those not steady on their feet.
What there is to see
Considering that the castle is ruined, there is a great deal to see. Although most of the individual rooms don't exist, it is possible to see how they were laid out, and gaps in the stonework where the ceiling beams existed are very plain, especially in the chapel area. And there is a window in the chapel that looks very church-like.
Then there are the four towers. A couple of them are closed to visitors, presumably because they are too dangerous to climb; however, the other two are fine, albeit a little narrow and precarious - definitely not accessible to those with any form of handicap. I went up what is referred to as the prison (or North East) tower, which houses a trapdoor to what was the dungeon. The stairway is very dark and quite scary, so it may not be suitable for children (although my two year old niece adored it). This comes out on top of the wall of the inner ward and it is possible to walk around the castle to look over the sea, back round to the South East Tower, where there are either steps outside the wall back down to the courtyard, or you can walk back down the tower. The views are really quite spectacular.
The gatehouse is also fascinating. There are two stories, and it is possible to walk up to the second story, although you can't go far because much of the existing floor is closed off to visitors. Two large rooms either side of the gatehouse provide what I found the most fascinating part of the castle - the chimneys, which were built into the walls of the castle itself and it is possible to look up them to the sky above. I don't know exactly at which point they were built; nevertheless they are incredibly imposing and awe-inspiring. One of these rooms provides a small exhibition with pictures and facts about the castle and although not brilliant, is really worth a look.
The facilities are fairly basic. There are male and female toilets underneath the entrance, which are fine, but don't provide child-changing facilities - my sister was forced to lay baby on the floor to change her, which I think is unusual these days. Then there is a shop which is also the entrance and ticket booth. This is fairly well stocked with souvenirs of a fairly high standard - if you like dragons, you're in luck because there is a wide range here! There is no cafe in the castle grounds.
The castle was well worth the entry cost; in fact, I would have been willing to pay double. However, it perhaps isn't ideal for children, just because there is little in the way of interactive things to do and the stairs are difficult and potentially dangerous for young children. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the history of the castle though and the views were stunning, both over the sea and Harlech itself. I particularly enjoy ruined castles because they force you to use your imagination - something you don't have to do so much with more modern places of interest. I would certainly recommend a visit to anyone in the area - there are few places of such historical importance for such a worthwhile price in existence these days. Highly recommended.
Summary: It's a ruin, but a fascinating one