Snowdon Yr Wyddfa

The Mountain – a personal view

Snowdon rates amongst the most beautiful mountains in the world. Whichever direction you approach it from the size and grandeur impresses. Its starfish shape radiates six magnificent ridges each with their own special and individual characters. The deep cwmoedd (glaciated valleys) range from the easily accessible to hanging valleys only reached by complicated scrambling.

This mountain has everything from the rarest flowers and insects to ruined mines, from fascinating volcanic rock formations to fossils on the summit. Whether your interest is in challenging ascents, emotive photographs, Arthurian legends, or in studying humanity in every form, the mountain’s got something for you!

The Summit is owned by the National Park but leased to the Snowdon Mountain Railway who operate the caf? at the summit normally open from Whitsun (late May bank holiday until October half term)



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The Peaks

 Name
Height (m)
Height (ft)
English Name / Translation
 Yr Wyddfa
1085
31080
Snowdon
Garnedd Ugain
1065
3494
Twentieth Peak
Y Lliwedd
898
2946
Colourless Peak
Crib Goch
923
3028
Red comb
Moel Eilio
726 
2382
Yr Aran
747 
2451
The Mountain
Y Lliwedd (E)
893
2930
Moel Cynghorion
674
2211
Bald Hill of the Counsellors
Lliwedd Bach
818
2684
Little Lliwedd
Llechog
718
2356
Made of Slate
Foel Gron
629
2064
Round Bald Hill
Gallt yr Wenallt
619
2031
Hill of the White Slope

Surrounding Villages and car parks

The main access points to the range are: from Llanberis on the A4086, Pen y Pass at the top of the Llanberis Pass, on the Beddgelert Road the A498 at Bethania and on the A4085 at Rhyd Ddu and the Snowdon Ranger. There are bus services from Betws y Coed, Llanberis, Bangor and Caernarfon and a steam train from Caernarfon. In Summer months a regular “Snowdon Sherpa” goes around the mountain meaning that you do not need to start and end at the same place. Bus timetables can be found here.

The Geology

As you climb up Snowdon you’ll not just be climbing in altitude but also in time. The mountain is built on the debris of the past. Almost every step you take will mean climbing on to rock that’s younger than the ones below. From the Llanberis Slates – originally mud and silt 400 million years ago and then squeezed under great pressure, – to gritstones then mudstones and siltstones and, on top, rocks made of volcanic ashes and on the very top more slaty beds with the shells of marine animals – showing how once the very summit was deep under a sea bed. (You can see this fossils if you examine carefully the rock staircases of the current summit platform)

But of course these layers are not horizontal. The whole mountain has been squeezed into folds by immense eruptions and earthquakes and then eroded again by glaciers forming, moving and melting carving out the broad valleys and The Snowdon syncline hanging valleys edged with cliffs and ridges in between for us to enjoy for our walks and scrambles. The summit of Snowdon is the bottom of a syncline, the dip in folded rocks. The best place to see this is from the top of the Pyg track especially when the summit is covered in snow as this brings out the strata.

Flora and Fauna

Some of the interesting plants to look out for are the common pretty little yellow four-petalled Tormentil. In the wet areas you can spot Sundew, an Sundew insectivorous plant which traps its prey on sticky droplets from the hairs of its leaves. In the quarry waste tips look out for Parsley fern which, unsurprisingly, looks like parsley and is the first plant to colonise scree slopes.

You’ll see Bilberries with small red bell flowers that become blackcurrant-like berries in August – yummy if you don’t mix them up with crowberry who’s leaves are quite different. Lower down the slopes there are foxgloves – look out for the little spots in the bells the marks made when the foxes use them as gloves! Also common are Bedstraw -with tiny white flowers and Milkwort whose flowers range in colour from nearly white to purpley blue.

Wheatears – spotted by their white bottoms in the Summer are common where there is no wheat just moorland! It is said the name came from the oldWheatear English White Arse but the Victorians didn’t like the coarseness of so changed it. Look out for tiny little wrens darting in and out of dry stonewalls also the Meadow Pipits spotted by their distinctive soaring up and parachuting down movement.

Curlews (a bubbling cry) and Skylarks have distinctive calls – the latter are usually much higher up in the air than you think. The Raven is seen really enjoying soaring and diving even when the wind is very strong. Choughs look quite like ravens but with orange bills and legs. However, these legs are hard to spot when they’re flying! It’s better to listen out for the Cheeeaaww cry – quite different to the rubber-band twanging of the ravens cronk cronk. Also rare elsewhere but often spotted in the mountains in summer is the ring ouzel like a blackbird but with a white bib and the dippers who’ll often be sported darting just over streams.

History

Quarries and Mines – When you look at the beautiful rural landscape around Snowdon today, it’s hard to remember that this was once an industrial area. Wales has been exploited for its minerals since the bronze age. The real growth Llanberis slate quarry with Snowdon beyond however, was in the 19th century when copper, lead, zinc and slate miners and quarrymen riddled away at the mountain on all sides. There’s a seam of slate that reveals itself in ex-quarry workings tending North East from Bethesda to Nantlle showing itself on Snowdon along this line.

