Caernarfon has been a town of political and economic importance. Positioned on the fertile and mineral rich territory at a small natural harbour at the mouth of the Afon Seiont north of Snowdonia, standing guard over the Menai Strait opposite the Isle of Anglesey, the Celts settled here, later to be ruled over by the Romans from their Caernarfon fort. When the Romans left, the Kingdom of Gwynedd emerged in North Wales, until, after centuries of Norman and Plantagenet coveting and encroachment, Edward I took Wales and filled it with his castles to impose his control. Caernarfon was chosen for one of the most substantial fortifications, with an extremely expensive new walled town and garrison built to administer the new English-style shire county of Caernarfonshire. The Royal Town’s historical status is reflected in its hosting the investiture ceremonies for Princes of Wales.
But Princes of Wales aren’t made all that often. The harbour is tiny and shallow by today’s standards. The Menai Strait needs no guard. The garrison has been empty for centuries. The railway came and went already, and the modern road is more curse than asset. And so with the latest recession it has been looking a bit sad.
Not the terminal feel that I get from its neighbour up the coast, Llandudno, I don’t think. The castle and walls stand as strong as ever; the market square and sea front, when not given up to long rows of static automobiles, can still be nice places; and the Welsh Highland tourist railway has reached the town. There was evidence of care when I last walked around, a year ago. Down but not out, perhaps.