Harlech Castle was built in just seven years, between 1283AD-1290AD. It was constructed during Edward I's Welsh campaign as part of the "ring of iron" - a series of coastal castles, stretching from Aberystwyth in the south, to Flint in the north, intended to secure the subjugation of north Wales. It was designed by Master James of St George - a master mason recruited from the continent by King Edward. He personally oversaw the castle's construction, and was personally responsible for at least twelve of Edward's Welsh fortresses.
Harlech Castle sits high upon a rocky outcrop, with its western side facing the sea. The steep cliffs made it unassailable from this direction, and the original high tide position at the base of the cliffs made the castle easy to resupply by ship. An outer curtain wall provided protection for the entire precinct, and a much higher inner curtain wall protected the inner ward. This was further fortified with an impressive gatehouse on its eastern side, flanked by two substantial towers.
Harlech Castle saw military action on a number of occasions. in 1294AD, an uprising led by Madoc ap Llywelyn saw the castle put to siege. However, the defenders were able to keep the castle supplied via the seaward route, and the siege was broken the following spring.
In 1404AD, Harlech fell to Owain Glyndŵr. A lengthy siege successfully forced the surrender of the defending garrison, and Owain adopted the castle as his base of operations and home. This lasted until 1409AD, when Prince Henry retook Harlech, capturing Owain's wife and two of his daughters.
During the English civil war, Harlech was held as a Royalist stronghold. It withstood a seven year siege, thanks to its seaward supply route. This was the longest siege in the history of Britain. However, the Royalist garrison finally surrendered in 1468AD, effectively marking the end of the war. Subsequently, the castle was "slighted" by the Parliamentarian forces, bringing its military use to an end.
Today, the inner curtain wall and gatehouse survive in excellent condition, rising dramatically above the town below, visible for miles around. The flat plane and distant mountains offer an impressive backdrop, making this one of the most stunning panoramas that Wales has to offer. The surrounding town is rustic and full of character - unique shops, a variety of eating places, and totally devoid of the homogeneous perfection that mostly characterises English towns. Taken as a whole, this makes Harlech Castle an essential visit if you find yourself in this part of Wales.