Caernarfon is twenty miles away from Porthmadog by car and the end of the line of the Welsh Highland Railway which starts at Porthmadog (or the start of the line depending on your point of departure). If you take the journey by rail, then it’s slightly longer at twenty-five miles, although you will be glad of the extra five miles of beautiful scenery.
The town of Caernarfon lies on the North coast of Wales on the opposite side of the Menai Strait to the Isle of Anglesey (Ynys Môn in Welsh). The castle and town walls are now part of a World Heritage Site, listed as ‘The Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd’. The town has a population of 9,615.
The Romans occupied the area until the end of their rule of Britain in 382, when Caernarfon became part of the Kingdom of Gwynedd. Before that the area was occupied by the Celtic tribe, The Ordovices.
William the Conqueror ordered a motte-and-bailey castle be built at Caernarfon as part of the Norman invasion of Wales, however the invasion failed and Wales remained independent until around 1283.
In the thirteenth century, when Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was ruler of Gwynedd, he refused to pay homage to King Edward I of England, which was the main provocation for the English conquest of Gwynedd. Shortly after, the construction of Caernarfon Castle began and the English County of Caernarfonshire was formed in 1284 and Caernarfon became a county and market town and the seat of English government for North Wales. Relations eased during the time of the House of Tudor during which time the Castle fell into disrepair.
With an ‘f’ or a ‘v’?
There were two main Anglicised spellings of the name; Carnarvon was dropped in 1926, with the other, Caernarvon, following just under fifty years later in 1974. Queen Elizabeth II granted the area Royal Borough status in 1963 which changed to ‘Royal Town’ in 1974 which coincided with the final name change. As the English-only letter ‘v’ was dropped for the Welsh ‘f’ (which is still pronounced as a ‘v’) the pronunciation has remained pretty consistant through the centuries.