Mighty Caernarfon Castle commands the lion’s share of attention and is possibly the most famous of Wales’s castles. Its sheer scale and commanding presence easily set it apart from the rest, and to this day, still trumpet in no uncertain terms the intention of its builder Edward I.
Begun in 1283 as the definitive chapter in his conquest of Wales, Caernarfon was constructed not only as a military stronghold but also as a seat of government and royal palace. The castle’s majestic persona is no architectural accident: it was designed to echo the walls of Constantinople, the imperial power of Rome and the dream castle, ‘the fairest that ever man saw’, of Welsh myth and legend. After all these years Caernarfon’s immense strength remains unchanged.
Standing at the mouth of the Seiont river, the fortress (with its unique polygonal towers, intimidating battlements and colour banded masonry) dominates the walled town also founded by Edward I. Caernarfon’s symbolic status was emphasized when Edward made sure that his son, the first English Prince of Wales, was born here in 1284. In 1969, the castle gained worldwide fame as the setting for the Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales.
History comes alive at Caernarfon in so many ways – along the lofty wall walks, beneath the twin-towered gatehouse and within imaginative exhibitions located within the towers. The castle also houses the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, Wales’s oldest regiment. Caernarfon’s position of pre-eminence in historic rankings is recognized in its status as a World Heritage inscribed site.
Caernarfon is Gwynedd’s county town, but the town’s narrow streets and stylishly redeveloped waterfront also merit a visit. The castle, built in the 13th century by Edward I as a royal palace and military fortress, was at the core of a medieval walled town. The Romans left their mark too – 1000 years earlier they constructed their fort of Segontium on the hill above (its foundations still exist)
Caernarfon is situated on the southern bank of the Menai Strait facing the Isle of Anglesey. It is situated 8.6 miles (13.8 km) south-west of Bangor, 19.4 miles (31.2 km) north of Porthmadog and approximately 8.0 miles (12.9 km) west of Llanberis and Snowdonia National Park. The mouth of the River Seiont is in the town, creating a natural harbour where it flows into the Menai Strait. Caernarfon Castle stands at the mouth of the river. Heading north out of the town is the Lôn Las Menai cycle path to nearby Y Felinheli. Heading south out of the town is the Lôn Eifion cycle path, which leads to Bryncir, near Criccieth. The route provides views into the Snowdonia mountains, down along the Llŷn Peninsula and across to the Isle of Anglesey. The restoration of the Welsh Highland Railway or Rheilffordd Eryri, a narrow gauge heritage railway, was completed in 2011 and runs from Caernarfon to Porthmadog where it connects with the Festiniog Railway.
Caernarfon’s historical prominence and landmarks have made it a major tourist centre. As a result, many of the local businesses cater for the tourist trade. Caernarfon is home to numerous guest houses, inns and pubs, hotels, restaurants and shops. The majority of shops in the town are located either in the centre of town around Pool Street and Castle Square (Maes), or on Doc Fictoria. A number of shops are also located within the Town Walls.
The majority of the retail and residential section of Doc Fictoria (Victoria Dock) was opened in 2008. The retail and residential section of Doc Fictoria is built directly beside a Blue Flag beach marina. It contains numerous homes, bars and bistros, cafés and restaurants, an award- winning arts centre, a maritime museum and a range of shops and stores.
Pool Street and Castle Square (Maes) contain a number of large, national retail shops and smaller independent stores. Pool Street is a pedestrianised street and, as such, serves as the town’s main shopping street. Castle Square, commonly referred to as the ‘Maes’ by both Welsh and English speakers, is the market square of the town. A market is held every Saturday throughout the year and also on Mondays in the Summer. The square was revamped at a cost of £2.4 million in 2009. However, since its revamp the square has caused controversy due to traffic and parking difficulties. During the revamp, it was decided to remove barriers between traffic and pedestrians creating a ‘shared space’, to try and force road users to be more considerate of pedestrians and other vehicles. This is the first use of this kind of arrangement in Wales, but it has been described by councillor Bob Anderson as being ‘too ambiguous’ for road users. Another controversy caused by the revamp of the Maes was that a historic feature of the town was taken down, namely a very old oak tree, situated outside the HSBC bank. When the Maes was re-opened in July 2009 by the local politician and Heritage Minister of Wales, Alun Ffred Jones AM, he said, “the use of beautiful local slate is very prominent in the new Maes.”