A day in Caernarfon and Holyhead, Wales

724Caernarfon  has played an important role in Welsh history for millennia. Situated in the northwest corner of Wales, first the Romans and then the English moved in just to conquer the Welsh tribes.  Welsh, however, is still spoken there today.  We found the people more friendly.

Around 77 A.D., the Romans built a base called Segontium.  Eventually the building stones were taken to build a castle, but we stopped to see Segontium’s old foundations.  The Roman occupation let to a legend about a Roman Emperor Macsen who married a local Welsh princess and conquered the world.

The English King Edward I built a series of castles to help subdue the Welsh.  He began the most famous, Caernarfon Castle, in 1283.

Segontium

Segontium

Capitalizing on the importance of the location to the Welsh, he gave the castle “Roman” characteristics.  After his son and successor was born there in 1284, Edward declared his son the first non-Welsh  “Prince of Wales,” a tradition that continues to this day..  The castle was the venue for the investiture of the Princes of Wales in 1911 and 1969, and a raised slate dais still exists where the ceremony was held for Prince Charles.

The Welsh were not placated.  Madog ap Llyweln revolted in 1294 and burned the town but failed to burn the castle.  The Welsh rose again in 1403 and 1404 and again failed to take the castle.  As the Welsh became more integrated in the English kingdom, the castle lost importance.  It saw its last military action when it was held for the King against the Parliamentarians until 1646.  It then fell into disrepair until the 19th century when restoration work began.

Caernarfon

Caernarfon

We entered through the twin-towered King’s Gate and circled clockwise seeing: the Granary Tower with a well and multiple  arrow loops; the Northeast Tower where at other times there was supposed to be a film about the castle; the Queen’s Gate which was never finished; the Cistern Tower with its open storage tank; the Black Tower; the  Chamberlain Tower which has the only surviving chimney and holds the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum; the foundation of Great Hall which like the other interior buildings is now gone; the Queens Tower; and the tallest tower, the 3-turreted Eagle Tower, which holds exhibits.  During World War II, paintings from the National Gallery were stored in the Eagle Tower basement. Finally almost back to the King’s Gate is the Well Tower with a 50 foot deep well.

736We were taking day trips out of Bangor, but it was really at Caernarfon that I realized Welsh is still a very vibrant language.  Signs are in English and Welsh, and everyone speaks English to the tourists — but they speak Welsh among themselves.

After lunch in the town, Alie had reached her limit walking, and we were ready to move on.  So we got in the car and headed for Holyhead at the far end of  Anglesey Island.

Holyhead ferry

Holyhead ferry

One can get a ferry to Dublin from Holyhead.  We drove to the Stena Line Ferry dock and past the Hertz car rental office out to the end of the road.

We then circled around Holyhead staying as close to the water as we could and found ourselves up on the scenic hill above the town, Holyhead Mountain.  Stopping at a parking lot, we walked out a trail to the edge of a cliff and saw the forty-one meter high South Stack Lighthouse built in 1809.  We knew nothing of its history when we saw it, but

South Stack

South Stack

just loved the view.  The wind, however, was blowing so hard one was reluctant to get too close to the cliff edge, and as we walked back to the car, rain drops smacked against our coats.

Getting out of the rain, we stopped in a restaurant/museum maintained by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and learned our trail and the one to the lighthouse passed through a nature reserve that provides a home for some four thousand nesting birds.  To be honest, we were more interested in hot tea and cakes.  Alie was enamored of Bara Birth, a traditional Welsh fruit cake that, at least at South Stack, was moist and flavorful.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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