Not many countries can lay claim to having ‘two capitals’!
But in Wales this does seem to be true.
For, while Cardiff is regarded as the ‘main capital’ of the country, ‘Caernarfon’ is still looked upon as the capital of ‘North Wales’.
And Caernarfon Castle is considered to constitute one of the two finest castles in the whole of Britain.
It’s here too that each future British male monarch is invested as Prince of Wales, the last investiture having taken place in 1969, when Prince Charles was proclaimed Prince of Wales by the Queen.
Present at the ceremony too was Princess Margaret, whose husband Anthony Armstrong Jones – the Earl of Snowdon - himself originally came from Caernarfon
The ceremony is intended to reaffirm English sovereignty over Wales – while the area itself is in fact regarded as the most ‘nationalist of Welsh speaking regions’.
And it’s claimed that it was David Lloyd George – Caernarfon’s M.P. and the then future prime minister – who was himself regarded as a ‘proto-nationalist’, who introduced this ‘particularly theatrical investiture ceremony into his constituency’
The building of Caernarfon Castle began in 1283 after Edward I succeeded in defeating Llywelyn ap Grufydd – the last Prince of Wales.
And Edward I made sure that his son was born at Caernarfon Castle by moving his pregnant wife there to give birth to the first ‘English Prince of Wales’ in 1284.
It’s claimed that in military terms Caernarfon Castle’s building is supreme, for it managed to withstand two later sieges by Owain Glyndwr.
And it’s also claimed that even before Roman times there was a fortress at Caernarfon.
It’s believed that Edward I saw the construction of Caernarfon Castle as the definitive chapter in his conquest of Wales – not only as a military stronghold but also as a seat of government and a royal palace
And now, more than 700 years since its original construction, the castle still maintains its status as a ‘World Heritage’ inscribed site.
Caernarfon Castle might appear to be a dominant edifice and an awesome sight to any ‘first-time beholder’ – but in actual fact it totally blends in with the town in complete harmony.
While many holiday tourists are prepared to travel many miles simply to gaze at the majestic ramparts of Caernarfon Castle itself, the town of Caernarfon is also a popular summer holiday resort in its own right – being accessible as it is to so many beautiful places in North Wales.
Caernarfon’s central square is known as ‘Y Maes’ – ‘Castle Square’. And it is here that hordes of bus that it is always bustling with frenzied activity, and by comparison, the castle ramparts appear positively serene, peaceful and benign!
The town of Caernarfon boasts a variety of different types of centrally situated accommodation options.
And these include ‘The Prince of Wales Pub’ – which offers both overnight accommodation and an eating and drinking venue, ‘Black Boy Inn’, described as a ‘characterful place’, and one of the town’s oldest buildings – which also offers both overnight accommodation and an eating and drinking venue, ‘Isfryn Guesthouse’, and a ‘friendly and independent hostel’ known as ‘Totters’.
But considered to be Caernarfon’s most ‘upmarket accommodation premises’ is a hotel known as ‘Gwesty’r Celt’, which has an indoor swimming pool and an exceptionally smart restaurant.
Country houses lying just outside the immediate environs of the town of Caernarfon are also considered to provide excellent accommodation – ‘Pengwern Farm’ being a particular favourite, since it is claimed it has a ‘lovely rural setting and serves farm-fresh evening meals’!
Restaurants of all types also abound in Caernarfon which offer fare of every kind. And included among these is the acclaimed ‘Bengal Spice’ – the town’s renowned ‘balti restaurant’.
Night activities too play a part in the life of the town. And particularly popular is a Welsh-language band that performs at a venue known as ‘Tafarn Yr Albert’ on a Saturday night.
And the world renown singer Bryn Terfyl attracts vast audiences to the area when he stars in a concert that is held regularly in the grounds of a country estate lying in the vicinity of Caernarfon Town.
As well as being regarded as its ‘capital’, Caernarfon is also the ‘gateway to so many of North Wales’ scenic sites.
Separated from Caernarfon by only the Menai Straits, the island of Anglesey – Ynys Mon – is within ‘striking distance’ of the town, and getting there involves but a brief drive along a fast road and the crossing of the Menai Suspension Bridge, which overlooks some spectacular views.
And in Anglesey numerous beaches abound, while the ancient town of Beaumaris not only has a superb beach but also plays host to another castle – namely Beaumaris Castle, described as ‘the last and largest castle built by Edward I to contain the Welsh’.
Caernarfon, in fact, is the ideal location for ‘castle lovers’ , for it is within driving distance of a number of North Welsh castles, including ‘Conwy Castle’ – described as one of the most picturesque of Welsh castles and a masterpiece of medieval architecture’, Criccieth Castle, which is perched on a rocky peninsula overlooking a beautiful beach and which is believed to have been established in the year 1230 by the Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great, Denbigh Castle, Dolwyddelan Castle, Dolbadarn Castle, Penrhyn Castle, and Harlech Castle - again the creation of Edward I and described as ‘a high point in medieval castle building’.
And a historic attraction that should not be overlooked by anyone staying in Caernarfon itself is the town’s ‘Segontium Roman Fort’ – the well preserved Roman auxiliary fort which is believed to have been established in the year AD 77.
And the Mountains of Snowdonia – regarded by some people as ‘the most beautiful natural landscape in the world’– is also easily accessible from Caernarfon.
Likewise, the city of Bangor lies but a few miles away from Caernarfon. Dominating the city is Bangor University which straddles a high hill that ‘separates the town centre from the Menai Straits’. And from Bangor a long pier juts out into the Menai Straits which affords some spectacular views. The city’s main building, however, is considered to be its cathedral, which is believed to have been built between the 13th and 15th century.
In fact, Caernarfon can claim to be within easy reach of almost anywhere in North Wales, and is the ideal place to stay as a ‘centre-point’ to all the sights.
Although the area is now officially referred to as ‘Gwynedd’, in the not too distant past ‘Caernarfon’ was also the ‘capital of a county’ in its own right – which was known as ‘Caernarvonshire’.
But, whatever name-changes are put into effect, Caernarfon will always be regarded as the ‘ North-Walian capital’
Roberta Crookes has worked as a newspaper journalist throughout most of her life, writing news stories, editorial features, advertisement supplements, and reviews. And in the course of her work she has interviewed many famous people from all walks of life. She has also managed to combine parallel careers in both journalism and acting, and, being Welsh speaking from North Wales, her main television featured parts have been Welsh language roles with BBC Wales.