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Harlech Castle

Harlech, Merioneth, Wales

Featured Location Guide

"A part of the World Heritage Site Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd"

Harlech Castle

This impressive fortress sits on a 200 feet rock looking over the town of Harlech.

Click on any of the smaller images to see larger versions, more images are in the gallery 

These cliffs, now some way inland, were originally on the coast when the castle was built.


This impressive fortress sits on a 200ft rock looking over the town of Harlech.

Built between 1283 and 1289 by Master James of St George for King Edward I. The castle is designed on a concentric plan with a small but powerful inner ward dominated by an impressive twin-towered gatehouse and four round corner towers. James was its constable between 1290 and 1293, using this as his base while overseeing the construction of a number of other castles. It withstood many sieges, but was later seized by Owain Glyn Dŵr in 1404 and held successfully by him for four years.

The history of the developments in Wales that brought about the need for this and the other castles is covered in the article Wales - a potted history 

The English monarch Edward I had Harlech Castle built in the late 13th century. It is largely the work of the greatest military engineer of the time, James of St George. Along with Beaumaris, Caernarfon and Conwy castles it is located in north west Wales. These extremely well-preserved monuments are examples of the colonization and defence works carried out throughout the reign of Edward I (12721307) and the military architecture of the time. It was one of the most formidable of his 'iron ring' of fortresses designed to contain the Welsh in their mountain fastness. However, in 1404 it was taken by Welsh leader Owain Glyn Dwr, after a long siege and starvation had reduced the garrison to 21 men. He proceeded to hold a parliament here.

In the Battle of Bryn Glas, Owain Glyn Dwr, captured and held at Harlech Edmund Mortimer (November 9, 1376-1409?), he was the second son of the 3rd Earl of March by his wife Philippa Plantagenet. A grandson of Lionel of Antwerp and descended from King Edward III of England, he was born at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire. Edmund was a supporter of his first cousin once removed, Henry Bolingbroke, despite having a better claim to the throne of England (Edmund's grandfather was Edward III's second son, while Bolingbroke's father (John of Gaunt) was Edward's third son). Edmund fought for Bolingbroke until captured. When Henry proved 'slow' to ransom Mortimer, Glyndwr won Edmund Mortimer's allegiance. Mortimer married Glyndwr's daughter Catrin in 1402, and they are believed to have had at least four children in their six years together. Glyndwr and Mortimer plotted with Henry Percy, "Hotspur," to depose Henry IV and divide the kingdom of England and Wales in three. However, at some time during the siege of Owain's stronghold of Harlech by Henry, Prince of Wales, Mortimer died of starvation.

Harlech Castle with windows on cliff side

  See here for Picture Details


Harlech Castle with Snowdon behind

  See here for Picture Details


  See here for Picture Details

Harlech Castle was retaken after an 8 month siege in 1409 by Prince Henry (later Henry V) and a force of 1000 men under John Talbot, during which Edmund Mortimer starved to death and Glyndŵr's wife, Margaret Hanmer, two of his daughters and four grandchildren (children of Mortimer) were captured, later to be imprisoned and die.

The song 'Men of Harlech' came about during a seven year siege, during the Wars of the Roses, it was developed to keep up the moral of those inside.

Harlech Castle from the battlement walk

When visiting two things stand out, the way it is a solid part of a major rock and the gatehouse. The cliffs below are now sand dunes, but at the time the sea came up to the foot of the cliffs.

Construction started in 1283 and took 7 years to build, the design is one of defence layer within layer. The outer ditches at Harlech were "hacked through solid rock". In the height of construction, in 1286, the workforce was "546 general labourers, 115 quarryers, 30 blacksmiths, 22 carpenters and 227 stonemasons.

The outer walls are much shorter and thinner than the mighty inner walls, and have no towers defending them besides the gatehouse. The inner ward is roughly square, with a large round tower at each corner. The domestic buildings, including the great hall, are built against the inside of the inner walls. Since the surrounding cliffs made it practically impossible to attack the castle, except from the east, this side is faced by the imposing gatehouse. The gate is flanked by two massive "D-shaped" towers, the standard plan of the era, and defended by a series of doors, portcullises and murder-holes. There are large windows on the inner face of the gatehouse, showing its second role as the premier domestic accommodation. The west wall of the inner ward also has large windows (as it forms one wall of the great hall), which would make it vulnerable were it not for the cliffs. Although grey today, it was painted bright white when built.

