Harlech Castle on the Meirionnydd Coast Path

Harlech Castle

Harlech Castle sits on the Meirionnydd Coast Path, part of the Wales Coast Path. The longest siege in British history took seven years to bring Harlech Castle to its knees. Constructed with walls within walls and fed by a stairway leading down to the sea, the castle stood strong against Yorkist troops in the War of the Roses. Although its outer wall has been lost, it looks no less formidable for the years that have passed since.

Guardian of Snowdonia

The castle towers over the streets of Harlech beneath it. Once upon a time, a boat could sail right up to Harlech Castle's moat, but since then the sea has fallen away. The castle remains, sprouting from a precipice of rock and presiding over the Irish Sea and the mountains of Snowdonia.

It is the perfect example of a structure that has taken the raw potential of its position and honed it into a seat of power. Master James of St. George, its creator, is to thank for that.

Harlech Castle's history

A low view of Harlech Castle on the Meirionnydd Coast PathKing Edward I demanded it: an iron ring of castles that would ensnare Snowdonia and keep it permanently in his grasp. His forces reached Harlech in 1283, and work on Harlech Castle began.

The shape of the cliff made the castle impenetrable on all sides but one, where the gatehouse was equipped with not one but three portcullises. Concentric walls provided a layered defence, while a single, narrow stairway allowed supplies to be shipped in to the defenders in an extended siege.

Despite its original purpose and all of its strengths, Harlech Castle was taken by Owain Glyndwr in an uprising against English control. For four years it served as his seat of power, until Henry V, then Henry of Monmouth, ousted him in 1408.

The castle held off Yorkist forces for eight years in Lancastrian control before it was at last overcome, and is celebrated in the song Men of Harlech.

Visiting Harlech Castle

The castle lies on the Meirionnydd Coast Path, part of the Wales Coast Path. It is open to the public, so make sure you add an extra rest day to your walking holiday to give the castle your full attention.

Originally published 13/04/15

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Meirionnydd Coast Path
5 to 7 nights
62 miles
From £645 per person
A walk along the Meirionnydd section of the Wales Coast Path, from Porthmadog to Machynlleth. Find Out More