Harlech is a seaside resort and small town on the Cardigan Bay coastline in Gwynedd, West Wales. Nestling in the foothills of Snowdonia the town sits on the edge of the Bay of Cardigan looking westward toward the Llyn peninsula. Harlech is renowned for it's medieval fortress, Harlech Castle, built by the English King Edward 1 in the 13th century in his attempt to subdue the rebellious Welsh. The castle dominates the small town and is visible for miles around standing sentinel over Cardigan Bay. After almost a thousand years, the sea has abandoned the Castle and has left it stranded high and dry on its rocky promontory almost a mile from the present shoreline.
The stone cottages of Harlech old town sit on the hill clustered behind the castle. They straddle the “old road” the B4573 that weaves its way up the steep hill and on through the village centre before rejoining the A496 coast road on the outskirts of the village.
Many travellers by pass the village centre on the A496 coast road, but I strongly recommend a visit to this charming old town. However, leave the car behind and take a stroll through the narrow streets to appreciate its true character.
There is a pay and display car park outside the castle gates. Close by you will find the St Tanwg's Church Hall and the Castle Children's Amusement Arcade. Walk a hundred yards up Twtil to the village centre and crossroads. The village boasts a HSBC Bank, a Pharmacy, a Spar General Store, a Post Office, the Golden Lion Pub with Beer Garden, St Tanwg's Church and last but not least the medieval Harlech Castle.
There are a number of restaurants and cafes including the Café Blue Lion, Y Plas Café, Cemlyn Tea Rooms, Bwtri Bach, and the Cottage Restaurant. There is a good mix of shops including antique and gift shops with interesting titles such as Harlech Emporium, Paraphernalia, and the Castle Gift Shop, one of several souvenir shops. Harlech has a reputation for the creative arts and there are a number of craft shops including the Harlech Pottery and Cae Du Designs. Indeed the town has its own college, Coleg Harlech that offers Creative Arts and Design full time college courses.
A walk down Twtil, or Twt Hill, leads to the lower town, from where you can access the beach via a well signposted pathway off the A496. There is a Pay and Display Car Park a few hundred yards down the lane, and a very good Fish and Chip shop and Grocery store at the entrance to the lane. It is just a short walk to the beach along a path that cuts through the golf course and the sand dunes.
Castles and Forts
King Edward I of England set about building Harlech Castle immediately after his successful campaign against the Welsh in 1283. It's position on the top of the cliffs made three sides of the Castle practically invulnerable. But the landward eastern wall would have been considered at risk and considerable works were undertaken in building the massive D shaped towers flanking the gatehouse.
Within a few years Harlech Castle withstood attack from the Welsh when Madoc ap Llywelyn began an uprising that spread quickly through Wales. The Castles fortunes changed however during another Welsh uprising in 1404 and it fell to Owain Glyndwr. Owain held the Castle for more than 4 years and it became the residence of his court and family and indeed it may have been in Harlech castle that he was formally crowned Prince of Wales.
St Tanwg's Church: the parish church of Harlech, St Tanwgs, sits on the hillside in the centre of the village on the west coast of Wales. The church was built in 1840 and contains a medieval stone font dating from the 15th Century. The font was previously located at the ancient former parish church of Harlech (also dedicated to St Tanwg) at Llandanwg.
Walks, Cycle Trails and Other Activities
The landscape around Harlech is perfect walking country. Take your pick of the flat coastal strip, with many of the trails along golden sands, or step inland a short way and explore the rolling hills. There are long distance trails from Barmouth in the south to Penrhyndeudraeth in the north, suitable for both walking and cycling.
Trails criss-cross the landscape and a walk in the hills can be rewarded with fine views of Cardigan Bay, and you never know when you might stumble across an ancient burial chamber or a Neolithic standing stone in this part of Wales. The hills within 4 to 5 miles of the coastal strip can be relatively easy hill walking. Moelfre is a prominent peak that invites exploration and at 589 m it is far less challenging than the high peaks of Snowdonia.
Cwm Bychan and the Roman Steps: A few miles south of Harlech is the village of Llanbedr. From here you can follow the signs for Cwm Bychan. Llyn Cwm Bychan is a naturally formed lake (Llyn) that holds brown trout and a fish known locally as "the red bellied char.” The fish is related to the trout, but has been isolated in the lakes high in the mountains for so long they have lost their desire to migrate. It is a beautiful location and views of the tumbling River Artro on the ascent are a pleasure to behold. Cwm Bychan is some 7 miles up into the mountains. As you get near to the Cwm the roads are very narrow and you have to respect other road users as often it is difficult to pass and therefore a fair amount of reversing may be required.
There is a Car Park (fee payable) at the far end of the lake. From here there is a path leading to the Roman Steps. Various theories place the Steps in the period of the Romans, or more likely medieval times for the transportation by packhorse of wool from the Bala area to the seaport of Pensarn. A third theory maintains that the path is simply a trail for the convenience of farmsteads in the valley. The path runs through the Rhinog National Nature Reserve, an area of some 990 acres.
Royal St David's Golf Club: Set between the dunes and the town of Harlech are the championship links of the Royal St. David's Golf Club. What more could a golfer wish for… sun, sea, sand, views of the Snowdonia mountains, and a fine golf course in the shadow of a medieval castle.
Portmeirion: the Italianate village designed by Clough Williams Ellis is just a short drive along the coast. The village is famous for being the location of “The Prisoner” television programme.
I must confess that although I am a North Walian I had not visited the beach in Harlech until 2006. What a mistake on my part! It is a great beach and I could have saved many road miles when we were holidaying with the children in the west of Wales. The beach and shoreline stretch from the beautiful Glaslyn estuary in the north to Llandanwg in the south. Mile after mile of golden sand and clean seas with a backdrop of sand dunes some reaching 30 feet (10m) in height.
Harlech beach and its surrounding dune area is one of the finest examples of a natural dune system in Britain and has been designated a NNR (National Nature Reserve), SSI (site of Special Scientific Interest)
A hodgepodge of content from our original Harlech page:
Taking a walk from the Glaslyn estuary 3 miles north of Harlech. Fine views to Borth y Gest, Portmeirion and Porthmadog from Glaslyn Estuary. Thirty foot, ten metre, high sand dunes line the beach. Walk south toward Shell Island.