CARNARVONSHIRE (Welsh Caer'narfon, for Caer yn Arfon), a county of north Wales, bounded N. by the Irish Sea, E. by the county of Denbigh, S.E. by Merioneth, S. by Tremadoc and Cardigan Bays, S.W. by Carnarvon Bay, W. by the Menai Straits (separating the county from Anglesey), and N.W. by Conway Bay. Area, 565 sq. m. There is, owing to the changed bed of the Conwy stream, a small detached part of the county on the north coast of Denbighshire, stretching inland for some 2 m. between Old Colwyn and Llandulas. About half the whole length of the county is a peninsula, Lleyn, running south-west into the Irish Sea, and forming Cardigan Bay on the south and Carnarvon Bay on the north. The county is rich in minerals, e.g. lead, copper, some gold. Its slate quarries are many and good. Its mountains include the highest in England and Wales, the summit of Snowdon (Wyddfa or Eryri) being 3560 ft. The principal mountains occupy the middle of the county and include Carnedd Llewelyn (3484 ft.), Carnedd Dafydd (3426), Glydyr Fawr (3279) and Glydyr Fach (3262), Elidr Fawr (3029), Moel Siabod (2860), Moel Hebog or Hebawg (2566). The valleys vary from the wildness of Pont Aberglaslyn gorge to the quiet of Nant Gwynnant. Those of Beddgelert and Llanberis - at the south and north base of Snowdon respectively - are famous, while that of the Conwy, from Llanrwst to Conway (Conwy), is well set off by the background of Snowdonia.
The largest stream is the Conwy, tidal and navigable for some 12 m. from Deganwy; this rises in Llyn Conwy, in the south-east, divides Carnarvon from Denbigh (running nearly due north) for some 30 m., and falls into the sea at Deganwy. The Seint (wrongly spelled Seiont) is a small stream rising in Snowdon and falling into the sea at Carnarvon, to which it gave its old name Segontium (Kaer Seint yn Arvon in the Mabinogion). The Swallow Falls are near Nant Ffrancon (the stream of the Beaver or Afanc, a mythological animal). Nant Ffrancon leads north-west from near Capel Curig and Bettws y coed and past Bethesda, reaching the sea in Beaumaris Bay. The lakes, numerous and occasionally large, include: Llyn Peris and Llyn Padarn at Llanberis, north of Snowdon; Llyn Ogwen, north of Glydyr Fawr; Llyn Cowlyd and Llyn Eigiau, both north of Capel Curig; Llyn Llydaw, on Snowdon; Llyn Cwellyn, west of Snowdon; Llyn Gwynnant, east of Snowdon; Llyniau (Nant y llef or) Nantlle, near Llanllyfni; Llyn Conway.
The greater part of the county, including the mountainous Snowdon district and nearly all the eastern portion of the promontory of Lleyn, is occupied by rocks of Ordovician age, the Arenig, Bala and Llandeilo series. These are dark slates and thin-bedded grits with enormous masses of interbedded igneous rocks, lavas and ashes, the product of contemporaneous volcanoes. At the base of Snowdon are Bala grits and slates, above them lie three beds of felspathic porphyry, which are in turn succeeded by a great mass of calcareous and sandy volcanic ashes, while upon the summit are the remnants of a lava sheet. The whole mountain is part of a syncline, the beds dipping into it from the north-west and south-east.
Next to the Ordovician, the Cambrian rocks are the most important; they are found in three separate areas; the largest is in the north-west, and extends from Bangor to Bethesda, through Llyn Cwellyn and Llanwada to the coast near Clynnogfawr. The second area lies west of Tremadoc, which has given its name to the upper division of the Cambrian system. The third forms the promontory south of Llanenga. Cambrian slates are extensively quarried at Penrhyn, Llanberis and Dinorwic. Pre-Cambrian schists and igneous rocks occupy a strip, from 2 to 3 m. wide, along the coast from Neirn to Bardsey Island. A very small area of the Denbighshire Silurian enters this county near Conway near the eastern border; it comprises Tarannon shale and Wenlock beds with graptolites.
The striking headland of the Great Orme as well as Little Orme's Head is composed of carboniferous limestone, containing corals and large Productus shells. A narrow strip of the same formation runs along the Menai Straits for several miles south of the tubular bridge. At the southern extremity of the limestone a small patch of coal measures is found.
