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Visit Caernarfon: A Historical Glimpse into the Harbour Town of Caernarfon

Nestled in the heart of North Wales, the harbour town of Caernarfon boasts a rich maritime history that is intimately entwined with its iconic castle and the azure waters of the Irish Sea. This article takes a deep dive into the past, shedding light on the fascinating stories and developments that have shaped Caernarfon's harbour over centuries.

This harbour is a gorgeous sheltered point on the side of the Menai strait. This has been involved with many famous marine events that have taken place over the years, including the site of embarkment of the first navigation of the Atlantic highhandedly. The harbour is kept to high standards and lies in the shadow of the grand Caernarfon castle.
Harbour - Caernarfon

Emergence of the Harbour The genesis of Caernarfon's harbour can be traced back to the construction of its world-famous castle. Positioned strategically by the sea, the castle's presence naturally fostered the development of a bustling port. This was not a random occurrence, as it was common for Norman castles in North West Wales, including Conwy, Harlech, and Beaumaris, to be built by the sea. This was primarily due to the convenience of transporting supplies and personnel via sea, thereby avoiding the treacherous hinterlands.

Strategic Positioning It's not surprising that Caernarfon's location played a critical role in its growth. The town's position at the mouth of the Menai Strait was of strategic importance, providing a swift route to the North and West Coasts of Wales, and overseeing passage to Anglesey.

Evolution of the Port The harbour underwent significant transformations over the centuries. The first wave of improvements took place in 1793, with the construction of quays below the castle and along the River Seiont.

The Slate Export Boom The late 18th and early 19th centuries witnessed a boom in slate export from Caernarfon, particularly following the opening of the Nantlle Railway in 1828. During this period, the harbour was a hive of activity, filled with sailing vessels waiting to transport the slate to various destinations.

Further development of the harbour was marked by the opening of Victoria Dock in 1868. This period also saw a significant increase in the import of timber, a trade that was closely associated with local businesses such as Thomas & de Winton and John Owen's Vulcan Foundry.
Doc Fictoria - Caernarfon

Doc Fictoria / Victoria Dock Further development of the harbour was marked by the opening of Victoria Dock in 1868. This period also saw a significant increase in the import of timber, a trade that was closely associated with local businesses such as Thomas & de Winton and John Owen's Vulcan Foundry.

A Haven for Mariners Another remarkable aspect of Caernarfon's maritime history is its reputation as a hub for sailors and seamen. The town was home to a unique school for sailors, run by a woman named Ellen Edwards in the 1830s. Edwards, the daughter of a navigation teacher, taught hundreds of local men navigation and seamanship.

The slate plaque on this former mortuary commemorates Ellen Edwards (1810-1889), who taught more than 1,000 mariners how to navigate the seas. Her portrait is shown here courtesy of Gwynedd Archives Service
Ellen Edwards - Caernarfon

Ellen Edwards: A Pioneer in Maritime Education Ellen Edwards' contribution to maritime education is noteworthy, given the limited opportunities for women during that era. Her successful navigation school was an unprecedented achievement for a woman of her time. Towards the end of her life, her school was managed by her daughter, Ellen Evans.

Caernarfon: A Town Synonymous with Yachting Today, Caernarfon is home to the Royal Welsh Yacht Club, which is based in the world's oldest yacht club premises on Porth yr Aur. The Club hosts an annual Menai Strait Regatta, attracting other clubs to participate in this traditional event.

Caernarfon Bay is a popular area that offers fishing marks all along the south side of Anglesey and down the Llyn Peninsular.
Fishing - Caernarfon

Fishing in Caernarfon Caernarfon is also renowned for its fishing opportunities, with anglers flocking to the Menai Strait. The town's pier holds the record for the largest Black Bream ever caught. The local Caernarfon Anglers Centre is a popular destination for fishing enthusiasts, providing fishing equipment and supplies.

The Logboat of Caernarfon Adding to the town's maritime allure is the discovery of a Logboat in the 20th century. This vessel was constructed from tropical hardwood, likely sourced from West Africa, and is believed to have floated into Caernarfon's waters after being discarded from trading ships from Liverpool.

The Decline of Regular Services The onset of the First World War marked the end of regular steam packet services. The slate shipping industry also saw a decline, with the quantity of slate shipped from Caernarfon significantly reducing. The last dry cargo landed at Victoria Dock in 1962.

The Harbour's Transition into a Yachting Marina Despite the decline in commercial activities, the harbour has reinvented itself as a yachting marina. The transformation of Victoria Dock into a marina has given a new lease of life to the port, attracting a new wave of visitors.

The Caernarfon Maritime Museum Until 2010, the Caernarfon Maritime Museum was a valuable resource for those interested in the town's maritime history. The museum was home to the steam dredger Seiont II, which was last worked in 1978 and was broken up at Port Penrhyn in 1999.


Caernarfon Harbour Today Today, the harbour is a vibrant blend of history and modernity. While its maritime history is still palpable, its transition into a bustling yachting marina reflects its adaptability. The harbour stands as a testament to Caernarfon's vibrant maritime past and its continuous evolution, making it a must-visit destination for history buffs and sailing enthusiasts alike. As we delve into the history, the harbour town of Caernarfon serves as a fascinating case study of how maritime activities have shaped a town's identity and growth. From its early days as a strategic port for the castle, through its boom as a hub for slate and timber trade, to its transformation into a popular yachting marina, Caernarfon's harbour has continually evolved while holding onto its rich maritime heritage.

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Visit Caernarfon Ltd


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