The view from the summit of Mt. Snowdon is a vista of yellow-brown hills and intensely green meadows. Far below the precipitously steep cliffs, a river flows through a valley where the stone houses of Llanberis village nestle beside twin lakes. As the sun moves out of the clouds, the rocky summit is silhouetted against a clear blue sky, and the breath-taking panorama of green slopes, deep chasms and towering rock faces become visible. It is easy to see why the Welsh call this area of North Wales known as Snowdonia, Eryri, the land of the Eagle and why the Mt. Snowdon hike is often considered one of the most popular hikes in Wales.
Being of Welsh heritage, to climb Mt. Snowdon had been my life-long dream, however when I arrived at the town of Llanberis a fine Welsh rain was falling and a thick shroud of ominous clouds hid Snowdon’s peak. I wondered if my journey had been in vain. These mountains can be treacherous for hikers and it isn’t advisable to venture up into the hills in inclement weather where the mist and rain can close in with alarming speed.
Once the stronghold of the fiery Welsh patriot, Owen Glendower, who waged war against the English for ten years, Snowdon (1,085 metres) is the highest mountain in all of England and Wales. North Wales is majestic, a land of mountains and streams, massive medieval castles and stately country homes now converted to museums and hotels. The area is steeped in legend. Tales are told of the fairy folk, Tylwyth Teg, magical creatures who can put unsuspecting mortals under their spell.
At the outskirts of Llanberis, across the emerald fields, the single gray stone tower of Dolbardarn castle rises above a grove of oak trees. This old, ruined castle, situated between the twin lakes of Llyn Padarn and Llyn Peris in the Llanberis Pass, is one of Wales’ oldest castles, believed to have been built and occupied from about 233 B.C. Located at the foot of Snowdon, on the shores of the twin lakes, Llanberis is a traditional centre for climbers and walkers. Of the six routes to the summit of Snowdon, the path from Llanberis is regarded as the easiest, the longest (8 km) and the most popular. There are plenty of reasonably priced accommodations in the town of Llanberis, and many things to see in the immediate vicinity. Attractions include the Museum of the North, the Welsh National State Museum, craft workshops, and the narrow-gauge Llanberis Lake Railway.
The local folk heroine was Marged Uch Ifan, known as “Queen of the Lakes”. She could make and play harps and outshone the local men at most tasks such as rowing, wrestling, hunting and fishing for torgoch, a fish unique to these lakes. A boat said to be hers, was found in the bottom of Llyn Padarn, and is now in the Llanberis museum.
The Gilfach Ddu slate workshops, built in 1870, have a display of original equipment and puts on a demonstration of the art of slate-splitting. Once an ancient bard prophesied that the stones of Mt. Snowdon would be turned to bread. Years later, Snowdon became the site of a major slate industry, ensuring employment for thousands of men and women in the area. Slate is used for a variety of purposes — from the roofs of the stone-built houses to the pavement on the narrow streets.
The morning after my arrival, I set off with the intention of climbing at least part way up the mountain. It was early June, fine weather for walking, but Snowdon’s conical peak was still shrouded with a thick, furry cap of gray cloud. I was well prepared for the trek: comfortable walking shoes, a layer of warm clothing, a rucksack packed with waterproof items, a first-aid kit, whistle and local map. Still, the weather looked unpredictable, and after careful thought, I opted to ride up on the little single-track locomotive run by the Snowdon Mountain Railway. The train goes right up to the summit, a long, slow haul of 55 minutes.
The coal-fired steam engine pushes the coach in front, up the mountain. The views from the window are spectacular. The track meanders up the steep slopes, winding along the crests of the hills, past crumbling ruins of farm houses and stone walls. The rock-strewn fields are almost colorless, the grass bleached pale green. Tiny alpine lilies and heather cling tenaciously among the boulders. Grazing sheep have stripped the mountain slopes to the bone. Although Wales has only two million people, it has six million sheep.
By the time the train reached the summit, the mist had evaporated and Snowdonia’s lofty mountain ranges unfolded in a view of breathtaking beauty. The entire region is criss-crossed by dozens of well-trodden footpaths leading down into the lush valleys. I could see the entire countryside from Snowdon’s barren slopes to the distant verdant fields of the Druid’s isle, Anglesey, in the gray Irish Sea. I breathed in the fresh, cool mountain air, overwhelmed by the sensation of being atop this enchanted mountain.
The hike down the mountain was an easy three hour descent along the Llanberis Pass trail which follows along the same twisting route as the rail line. As I looked back, Snowdon’s peak was again hidden by a swirl of white mist. But far below, where the tranquil village of Llanberis lies sheltered between the mountains, the twin lakes of Llyn Padar and Llyn Peris shimmer like pewter in the bright afternoon sun.
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Hiking Advisory from MountainWalk : Those unaccustomed to hill walking should use caution and common sense. Wear sturdy shoes or boots, warm clothing, and take food, a first-aid kit, a flashlight and a whistle. Good maps such as ordnance surveys and a compass are also essential if you are going on the less frequented trails. These maps are available anywhere in Snowdonia. Paths are well marked, but often the signs don’t indicate exactly where they lead or give the distance you must travel.
Let someone know the details of your route and allow yourself plenty of time to return before dark. There is a 24 hour pre-recorded forecast service if you ring Llanberis 870120. This will tell you the ground conditions, visibility and cloud level as well as temperature, wind speed and direction both at sea level and at the summit. The weather in Snowdonia is notorious for its changeability, so keep on the look-out. Don’t hesitate to turn back if the weather gets worse or the route is too difficult for you.
Organized treks are available in the area and usually include accommodations and some meals, guide service and local transportation. If you don’t want to hike the mountain, you can ascend and descend on the single-track railway.
The Snowdon Mountain Railway
Trains run from mid March to November 1, weather permitting, with a minimum of 25 passengers. Journey to summit: one hour.
Buses from Caernarfon to Llnaberis run frequently throughout the day from the main square opposite the castle in Caernarfon. There is also a train from Bangor. Trains and buses run from London as well.
Written by W. Ruth Kozak for EuropeUpClose.com