Down by the sea in Caernarfon, history is obvious. Towering above the harbour, the castle is one of the iconic sites and sights of Wales. Yet the waterfront has its own story, vital to the fortunes of the town then and in more recent times and now being brought back to life.
Water has always been important here and the castle and its town were deliberately sited on a spur of land between two rivers and the sea. That’s one of the reasons why the Romans established the fort of Segontium on the summit of the ridge. Closer to the river, Hen Waliau is another Roman site — most probably a storage depot.
In medieval times, there was a quay here — timber first, and later rebuilt in stone. One of the gates in the town walls is still called Porth yr Aur (Gate of Gold) where money was shipped in to the treasury
Hugging the town walls along the Menai shoreline, the original quay, where building materials and provisions arrived, was rebuilt as a promenade in the 19th century. It still provides a stunning view, out over the Menai Strait towards Abermenai and the open sea — the view that thousands of sailors had as they set off for faraway places. There are folk songs, still sung, that tell some of their stories.
To the north of the town, the now hidden Cadnant was a busy working river that powered mills and provided quays. It was lost to view when new harbours were built across its mouth in the 19th century to form what is now Doc Victoria and a marina for sailing boats.
The river Seiont is the much-photographed river that runs beneath the castle walls. It provided a safe anchorage for ships but, for centuries, there was no formal harbour here. However, in the mountains of Snowdonia, rapidly growing slate quarries and copper mines were hungry for port facilities that could handle bulky materials in large quantities.
The east bank of the Seiont was ideal — it offered substantial space and was easily accessible. In 1793, an Act of Parliament authorised works to deepen the river channel, and the first quays were built shortly afterwards. In 1828, a horse-drawn railway connecting the slate quarries of the Nantlle valley to the quay was opened — the precursor of one of the great little trains of Wales, the Welsh Highland Railway.
By the middle of the 19th century, wharves extended all the way along the river front. They were developed by the Caernarfon Harbour Trust, which built its own offices here in 1840. On the wharves, quarry and mine owners established compounds to store slates and copper ore and opened offices. Old photographs show the quay covered in stacks of slates and the river Seiont a forest of masts.See also: