Criccieth, influential beyond its size

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The tiny town of Criccieth sits on the northern coast of Cardigan Bay, mid-way between the holiday centres of Porthmadog and Pwllheli and some 17 miles south of Caernarfon.

It has a fascinating history but these days is perhaps best known for Cadwalader's ice cream.

View of Criccieth.

The spelling of the name Criccieth remains something of a moot point in Wales. Welsh language purists point out that the double c used in the name is unknown in the Welsh language and that it is really no more than an anglicised version of the true name which should have only one c.

The debate has raged for years, even leading to the vandalising of road signs bearing the town's name, and is as yet, no nearer to being resolved. Suffice to say that both parties have their fervent supporters.

The area around Criccieth, with its sheltered location and easy climate, has been inhabited since the bronze age and there are local examples of tombs from the time still in existence. Certainly Celtic settlers came to the area around the fourth century BC and there may have been some form of settlement on or around the site of the modern-day town.

However, it was during the reign of the Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in the early 13th century that the area first came to real prominence.

Llywelyn transferred his centre of government to the rocky promontory on which the castle now stands - a superb defensive position - and started the building of the castle. The inner ward with its two D-shaped towers was in existence before he died in 1240.

Criccieth Castle in winter sun by Peter Williams.

One of Llywelyn's sons was imprisoned in the castle for a while, before being taken to London, which may have led to the town taking the name Criccieth - which can be translated as prisoner's rock. However the origins of the name remain unclear.

For a time during the medieval period the town was known as Treferthyr which means 'martyr's town', possibly a reference to St Catherine, after whom the parish church is named.

One thing is clear; Criccieth was one of the few genuinely Welsh castles - as opposed to the castles of conquest imposed upon the land by the victorious English crown. Having said that, by 1283 Criccieth Castle was in the possession of Edward I and he promptly made the developing town into an English borough. Criccieth duly became one of the ring of Edwardian castles that protected the king's conquered territory in Wales.

The castle was attacked - and probably captured, at least for a brief period - by Owain Glyndwr in 1404 and thereafter both castle and town lapsed into gradual decay. In 1807 the creation of a Turnpike Road between Tremadog and Porthdinllaen, supposedly to help make the area the centre of the new Irish trade, brought a degree of prosperity to Criccieth, although by the middle years of the 19th century the place was still little more than a hamlet.

It was the building of the Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway in 1868 that turned Criccieth into a Victorian seaside resort. Every summer families would flock to the area from English towns like Liverpool and Manchester. The popularity of the town has scarcely diminished over the years and these days the town depends upon the tourist trade for its economic viability.

Perhaps the most famous son of Criccieth - even though he lived in nearby Llanystumdwy rather than Criccieth itself - was David Lloyd George. He had a law firm in the town and was MP for Caernarfon Boroughs (which included Criccieth) for over 50 years. Other famous residents included the writers William George and wing commander Leslie Bonnet.

These days the town is renowned for its arts festival, its ice cream and its two annual fairs when the stalls and attractions line the single main street. Part of the old medieval town common (Y Maes) is still in existence, helping to make Criccieth both a town with history and one with a future.

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