Edward's forces were often in danger from land-based attack, but he enjoyed total supremacy on water. Many of his castles included "sally ports" which allowed re-supply from the sea, but Harlech is far more elaborate. Here, a fortified stairway hugs the rock and runs almost 200 feet down to the foot of the cliffs, where at the time of construction the sea reached. Today, the sea has retreated several miles.  James of St. George's plan was a triumph, when the castle was besieged during Madoc ap Llywelyn's campaign, this stairway was used to supply the castle.

Harlech Castle from the road below, with a telephoto lens that closes up distance,
so it is far higher than it looks in this image. The sea would have been
where the road is now when the castle was built.

It continued to be used and has an extended history. During the English Civil War the castle was the last Royalist fortress to hold out against the Parliamentary forces. The surrender, on 16 March 1647, over a year after King Charles had himself been captured, marked the end of the first phase of the war. The Parliamentarians slighted (damaged) the castle after its fall, like many others, so it could not be held against them again.

It offers a wide range of photographic opportunities, from along the coast, from below and from inland. The castle structure itself both offers views within and of the surrounding area and seascape.

As well as the ground plan you can climb to the top of the walls and walk around the curtain wall, plus you can walk around the outside of the main curtain wall at ground level. The entrance gate is very strong and the marks from each level of defence can still be seen.

Harlech Castle inside the curtain wall

a gallery is available for this castle, which links back to this page.

Further information Grid



Harlech Castle, Merioneth, Wales

Ceremonial County: Merioneth

Grid Reference:


Map Link:


Aerial photo: Aerial View    Multimap



Best Times to Visit:






Other useful websites:


Castles of Wales


Castle Xplorer

Castle UK



floor plan - shawnbrown.com/maps/castle1.html

Nearby Locations:

Conwy Castle     Conwy Castle

Beaumaris Castle

Caernarfon Castle    Caernarfon Castle

Other Relevant pages:

Gallery for this castle

Castles of Wales

How to photograph a castle

World Heritage Sites     

World Heritage Sites - Further Information

World Heritage Sites in the UK



Planning Grid


Harlech Castle, Merioneth, Wales

Grid Reference:


Getting there:

well signposted


From pay-and-display car park at top of hill, up over 200 steps from the car parks in Harlech at the bottom of the hill.


Pay-and-display parking nearby.


Toilets, shop

Things To Do, See and Photograph:

castle, statue next to it, views, coast nearby

What to take:

variety of lenses

Nature highlights:



Castle Square




LL46 2YH


01766 780552

Opening times:

01.10.08-31.03.09: Mon-Sat 9.30am-4pm, Sun 11am-4pm

01.04.09-31.10.09: Daily 9am-5pm

01.11.09-31.03.10: Mon-Sat 9.30am-4pm, Sun 11am-4pm

Closed:- 24th, 25th, 26th December, 1st January

Last admission 30 minutes before closing


CADW and English Heritage members (1YR plus) free, English Heritage members fist year 50%.

Entry is FREE for Welsh residents aged 60 and over or 16 and under who have a valid pass.

Adult 3.60, Concession 3.20, Family 10.40

Photo Restrictions:

none known

Other Restrictions: none known
Special Needs Access: like most castles access to the ground floor is not difficult, but access to higher areas requires climbing a circular staircase. It would be difficult for wheelchair users as there are long flights of stairs to the shop/paying desk and from there to the entrance.
Special Needs Facilities: None at the castle or the nearby public toilets
Children Facilities:  
Dogs Allowed: From April 2009, dogs on leads will be also welcome at Cadw monuments. Please see information for dog owners

Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Further information and Planning Grids or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote both the Page Ref and Classification from the Grids above. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

Please submit information on locations you discover so that this system continues to grow.


By: Keith Park Section: Castles Key:
Page Ref: Harlech_Castle Topic: Castles Last Updated: 03/2009


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