Tranquil unspoiled bays near Caernarfon’s mighty splendour
The coast of the Lleyn Peninsula which runs north-east to Caernarfon has a wild, remote feeling, with its secluded coves, ancient churches and tiny, slumbering villages as yet hardly touched by tourism. Prehistoric remains show that early men built fortresses in the area long before Edward I built Caernarfon Castle. In the Middle Ages, pilgrims passed this way when seeking to visit the tombs of the saints on remote Bardsey Island.
This beautiful little harbour, once the home of a small fleet of herring fishing boats, nestles among the rocks at the western end of the bay below Morfa Nefyn. Road access is restricted to the cars of residents and members of the local golf club; other visitors must leave their transport in Morfa Nefyn and walk down the private road leading to the village. At the end of the 1 mile walk they will find two tiny coves of silver sand, with beach huts for hire, and fishing from the shore. Bathing is good, except at the tip of the headland where there are strong currents. So peaceful is Porth Dinllaen today that it is difficult to imagine that the village was nearly chosen instead of Holyhead as the road and railway terminal for the Irish ferries. In 1806 a company was formed to build a harbour, but two years later a Parliamentary bill to make Porth Dinllaen the packet port for Ireland failed to find support, and Holyhead was chosen instead. Rivalry flared again in 1837 with the arrival of the railways, and Holyhead gained the advantage with the building of the Chester and Holyhead railway. Porth Dinllaen formed its own railway company in 1844, but the line was never built and the village’s hope of becoming a major port vanished.
A long, curved sandy beach attracts bathers, and there is good swimming except at the western end of the bay where currents surge close to the rocks. Parking space is limited to the top of the cliffs, though boats can be launched from the ramp at the bottom of the narrow road down to the beach.
Nefyn was originally a fishing village, which in 1284 was chosen by Edward I as the site of a great tournament held to celebrate the downfall of Llywelyn the Last and the conquest of North Wales. In 1355 Nefyn became one of the ten royal boroughs in North Wales.
The long, crescent-shaped beach has firm sand with a strip of shingle behind, making it ideal for holidaymakers. Swimming is safe, and there are beach huts and chalets for hire. When the tide goes out there are rock pools, especially near the headland at the western end of the bay. There is limited parking space at the bottom of the road which cuts through the cliffs. Boat trips, fishing, sailing and pony trekking are available; and when the waves roll in from the north-west there is surfing in the bay.
The church dedicated to St Beuno was a stopping place for pilgrims on the way to Bardsey Island, and possibly dates from the 6th or 7th century. It is beautifully sited in a grove of trees below the road. The stream which flows past the church leads to a long, mainly shingle beach.
The name means ‘The Fork’, and describes the triple peaks of the mountains which straddle the road south of Trevor. In English this has become ‘The Rivals’, which suits the peaks just as well. The summit nearest to the coast is cut into a staircase of terraces by generations of granite quarrying on the seaward side, but the inland slopes, easily reached by footpath from a lane which leaves the road at the eastern end of Llithfaen, are crowned by the hut circles and ramparts of the hill-fort of Tre’r Ceiri (the Giants’ Town). The massive stone walls, 15 ft thick in places, are built between natural rock barriers to encircle the remains of an Iron Age fort with some 150 stonewalled dwellings. The settlement was virtually impregnable, and flourished during most of the Roman occupation. In clear weather, there are awe-inspiring views across to Snowdonia and even the mountains of Ireland.
Hidden on the north-western side of the mountain is the valley of Nant Gwrtheyrn, named after the Celtic chieftain Vortigern, who fled there after losing his kingdom to the Saxons. At the seaward end of the valley, above the bay of Porth y Nant, a village built for workers in the nearby granite quarries but abandoned in 1959 has been restored as a centre for the teaching of Welsh and other Celtic languages. It can be reached by a steep path from the old quarry road north of Llithfaen.
Down a steep, winding lane from the village of Trevor is a small sand-and-shingle beach, on the edge of a harbour enclosed by a short breakwater and used until relatively recently foi loading coasters with stone from the granite quarries on the slopes of Yr Eifl. Boats can be launched from a slipway.