Copper miners worked the crags of Clogwyn Goch above Llyn Du’r Arddu and above Nant Peris (there is a legend that these mines are linked by underground tunnels) and also in Cwm Llan and on the flanks of Gallt y Wenallt. The success or not of most of the quarries and mines usually depended on how easily the product could be got to a sea port and levels, inclines and old tramways are all over the mountain

The Snowdon Railway – However, Snowdon’s most famous railway was not built as a mineral line but to exploit the richest seam of Snowdon that continues being mined today – tourism. Conceived by a group of businessmen over 100 years ago as a replacement to the ponies that used to carry visitors to the summit, it is Britain’s only rack railway with tooted racks in the centre of the track that engage with cogs under the carriages. The engine (some are steam others diesel) is always below the carriages.

The only serious accident happened the day it opened when the engine ran away for a while. Control was regained quickly but a passenger jumped off and sustained fatal injuries.

The Legends

Arthur The West Country may have tried to appropriate Arthur but there are very strong claims for Wales – particularly around Snowdon. In fact, he was probably a Romanised Celtic chief Aurelious Ambrosius who emerges as a leader about 472 whose influence encompassed a lot of Western Britain.

One of the strongest Arthur legends is linked to Dinas Emrys – an iron-age fort atop a lump nestling on Snowdon’s southernmost flanks near Beddgelert. Here, it is said, the Celtic king Vortigern (unpopular amongst Celts as it was he who invited in the Saxons to help rid Wales of the Irish!) was trying to build a fort but every night the walls fell down. His wise men told him that only the blood of a slaughtered boy with no mother and no father would stop this happening.

Such a boy was found in Carmarthen – Myrddin Emrys (the Merlin of Arthur legends) who was brought to the king and told him (unsurprisingly) “No, don’t killMural of the Dinas Emrys Dragons me! Dig down and you’ll find a lake and under that lake two dragons – a red and a white -fighting and that’s what causing your building’s destruction”. He was right. When they dug down they found the red dragon of the Celts and the White dragon of the Saxons, which were released into the air to continuing fighting. Ambrosius (Arthur) found Merlin at Dinas Emrys and persuaded him to be his soothsayer.

According to Welsh tradition, Arthur met his death in a skirmish on Bwlch y Saetheau (Pass of the Arrows) and his knights lie resting on their shields in a little cave on the face of Lliwedd. Some legends even place Arthur’s grave as being here under a cairn.

Of course every generation, including Hollywood today, has built a little bit more of the Arthur legend and Tennyson probably had Llyn Llydaw in mind in Idylls of the King when he had Bedivere “steeping down/By zigzag paths and juts of pointed rock/Come on the shining levels of the lake”. In 1856 when the waters were lowered to help build the track to the mines a primitive canoe was found and many echoed Malory’s words of the three “fayr ladyes” who bore away the body of the mortally wounded king across the lake

Other Legends

The Welsh name from Snowdon is Yr Wyddfa which means burial place and a legend suggests that the cairn at the top marks the grave of Rhita Fawr a particularly fierce giant who had a cloak made out of the beards of all the kings he’d killed.

A popular legend tells of a local man falling in love with a fairy who lived in Llyn Du’r Arddu. She agreed to marry him provided he never struck her with iron. She brought her fairy cattle and sheep out of the lake with her and they lived a prospered. But, inevitably once he struck her with a bridle accidentally and she went back into the lake taking all the cattle, sheep with her. This story is told in many Celtic countries about different lakes and is said to represent the conflict between the bronze and iron -using peoples. This local legend has a difference in that it is said the fairy’s name was Penelope and a local family of the name of Pelling reputed to be the couple’s descendents lived in a nearby valley.

One of the strongest Arthur legends is linked to Dinas Emrys – an iron-age fort atop a lump nestling on Snowdon’s southernmost flanks near Beddgelert. Here, it is said, the Celtic king Vortigern (unpopular amongst Celts as it was he who invited in the Saxons to help rid Wales of the Irish!) was trying to build a fort but every night the walls fell down. His wise men told him that only the blood of a slaughtered boy with no mother and no father would stop this happening.
Such a boy was found in Carmarthen – Myrddin Emrys (the Merlin of Arthur legends) who was brought to the king and told him (unsurprisingly) “No, don’t killMural of the Dinas Emrys Dragons me! Dig down and you’ll find a lake and under that lake two dragons – a red and a white -fighting and that’s what causing your building’s destruction”. He was right. When they dug down they found the red dragon of the Celts and the White dragon of the Saxons, which were released into the air to continuing fighting. Ambrosius (Arthur) found Merlin at Dinas Emrys and persuaded him to be his soothsayer.

According to Welsh tradition, Arthur met his death in a skirmish on Bwlch y Saetheau (Pass of the Arrows) and his knights lie resting on their shields in a little cave on the face of Lliwedd. Some legends even place Arthur’s grave as being here under a cairn.

Of course every generation, including Hollywood today, has built a little bit more of the Arthur legend and Tennyson probably had Llyn Llydaw in mind in Idylls of the King when he had Bedivere “steeping down/By zigzag paths and juts of pointed rock/Come on the shining levels of the lake”. In 1856 when the waters were lowered to help build the track to the mines a primitive canoe was found and many echoed Malory’s words of the three “fayr ladyes” who bore away the body of the mortally wounded king across the lake