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North Wales: Wales with a difference

Updated: May 21, 2020

Wales is perhaps the most mysterious country in Western Europe. It is the area of the earth of which more is known that perhaps anywhere else, but the enclave of Wales on the west coast of the island of Britain is surely its biggest enigma.

If Cardiff is its capital, its beating heart and nerve centre, then surely north Wales is its soul, with the first language Welsh speaking castle town of Caernarfon in the north west its epicentre.

The view from atop the tower at Caernarfon Castle in north Wales.
Caernarfon Castle, Caernarfon

Much of the history of Wales stems from its north-west corner rather than today's more populous south coast. The mountainous terrain of the north was difficult to conquer for the Romans, Anglo-Saxons & Normans for the best part of 1,200 years, until Edward I finally conquered the entire area from 1283. Traditionally it has been the more highly populated part of the country rather than the now larger urban areas of Cardiff & Swansea, and Welsh culture, traditions and its national identity were cemented further north over the past 2,000 years despite the relatively recent shift of power to the south due to industrialisation in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Caernarfon is the home of Caernarfon Castle, of 90% first language Welsh speakers, the political home of David Lloyd George and the gateway to Anglessey and Snowdonia, the home of Edward II (perhaps less gloriously) and Lewis Jones of the Patagonian Welsh, and of course, is the location where Prince Charles was invested as the Prince of Wales in 1969. Much of Wales's independent history and ultimate conquering can be told through the prism of the town during the 13th century, as a prominent town along the Menai Stait during the days of Llewellyn and Dafydd ap Gruffudd, the divisive brothers of Gwynedd and the last native prince's of Wales prior to Edward I's takeover.

The history of the town and that feeling of its connection to Welsh identity and culture is evident in the town today, maintaining the charm of the middle ages and medieval times, with its modern identity as the prime Welsh speaking town of the country with a thriving tourism scene revolving around its current iconic 13th century castle and walls, a UNESCO world heritage site today.

Caernarfon Castle was initially built in the 11th century as a motte and bailey fortress, upon where the Romans were once based, to fend off the invading Normans who had already taken hold of the western and eastern borderlands of Wales in the Marcher Lordships. By the late 13th and early 14th century however, under the influence of King Edward I, the old wooden fort was replaced by the stone structure that dominates the town of 10,000 people even today. Despite never actually being completed in full, it would become one of the most powerful and famous castles of Wales, would be the birth place of his son and future Prince of Wales, Edward II, and still remains one of the finest examples of a medieval European castle on the continent today, due to its architectural influences from central and eastern Europe.

The interior grounds of Caernarfon Castle in the town of Caernarfon in north Wales.
Caernarfon Castle interior, Caernarfon

Across its history, the castle and by extension the town, has played a role in rebellions and civil war, becoming a derelict site from the English Civil War of the 1640s onwards until its reemergence as a tourist attraction in the 20th century, which attracts 200,000 visitors per year today.

There is more to the town that the castle and its walls however, such as the Welsh language, which is everywhere. Just walking down the street, grabbing a coffee or visiting a local bakery, you will hear the native language everywhere you go. You will of course hear Welsh across the country but perhaps in Caernarfon more than any other town in Wales. The wider