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We just spent a week's holiday staying in a pretty country cottage in Wales, in a village eight miles from Betws-y-Coed. While we were there, we went out every day doing sightseeing and visiting some of the attractions of the area. Both my fiancé and I love castles, so we were keen to visit a couple of Welsh ones during the week and one of those we visited was Harlech Castle, which was about 35 miles from where we were staying.
I hadn't been there before and Harlech was a good place to visit too, a very picturesque area. The Castle is obviously the main attraction. It was built by Edward I in the late 13th Century. There is a small exhibition in part of the castle, which explains its history. It cost us £3.80 each to go in and our baby was free. Current prices, opening times and special events can be found on the website http://www.harlech.com/ There is limited parking right near the castle, which was full when we went, but we found another car park (and with toilets) only a few minutes' walk away.
Some castles are accessible by wheelchair and pushchairs (Conwy Castle is one), but Harlech Castle is only really suitable for the able-bodied and quite fit, as there are a lot of steps and stairs to negotiate. I wouldn't recommend it for toddlers either, as some of it seemed rather dangerous to me and I wouldn't be happy with little ones running around. My fiancé had our six-month-old son strapped to him in the baby sling and this was ideal, as he was safe and secure and it meant we could go wherever we wanted, without trying to get a pushchair there.
It is a beautiful castle and there is a lot to see, especially if you are happy to go exploring. I went up to the top level twice at two different points. However I am scared of heights so once I'd reached the top, I couldn't do much except stand rooted to the spot and take a couple of photos! My fiancé is much more adventurous than I am and he wanted to walk across the walkways, but I felt they were too high up and did not have enough wall either side for me to feel safe.
There are a lot of windy stairs to climb up if you want to fully explore the castle and these were manageable, especially as they helpfully had hand rails or rope to help you. It was quite hard work though and the next day, my knees were aching a lot, so if you have any health issues, you may wish to take this into consideration. To get into the castle from where you pay, you have to walk up quite a few steps and it only gets worse!
The shop is situated in the part where you go in and pay, and this is also the way you exit. It is quite small, but has the usual souvenirs you would expect - postcards, T-shirts, guide books, etc. It wasn't too over-priced and I bought some postcards there. There are toilets situated near the shop - unsurprisingly, down more stairs!
The views from all over the castle are amazing and there are some great photographic opportunities. It was quite a wet day when we went, but you could still see for miles and I took lots of photos. It is certainly a beautiful castle and well worth seeing if you are in the area and feel you can manage it. If you want something a bit more accessible, I'd recommend Conwy Castle instead as we went there another day, took our son in the pushchair and although we had to carry it up and down a few steps, it was much gentler on my knees than Harlech Castle!
Harlech Castle is situated on the coast in Northern Wales in Harlech, Gwnedd, having been built between 1283 and 1289 during Edward I's reign in order to crush dissent amongst the Welsh, and remains in remarkably good condition for what is essentially a ruin, with its four main towers and inner curtain walls all largely intact. It is built on a huge rocky outcrop, and looks suitably imposing , towering over everything else in sight, and it is possible to walk along the battlements overlooking the surrounding area.
The castle is made all the more dramatic by the fact that it is looking out to sea and surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges, and it is simply awe-inspuring to imagine waht it must have been like during its hey-day. Access to the battlements is by spiral staircases within the four towers, and there are also outlines of the original walls in and around the courtyard, with the kitchen, chapel and the like marked out, and one tower also houses a series of detailed but concise posters outlining the castle's history and status from military, political and technical perspectives.
There are also outer garderobes and a very impressive outer gatehouse through which entry is gained to the ruin, and the adjoining gift-shop sells books and momentoes at surpirsingly reasonable prices... as does the gift shop just next to the road that winds up to the castle, incidentally. The castle only only costs around £4 to visit and is a great way to spend a couple of hours given the amazing views. A must, should you find yourself in the area.
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.