Near by is the village of Llanaelhaearn, where local residents, alarmed at the pressures of rising unemployment and rural depopulation, have formed a crafts co-operative under the name of Antur Aelhaearn (Aelhaearn Adventure).
This village of whitewashed cottages which straggles along the coast road has one of the best-known churches in Wales, founded by St Beuno in the 7th century, and a stopping place for pilgrims on the road to Bardsey
Island. St Beuno’s Well is close to the roadside, and inside the church is St Beuno’s chest, a wooden trunk which used to hold money paid by the owners of lambs or calves born with the mark of the saint upon them. The water from the well was believed to have curative powers, but sufferers taking the water had to complete the cure by spending the night on the saint’s tomb.
Aberdesach, like its close neighbour, Pontlyfni, has a pebble beach with a strip of sand exposed at low tide, close to the main road. Fishermen can catch bass from the beach in late summer and autumn. At Pontlyfni there is a self-catering holiday centre at West Point for rock-climbing, mountain walking, windsurfing and canoeing.
The holiday village is named after the hill-fort on the crest of a 100 ft hill, which dominates this otherwise flat stretch of coast. The fort was built long before the arrival of the Romans, and from its ramparts there is a clear view across to Anglesey and along the Lleyn Peninsula.
To the north is a 3 mile beach, a long sandy strip lined with a shingle rampart which protects the low-lying land from floods, and is itself backed with shops and bars. There is parking alongside the road, safe swimming and, if the right conditions are available, good surfing.
Off the coast, about 1 mile to the south, is Caer Arianrhod where on a map of 1573 a village was shown to exist. According to Welsh legend the village was the home of Arianrhod, one of the three most beautiful women in Britain. No traces of the village have been found, however, and all that is to be seen there now is a rock exposed only at low tide.
This wide, desolate bite out of the shore teems with bird life, mainly wildfowl and wading birds. There are patches of soft sand, mud and shingle, but bathing is dangerous because of quicksands in the bay and fast currents further out.
To the west of the bay, and reached by a road from Dinas Dinlle, is an old RAF station from which there are pleasure flights.
A bracing 2 mile walk north-eastwards along the foreshore leads to the end of the pedestrian lift bridge below the ramparts of Caernarfon Castle.
The splendid castle is one of the most powerful fortresses in the chain built by Edward I in the 13th century to keep the Welsh in subjection to the English Crown. The oldest part of the town itself shelters behind high walls that extend from the castle and enclose a maze of narrow streets lined with ancient houses, shops and inns.
Caernarfon was a fortified town long before Edward’s time. Twthill is the site of a Celtic fortress dating from pre-Roman times, and the Roman legions built a fort at Caernarfon, which they called Segontium. The site, on Llanbeblig Road, still shows the remains of the commandant’s house, the underground strongroom where the pay for the auxiliary troops who manned the fort was kept, and the regimental chapel where the eagle standard was lodged for safe keeping.
The Roman fort was built in AD 78, while Caernarfon Castle was finished 1,205 years later, having been 37 years in the building. The first ten years saw Edward spend the equivalent of EVA million in today’s currency, but the resulting structure was well-nigh impregnable. It has only a single encircling wall, instead of the then-fashionable concentric rings of defences. But this wall was a warren of defensible passages; and the main or King’s Gate was protected by a drawbridge and a succession of massive doors and portcullises, all covered by fire from many arrow loopholes.
The private apartments are unusually magnificent for a fortress – the Eagle Tower, which contained the lodgings of the castle’s governor, dominates all around it. The reason is that the castle was designed not only as a strongpoint, but also as the centre of English government for North Wales.
It was at Caernarfon Castle in 1301 that Edward I proclaimed his eldest son Prince of Wales, a title that has been conferred on the male Heir Apparent ever since. In 1969 Prince Charles was invested with the title within the castle wall. An audio-visual display in the Eagle Tower tells the story of the castle, while the Queen’s Tower, originally known as the Banner Tower, houses the museum of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
The castle still forms the centre for the life of the town. From the quay below the castle, there are boat trips up and down the Menai Strait, and on Castle Square in front of the battlements an open-air market is held every Saturday. In the square is a statue of David Lloyd George, the ‘Welsh Wizard’ who became one of Britain’s most colourful prime ministers. Caernarfon also remembers Lloyd George in another capacity – as a Constable of the Castle and the town’s MP for 56 years.
