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Coordinates: 52°51′38″N 4°06′20″W / 52.86044°N 4.10549°W / 52.86044; -4.10549

Harlech as viewed from the beach area, the Castle is located centre-left
Harlech is located in Gwynedd
 Harlech shown within Gwynedd
Population 1,952 (2001 Census)
OS grid reference SH581312
Principal area Gwynedd
Ceremonial county Gwynedd
Country Wales
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town HARLECH
Postcode district LL46
Dialling code 01766
Police North Wales
Fire North Wales
Ambulance Welsh
EU Parliament Wales
UK Parliament Dwyfor Meirionnydd
Welsh Assembly Dwyfor Meirionnydd
List of places

Harlech (Welsh pronunciation: [ˈharlɛx]) is a town and seaside resort in Gwynedd, within the historical boundaries of Merionethshire in northwest Wales. Lying on Tremadog Bay and within the Snowdonia National Park, it has a population of 1,952, of whom 59% speak Welsh.[1] The town is located in the unitary authority of Gwynedd which was formed in 1996, from 1974 to 1996 it was in the Meirionydd District of the 1974 County of Gwynedd, and before 1974 it was in the historic county of Merionethshire.

The town is best known for the landmark Harlech Castle, begun in 1283 by Edward I of England, captured by Owain Glyndŵr, and later the stronghold of Henry Tudor.[2] The castle was originally built next to the sea, but geological processes have changed the shape of the coastline, and the castle now lies on a cliff face, about half a mile (800 m) inland.[3] The town has since developed with housing estates on the flat low town area and hillside properties in the high town around the shopping street, church, and castle. The two areas are linked by a steep and winding road called "Twtil".[4]

Harlech also plays a role in Medieval Welsh mythological literature. In the second branch of the Mabinogi "Branwen, Daughter of Llŷr," Harlech is the seat of Bendigeidfran, Branwen's brother and king of the "Isle of the Mighty." Towards the ending of the tale, the seven survivors of the war between the Irish and the Welsh are requested by the wounded Bendigeidfran to have his head cut off and carried to Gwynfryn in London. As instructed the seven men first return to Harlech and feast for seven years, entertained by the three birds of Rhiannon, and later spend another eighty years at Gwales. The otherworldly feasting at Harlech and Gwales, with boundless supply of food and drink, heavenly music, and the absence of grief and sorrow, is known in the early Welsh tradition as "The Assembly of the Noble Head."[5]


The exact derivation of the name 'Harlech' is unclear. Some mostly older sources claim that it derives from Arddlech, i.e. ardd (high) + llech (rock),[6][7] referring to the prominent crag on which the castle stands. More recent sources tend to claim a simpler derivation, namely from the two Welsh words hardd (fair/fine) and llech.[8]

As late as the 19th century some texts referred to "Harddlech" and "Harddlech Castle",[9][10] and this name is used in the mid-19th century translation of the Mabinogion : "And one afternoon he was at Harddlech in Ardudwy, at a court of his. And they were seated upon the rock of Harddlech overlooking the sea." Contemporary documents from the time of the Mabinogion do not actually mention Harlech, referring only to Llywelyn building his castle "at Ardudwy"[11]


The town's railway station is served by the Cambrian Coast Line. It also contains the street Ffordd Pen Llech, home to the steepest signed gradient on a public road in the United Kingdom, which descends the rock spur to the north of the castle.

Educational facilities[edit]

Ysgol Ardudwy is the county secondary school for children between the ages of 11-16.

The town is also the home of Wales' only long term adult residential college, Coleg Harlech, also known as the "college of second chance."


Theatr Harlech (formerly called Theatr Ardudwy) is located on the Coleg Harlech campus and stages a varied selection of plays, music, and films throughout the year.

Other attractions in Harlech include its beach backed with sand dunes and the famous Royal Saint David's Golf Club, a top course in Britain which hosted its fifth British Ladies Amateur in 2009.

The Rhinogydd (or Rhinogs) range of mountains rises to the east.

A World War II-era fighter aircraft was found on Harlech beach in 2007. The discovery of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning has been described as "one of the most important WWII finds in recent history." The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) are not divulging the precise location of the U.S. Army Air Forces aeroplane, known as the Maid of Harlech, but are hoping to eventually salvage the wreck.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The song Men of Harlech is associated with the town, and is traditionally said to describe events during the seven-year-long siege of the castle between 1461 and 1468.[13]
  • Mari Strachan's 2009 novel The Earth Hums in B Flat (2009) is set in Harlech in the 1950s.[14]

Famous residents[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Gwynedd 2001 Census Information Statistical Profile". Cyngor Gwynedd Council. Retrieved 2010-01-21. 
  2. ^ Memoirs of Owen Glendower, (Owain Glyndwr): with a sketch of the history of the ancient Britons, from the conquest of Wales by Edward the First, to the present time, illustrated with various notes, genealogical & topographical at Google Books
  3. ^ Planet geography, p. 207, at Google Books
  4. ^ Probably from the English 'Toothill', meaning "look-out hill".
  5. ^ Ford, Patrick K. The Mabinogi and other Medieval Welsh Tales. Berkeley: U of California Press, 1977. pp. 57-72.
  6. ^ Notices Illustrative of Cambrian History and Antiquities, The New Monthly Magazine, Volume 10 - Page 307, 1818
  7. ^ The Celtic Review: Volumes 9-10, Donald MacKinnon, E. C. Carmichael Watson, 1975
  8. ^ Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names by Anthony David Mills, Oxford University Press 1991
  9. ^ The History of the Princes, the Lords Marcher, and the Ancient Nobility of Powys Fadog, and the Ancient Lords of Arwystli, Cedewen, and Meirionydd :Volume 6, Jacob Youde William Lloyd, 1887
  10. ^ The Poetical Works of Lewis Glyn Cothi: A celebrated bard,page 21, Lewis Glyn Cothi, 1837
  11. ^ Brut y Tywysogion / Chronicle of the Princes, Red Book of Hergest, Thomas Jones, University of Wales Press, Cardiff 1955
  12. ^ Charity hopes to lift World War II fighter plane from sea at walesonline.co.uk
  13. ^ The Oxford Companion to British History - Oxford University Press (1997) page 454; Dictionary of Ancient & Medieval Warfare by Matthew Bennett (2001)
  14. ^ "What the blogs say about The Earth Hums in B Flat" at maristrachan.info

External links[edit]