For those taking a break in beautiful North Wales, Mount Snowdon is the Number one attraction. With its imposing, sheer cliffs, rugged landscape, shimmering lakes and abandoned mines, it’s the ultimate taste of an ancient Welsh landscape.
What is now Snowdon was once a huge mountain called the Harlech Dome. This was larger than any of the mountains on earth today. Over millions of years, weather, water and ice have eroded the mountain down into smaller ones, the highest of which is mount Snowdon. Precious and semi-precious minerals are buried beneath the crags in great abundance, especially Iron. In fact, there is so much Iron on the surface of Snowdon, on sunny days the north-eastern arêtes shine red, especially Crib Goch (lit. “Red Ridge”) as there’s so much Iron Oxide on the surface. One could even say that Snowdon is slowly rusting away.
The cliffs of Y Lliwedd are sheer and imposing when viewed from Llyn Llydaw below, a lake that glimmers pale blue thanks to its copper content. This area also provides one of the most impressive views of Snowdon’s summit, with crags rising 2000 feet sheer. The view from the summit of Snowdon is perhaps the most impressive in the UK. On the clearest of days, one can see southern Scotland from the summit, making it the longest continuous line of vision in the British Isles at 144 miles. Not to mention, that when visibility is good one can see Ireland, Wales, England, Scotland, and the Isle of Man.
Snowdon has been mentioned in records since ancient times, and is shrouded in legend, particularly those of King Arthur. It is said that the glossy blue lake of Llyn Glaslyn is home to the very same ‘Lady of the Lake’ that caught Arthur’s sword “Excalibur” when it was thrown in by Bedivere. It is also said to be the home of a fearsome monster known as ‘Afanc’ – a hideous beaver-like demon that would take human victims and cause flooding by splashing around.
There are many routes up Snowdon – the most popular of which leaves the town of Llanberis just outside Caernarfon. Llanberis is a fascinating place to visit – the small town with its vast lake, imposing slate quarries and mountains. Whilst here, visit the Dinorwig power station, or ‘Electric Mountain’, and witness the production of hydro-electricity after a bus journey into caverns deep beneath the mountains.
If you feel the walk up Snowdon will be too much, but still wish to experience the breathtaking views from the Summit, you can take the Snowdon mountain railway from Llanberis all the way to the summit. Opened in 1896, it is one of the oldest rack and pinion railways in the world and the only one in the UK which is open to the public. Beginning in Llanberis, the train, shunted by either a steam or a diesel locomotive shunts the carriages all the way to the summit, via the stations of Clogwyn, Halfway and Hebron. The view from the summit station is, of course, spectacular. Many choose to climb Snowdon and then get the train down, relieving some of the pressure on their knees. Walking your dog up Snowdon is a popular thing to do; they love it! As long as you take one of the safer routes and have the correct equipment, you and you dog will enjoy every minute.
Other routes up to the Summit include the popular Pyg track, and the breath-taking lakeside ‘Miner’s Track’, which is more strenuous. Both routes begin from the car park at ‘Pen-y-pass’; only a few minutes’ drive from both Llanberis and Capel Curig. The Watkin path, although requiring the climb of the greatest altitude, is also highly recommended by many due to its beauty. The path begins in the hamlet of Nant Gwynant, between the two lakes of Llyn Gwynant and Llyn Dinas.
The most infamous route, however, is Crib Goch. The sheer knife-edged arête of red rock rising over 3000 feet above sea level continues to claim many lives each year, and is not a climb for the inexperienced. Sheer drops plummet inescapably beneath the climber, with many precarious manoeuvres to be made on the way to the summit. The initial scramble onto the ridge is so steep that once on the crest, there’s no turning back. For a gentler and safer ridgewalk, Y Lliwedd is recommended, which although still dangerous is nowhere near as exposed as Crib Goch.
The towns surrounding the Snowdon area are all unique and well worth visiting. Llanberis is grim and haunting, but fascinating for those with an interest in industrial history and geology. The nearby town of Capel Curig is situated next to Moel Siabod, a fantastic climb, and Betws-y-Coed is perhaps the most famous of Northwalian towns, bursting with visitors during the summer, with the picturesque Afon Llygwy running through its centre.
Historic Caernarfon boasts one of the most impressive castles in Europe; built by Edward I in the late 13th century, it never fails to impose and impress. Across the Menai Strait lies the beautiful island of Anglesey (Môn), just a five minute drive away from the Snowdonia and well worth exploring, with its flat and fertile land contrasting sharply with the jagged peaks of the mainland.
Important notes –
Parking – During peak season, it’s best to arrive as early as possible if you plan to be able to park at Pen-y-pass, as during tourist season the car park stays full for most of the day. Spaces are more abundant on the main road below, though they are mostly pay and display and require about a mile’s walk up the hill to Pen-y-pass. In this case, it’s probably better to take the marked footpath as the alpine road can be dangerous to walk along. Always keep spare change handy to pay for your parking and avoid a disappointing trip to the nearest cashpoint (quite a few miles away).
Snowdonia without a car – If you are travelling to Snowdonia for a holiday with family, an adventure day out with friends or for any other reason, a car isn’t necessary. Snowdonia offers a great selection of public transport connections to get you from A to B. Snowdonia without a car isn’t impossible, as many places can be visited by foot or via an array of cycle routes. Alternatively, there’s a number of buses and trains that can get you around Snowdonia but also further afield if you wish. These include places such as Llandudno, Betws-y-Coed and Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Accomodation in Snowdonia is about as varied as it is abundant. For those of you travelling without a car, be prepared to find somewhere within close proximity of the area you wish to be visiting the most. There are regular Sherpa bus services which run over the Llanberis pass, notable from Llanberis to Pen-y-pass. Of course, make use of these services if you are not driving, or if you wish to climb and descend the mountain by different routes. Accommodation generally ranges from campsites, bunkhouses and hostels to up-market country houses and hotels.
Equipment – as thrilling as the great outdoors are, it’s essential to ensure that you take along the correct outdoor equipment for the activities you wish to pursue. It’s best to consult a local guide in the matter who will instruct you on the necessary provisions you will need to remain safe in Snowdonia. The area is rugged and in many parts, unsafe. If walking without a guide, it’s best to stay to footpaths and avoid the more rugged areas, as there are many deaths and injuries of walkers each year in the region. Be aware that the weather in North Wales can change from calm to perilous in the blink of an eye, a meteorological feature which has put even professional mountaineers in dangerous situations. Proper footwear is also essential – it’s best to wear at least a strong pair a well-fitting waterproof boots with plenty of ankle support. Of course, it’s always best to consult an experienced guide when planning activities in the mountains.