There is also an art gallery, an exhibition centre, a floating restaurant, and holiday centres for walking, rock-climbing, sailing, canoeing, riding and bird-watching. The fishing is excellent, especially for tope and bass, and there are bracing walks along the foreshore towards Foryd Bay and the open sea coast.
THE CASTLES OF WALES: FORTRESSES THAT RING AN INDOMITABLE LAND
Around the North Wales coast, from Aberystwyth to Ewloe, stand L. some of the finest medieval castles in the world. Some, like Ewloe, were the strongholds of the Welsh princes Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great) and his grandson Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (Llywelyn the Last), but most are the so-called ‘Edwardian’ castles built by Edward I of England after his crushing defeat of the Welsh in 1282. With walls 15 ft thick, deep moats and fortified barbicans, Edward’s castles are a tribute to the skill and ingenuity of their builders, but they are a tribute also to the fiercely independent Welsh they were intended to overawe. Only the strongest and most formidable castles were considered good enough to subdue the nation that had defied the Normans for more than 200 years.
Edward was a brilliant commander, and when he launched his armies into Wales in 1277 a series of swift victories brought Llywelyn the Last to his knees. A treaty agreed at Aberconwy stripped Llywelyn of most of his lands and left him Prince of Wales only in title. Five years later Llywelyn led a new revolt, but was killed in a skirmish near Builth. Determined to crush the threat of any further uprising, Edward built a chain of castles in Wales. Many of them were built on the coast so that they could be provisioned by sea, and each was situated and fortified in such a way that it could be held by a garrison of fewer than 100 men. No expense or effort was spared in building the castles, and their cost brought Edward to the verge of bankruptcy. But the fortresses served their purpose well, and never again was Edward’s rule seriously threatened.
The castles of Wales saw action again during a new Welsh bid for independence, led by Owain Glyndwr, early in the 15th century. Glyndwr seized Harlech and made it the centre of his court for five years, before his rebellion was crushed. Conwy was also captured, but Caernarfon held out. The Wars of the Roses, 50 years later, saw Harlech as a Lancastrian stronghold, defended for eight years by the famed ‘Men of Harlech’. During the Civil War, Aberystwyth and Beaumaris were among the castles held by the Royalists which surrendered to Cromwell’s forces only when Charles I’s cause was all but lost.
KING A’D ADVERSARY WllCU Edward I CumC tO the throne in 1272 it was his ambition to unite Britain under his rule. He began in/ demanding loyalty from the Welsh leader Uywelyn ap Gruffydd, and when the proud prince refused, Edward launched his armies into Wales and quickly humbled the rebellious Welshman. But an uneasy peace ensued, and in 12S2 Lh/welyn, spurred on by his brother David, rose in revolt. The rebellion lasted eight months, and ended at Cilmery, near Builth, when Uywelyn was killed by an English trooper, Stephen Fraukton, who ran him through with a lance; not knowing who his victim was. In doing so he deal! the cause of Welsh independence its death blow. Edward then proceeded to build a castle to dominate every area in which another uprising might occur.
Edward [, kingol
DEFENCE BY WALL AND WATER New techniques in castle building made fortresses such as Beaumaris virtually impregnable until the invention of the cannon in the 14th century. An aerial view of the well-preserved castle today shows its symmetrical design. Round towers gave archers an all-round view of the walls. The huge gatehouses to the inner ward were built out of alignment with the outer gateways; this meant that an enemy who breached one of the two outer gates would still have to cross the courtyard between the walls at an oblique angle, under intense archer fire, before he reached one of the main gatehouses. The inner ward was protected by six tall towers. The octagonal outer wall, with 16 drum towers at the corners, was ringed by a broad moat, now partially filled in. •,