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Harlech from the beach area; the castle is seen centre-left
Harlech is located in Gwynedd
Location within Gwynedd
Population1,447 (2011 Census)
OS grid referenceSH581312
  • Harlech
Principal area
Ceremonial county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townHARLECH
Postcode districtLL46
Dialling code01766
PoliceNorth Wales
FireNorth Wales
UK Parliament
Welsh Assembly
List of places
52°51′36″N 4°06′18″W / 52.860°N 4.105°W / 52.860; -4.105Coordinates: 52°51′36″N 4°06′18″W / 52.860°N 4.105°W / 52.860; -4.105
18th Century map of Harlech

Harlech (Welsh pronunciation: [ˈharlɛχ]) is a seaside resort and community in the centre of the North Wales county of Gwynedd. Before 1974 it was in historic Merionethshire. It lies on Tremadog Bay in the Snowdonia National Park. It has belonged to the unitary authority of Gwynedd since 1996 and before that to the Meirionydd District of the 1974 County of Gwynedd. Its landmark Harlech Castle was begun in 1283 by Edward I of England, captured by Owain Glyndŵr, and in the 1480s a stronghold of Henry Tudor.[1] It was built on a seaside cliff face, but coastline changes mean it now lies about half a mile (800 m) inland.[2] New housing has been built in the low town area and in the high town around the shopping street, church and castle. The two areas are linked by a steep, winding road called "Twtil".[3] Of its 1,447 population, 51 per cent habitually speak the Welsh language.[4] The built-up area including Llanfair had a population of 1,762 in 2001 census, over half of whom had no form of Welsh identity.[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 prefer a simpler derivation from the two Welsh words hardd (fair/fine) and llech (slate/rock).[8]

As late as the 19th century some texts referred to "Harddlech" and "Harddlech Castle".[9][10] This name appears 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 mention Harlech, referring only to Llywelyn building his castle "at Ardudwy".[11]


An electoral ward in the same name exists, which includes Talsarnau community. The ward population at the 2011 census was 1,997.[12]


Harlech railway station is served by the Cambrian Coast Line. The town contains Ffordd Pen Llech, a street which descends the rock spur to the north of the castle. It is the steepest signed, public paved road in the United Kingdom[13][14] and possibly the steepest in the world.[15][16][17]

Educational facilities[edit]

Ysgol Ardudwy is the county secondary school for children between the ages of 11–16. Ysgol Tanycastell is the town's primary school for children aged 3–11. The town was until 2017 also the home of Wales's only long-term adult residential college, Coleg Harlech, also known as the "college of second chance". The premises remain in use as part of Adult Learning Wales – Addysg Oedolion Cymru.


Theatr Harlech (formerly 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, 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) is not divulging the precise location of the U.S. Army Air Forces plane, known as the Maid of Harlech, but hope eventually to salvage the wreck.[18] In November 2019 Cadw, the Welsh government’s historic environment service gave the remains scheduled status. It is the first military plane crash site in the UK to be protected for its historic and archaeological interest. The aircraft came down in September 1942 when it was on a gunnery practice mission. The pilot was Second Lt Robert F Elliott, 24, of Rich Square, North Carolina, who survived the crash, only to be reported missing in action a few months later.[19]

Harlech has a Scout hut which acts as base for outdoor recreational activities.[20]

In traditional and popular culture[edit]

Notable residents[edit]

In birth order:[24]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Planet geography , p. 207, at Google Books
  3. ^ Probably from the English "Toothill", meaning "look-out hill".
  4. ^ "Town population and Welsh speakers". Retrieved 16 May 2015.
  5. ^ "Customreport – Nomis – Official Labour Market Statistics". www.nomisweb.co.uk. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  6. ^ "Notices Illustrative of Cambrian History and Antiquities", The New Monthly Magazine, Volume 10 – p. 307, 1818.
  7. ^ The Celtic Review: Volumes 9–10, Donald MacKinnon, E. C. Carmichael Watson, 1975.
  8. ^ Anthony David Mills: Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names (Oxford: OUP, 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, p. 21, Lewis Glyn Cothi, 1837.
  11. ^ Thomas Jones: Brut y Tywysogion/Chronicle of the Princes, Red Book of Hergest (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1955).
  12. ^ "Ward population 2011". Retrieved 16 May 2015.
  13. ^ Rob Ainsley (June 2008). "50 Quirky Bike Rides > 28 Ffordd Pen Llech". Eye Books. Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  14. ^ "Around the network – Facts and figures". Roads UK. Archived from the original on 19 October 2013. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  15. ^ "Dunedin's Baldwin St loses battle for steepest street to Welsh town". Radio New Zealand. Radio New Zealand. 16 July 2019. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  16. ^ "Harlech street takes record as steepest in the world". BBC News. 16 July 2019.
  17. ^ "Welsh town claims record title for world's steepest street". Guinness World Records. 16 July 2019. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  18. ^ Charity hopes to lift World War II fighter plane from sea WalesOnline, 8 May 2010
  19. ^ Morris, Steven (12 November 2019). "WW2 wreck of fighter plane off Welsh coast gets protected status". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  20. ^ [1] Scouts Website
  21. ^ "Welsh town claims record title for world's steepest street". Guinness World Records. 16 July 2019. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  22. ^ Patrick K. Ford, The Mabinogi and other Medieval Welsh Tales (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), pp. 57–72.
  23. ^ The Oxford Companion to British History (Oxford: OUP, 1997) p. 454; Matthew Bennett: Dictionary of Ancient & Medieval Warfare (2001).
  24. ^ This is a list of people with a Wikipedia page who were born, bred, long resident and/or died in Harlech.
  25. ^ R. P. Graves: Robert Graves: The assault heroic, Biography 1895–1926, p. 67
  26. ^ Introduction by Elinor Lyon, The House in Hiding, Fidra Books, Edinburgh, 2006, p. v.

External links[edit]