Snowdonia Walk - Llanberis to the summit of Snowdon
PUBLISHED: 00:05 10 September 2014
© Crown copyright (2009) Visit Wales, all rights reserved
Llanberis Path, a 10-mile round trip, hugging the tracks of the Snowdon Mountain Railway
There are six walking paths to the summit of Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales. They range from the challenging, eight-mile Watkin Path to the shorter Snowdon Ranger Path, the safest approach in winter. I had opted for the steady-climb Llanberis Path, a 10-mile round trip, hugging the tracks of the Snowdon Mountain Railway. This is the most popular trail and the one best suited to all levels of walking experience.
Last time I cheated. The weather was poor as I set out, so I decided to take the train up and walk back down, both for practical reasons (the train manager only lets new passengers on at the top if there’s space) and for its historical importance. It is, after all, a feat of Victorian engineering and the UK’s only public rack-and-pinion railway. Some of the original 1896 steam engines still complete the five-mile climb in around one hour and I rode up front, a schoolboy smile splashed across my face, as we crested a ridge and stopped for a moment to marvel at the white-knuckle sheer drop down into Pen-y-Pass.
But this time I was determined to walk it. Besides, Hafod Eryri (meaning ‘summer residence’ in Welsh), the new visitor centre atop Snowdon, had opened since my last visit. I wanted to see if the new building, which replaced the well-worn original summit building from 1935, lived up to the anticipation of its 2009 opening. HRH Prince Charles once famously described its predecessor as ‘the highest slum in England and Wales’, so local pride rested on its completion.
The first section leg of the walk, a steady-paced 90-minute climb through sheep-grazing pasture and wooded glades, felt manageable thanks to decent boots, good conditions and a hearty Welsh breakfast that morning. The trail was clearly waymarked and I breezed past numerous day-trippers, some noticeably ill equipped in flip flops and carrying few supplies. As I stopped to gulp down water, I waved to passers-by in the brightly coloured heritage-rail carriages.
The next section proved harder going, however, with temperatures cooling noticeably as the mountain mists swirled in and the gradient seemed to increase with every step. By the time I embarked on the 45-minute uphill yomp from Clogwyn train station to the summit, my calf muscles were aching and my lungs heaving.
But I pushed on. I could see a vision of the low-rise, granite-built rectangular building looming in the distance and I was determined to make it. The last leg was challenging with some rocky scrambling and lung-busting climbs but, finally, I was at the summit.
The mist cleared, burnt off by the sunshine, and I took in my surroundings: a huge, widescreen panorama across the valleys of the Snowdon range and beyond to Ireland and the Isle of Man. Just below the cairn that marks the summit, Hafod Eryri’s twin walls of panoramic windows beckoned me inside with the promise of cold drinks, snacks and a crash course in the geology of the 61st highest mountain in Britain (Scotland claims the first 60).
Inside the building’s Welsh oak interior, the open-plan cafe area was ringed by interpretation material about the geology, environment and folklore of Snowdon built into the finish. Most of all, however, reaching the summit was, for me, about taking a moment to sit quietly atop the mythical mountain and feel at one with nature and the ghosts of the past.
The words of the former National Poet of Wales, Gwyn Thomas, etched stoically in the elements-lashed granite by the entrance, summed it up perfectly: “The summit of Snowdon / Here you are nearer / To heaven.”
Where: Llanberis to the summit of Snowdon
Distance: 10 miles
Duration: Six hours
Getting there: From northern England and Scotland follow the A55; Scotland; take the A5 from the Midlands and southern England; take the A470 from South Wales
Contact: Snowdonia National Park www.eryri-npa.gov.uk;
Snowdon Mountain Railway, Tel: 0844 493 8120, www.snowdonrailway.co.uk
The hub for day walkers and railway enthusiasts alike is the workaday town of Llanberis with its clutch of B&Bs and pubs. Most visitors start the day with a walk-fuelling brunch at Pete’s Eats, the local-institution greasy spoon. The portions are huge and the owners incredibly knowledgeable about local walking and climbing routes.
After bagging the summit, Pen-y-Gwryd, a creaking, historic inn just outside Llanberis, is another local institution, albeit one with more of a heritage motif. This was the training base for the trailblazing British team that conquered Mount Everest in May 1953. The famous duo of Sir Edmund Hilary and his Nepali Sherpa, Tenzig, are remembered on the ceiling in the bar, their autographs scrawled above the beer pumps, while a display case in the lounge bar contains artefacts from the expedition. Sink a pint of local ale, book in for a home-cooked supper and soak up the lost-in-time ambience.
Otherwise, explore the legacy of Llanberis’ industrial heritage. The town was originally built to house slate quarry workers and the National Slate Museum, built beside the lake Llyn Padarn, captures the spirit of the age. Nearby, Electric Mountain is the visitor center for the Dinorwig pumped-storage power station. Take the guided tour or join in family-friendly activities.