Glacial drift - gravel, boulders and clay - is abundant along the northern coast, and in the neighbourhood of Snowdon it is an important feature in the landscape; massive moraines, perched blocks, striated stones and other evidences of ice action are common. On Moel Trygarn and on the western flanks of Snowdon marine shells have been found in the drift up to an elevation of 1400 ft. above sea-level. Blown sand occurs along the coast near Conway, south-west of Carnarvon and on the south coast. Several hollows and pipes in the carboniferous limestone about Orme's Head contain clays and sands of mixed origin, including Upper Carboniferous, Triassic and drift materials. The igneous rocks, especially those of volcanic origin, constitute one of the most striking geological features of the county; they comprise felsites, rhyolites, quartz porphyries, enstatite diabases, andesite tuffs, diabases and granite.
The climate is cold and damp in winter, except in the peninsula, Lleyn, and on the mild coast. Arable land, but a small proportion of the surface, is mostly in the Conwy valley or near the sea. Principal crops are oats, barley and potatoes, with some little wheat. The valley soil (alluvial) is often fertile, chiefly as meadow and enclosed pasture. Dairy and sheep-farming occupy most farmers. The small mountain ponies, especially of Llanbedr (Conwy Vale), are famous, and Welsh ponies were known for staying power even to Arrian (Cynegetics). Agriculture still too much follows the old routine, besides losing by the influx of labour into the towns or to the mining industry and "set works" (stone).
The county is served by the London & North-Western railway; its terminus is Afon Wen, within 4 m. of Pwllheli. Between these stations plies the Cambrian, which runs along the Cardigan Bay coast and terminates at Pwllheli. The North Wales Narrow Gauge line runs from Dinas, south of Carnarvon, to Snowdon Ranger, 4 m. from Beddgelert. The main line of the London & North-Western runs along the northern coast, with branches from Llandudno junction to Blaenau Festiniog, along the Denbighshire side of the Conwy stream; from Menai Bridge to Carnarvon (thence continuing to Llanberis, or, by another line, to Afon Wen). The chief ports are Portmadoc, Pwllheli, Carnarvon, Port Dinorwic and Bangor. Near Portmadoc is Criccieth, with a castle resorted to by visitors; Pwllheli is also a summer resort, and a tramway runs thence to within a short distance of Abersoch, another favourite watering-place. Nefyn (some 6 m. from Pwllheli), still unserved by rail or tram, was the scene of a royal tournament in the 15th century, and is another bathing resort; near are Carreg Llam and Pistyll farm (see Bardsey).
The area of the ancient county is 361,156 acres, with a population in 1901 of 126,883. The area of the administrative county is 365,986 acres. The inhabitants practically all speak Welsh (slightly differing, especially in Lleyn, from that of Anglesey). Over 80 is the percentage in Carnarvonshire, as against over 90 for Anglesey. The county is divided into two parliamentary divisions, south (Eifion) and north (Arfon).
The Carnarvon district of boroughs is formed of Bangor city, Carnarvon, Conway, Criccieth, Nefyn and Pwllheli. There are four municipal boroughs: Bangor (pop. 11,269), Carnarvon (9760), Conway (4681) and Pwllheli (3675). Other urban districts are: Bethesda (5281), Bettws y coed (1070), Criccieth (1406), Llandudno (9279), Llanfairfechan (2769), Penmaenmawr (3503) and Ynyscynhaiarn (4883). Carnarvon, where assizes are held, is in the north Wales circuit. Except a few parishes (in and near Llandudno) in St Asaph diocese, Carnarvonshire is in the diocese of Bangor, and contains sixty-one ecclesiastical parishes or districts, with parts of four others. Bangor, Carnarvon, Pwllheli and Llandudno are the principal towns, with Criccieth, Nefyn, Portmadoc and Tremadoc.
Carnarvonshire was occupied by the Segontiaci, with difficulty subdued by Ostorius Scapula and C. Suetonius Paulinus (Paullinus). From here Agricola crossed to conquer Anglesey. Relics of British forts and camps have been discovered. Caerhun (Caer Rhun) and Carnarvon (Caer Seint) are respectively the old Conovium and Segontium of Britannia Secunda. The county was part of Gwynedd kingdom, until Edward I. in 1277 restricted that to Snowdon proper. The early fortresses at Deganwy, Dinorwic, Dinas Dinlle, etc., and the later castles of Conwy (Conway), Carnarvon, Criccieth and Dolbadarn, bear witness to the warlike character of its inhabitants.
See Edw. Breese, Kalendar of Gwynedd (London, 1874).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)