The magnificent landscape has attracted visitors for centuries.
Victorians travelling from the rapidly growing industrial cities of the North West revelled in the clean air and tranquillity. For them it was the perfect playground, away from the dirt and noise of those crowded towns. Snowdonia National Park still has the same draw today.
The Victorian plant hunters clambered steep cliff faces gathering ferns and mosses for their herbariums and delicate plants such as the alpine saxifrage and the rare Snowdon lily, one reason for its rarity nowadays. Others hired local mountain guides to ascend the peaks or went up on horseback or mule. Guides would sometimes ascend Snowdon 3 times a day including night walks. Romanticism was at its peak and the affluent young men were eager to watch the sunrise from the summit. These include the poet, William Wordsworth, whose poem The Prelude was inspired by the experience. Snowdonia became a favoured haunt for artists. The Napoleonic wars of the 18th and 19th centuries had prevented aspiring British artists from visiting the Alps and so they were looking for wild, mountainous landscapes closer to home. Snowdonia was an obvious choice. Turner had painted there in the 1790’s and many followed in his footsteps. In the mid 1800’s an artists colony was established in Betws y Coed, which flourished until the outbreak of the first world war. It was on Snowdonia’s jagged peaks that the British mountaineers trained for their first Everest expedition in 1953 and the area continues to draw millions of mountaineers and walkers every year.
It is not surprising that Snowdonia was chosen as one of the first National Parks to be created in Britain following the 1949 National Parks and Access to the countryside act, which set out how our most special landscapes could be designated to give them legal protection. It was designated Snowdonia National Park in 1951 along with the peak district, Dartmoor and the Lake District, and the third largest of the 15 national parks in the UK. It covers 2139 km2 – 826 square miles and stretches from Cardigan Bays shoreline in the west to Dinas Mawddwy and the Aran mountains in the east, and from the Dyfi estuary in the south to the North Wales coast as far as Conwy. Snowdonia National Park takes its name from Snowdon itself, which at 1085m – 3560 ft – is the highest peak in England and Wales.
This iconic peak is as much a magnet for today’s visitors as it was for the Victorians. More than 500,000 people walk to the summit each year, whether taking the longer but easier Pyg and Miners path’s or tackling one of the more challenging routes, such as scrambling along Crib Goch. Another 100,00 visitors take the train to the summit to enjoy the views and visit Hafod Eryri, the sustainable new summit building that was opened in 2009.
If you prefer not to rub shoulders with so many visitors, there are numerous other spectacular peaks and mountain ridges. Nine mountain ranges cover roughly half of Snowdonia National Park and include many other peaks over 3000 ft – including the rounded Carneddau and jagged Glyderau to the east and west of Llyn Ogwen, and the Cader Idris range to the south. It’s easy to get completely off the beaten track in the uplands. Why not try exploring the Arans in the south east, the Arenigs in the east, Rhinogs in the south west? While it is the mountains for which Snowdonia National Park is renowned, the landscape is very varied and it has lots more to offer. There are more than 200 lakes and pools, including Llyn Tegid, the longest lake in Wales. The view of Arenig Fawr towering above Llyn Tegid easily rivals many of the better known Lake District vistas. The park includes 38 miles of stunning coastline, including the beautiful Ardudwy coast in the west around Harlech, and there are stunning sea views from Conwy mountain and the northern Carneddau. South west Snowdonia includes 2 dramatic estuaries, the Mawddach to the west of Dolgellau and the Dyfi.
It is the diverse geology that has largely shaped this stunning landscape. Land and sea changes place several times over millions of year. Great mountain ranges where pushed up out of the oceans only to be slowly eroded away, their debris carried by rivers and laid on the sea bed to form the material for future mountains. Volcanic activity produced distinctive features on Snowdon, Cader Idris, the Glyderau, the Carneddau and Arenig. Later, in the ice age, glaciers shaped some of the most spectacular scenery. They scoured out great U-shaped valleys including the Llanberis and Nant Gwynant in the north and Tal-y-Llyn in the south, and formed rocky ‘cwms’ or corries, many of which have breathtaking waterfalls cascading over them. The knife edge ridges like Crib Goch are found where two ‘cwms’ formed on either side of a mountain.
The range of habitat in Snowdonia National Park supports an equally diverse flora and fauna, including many rarities. There are 17 National Nature Reserves in the Snowdonia, more than any other National Park in England and Wales. Rare arctic alpine plants grow on high peaks, clinging on after the ice receded 10,000 years ago. Insectivorous plants in acidic pools and blanket bogs, the moorlands are important for grouse and birds of prey and the estuaries for waders and wildfowl. Historically, the area is fascinating too. Prehistoric burial mounds, Roman roads, medieval castles and the remains of the slate quarries and mines are scattered across the landscape. There are numerous picturesque churches and chapels, including the 6th century Llanrhychwyn Church, near Trefriw, and the remote Llangelynnin Church above Rowen. Farming has always been important, and hardy sheep still graze the mountain slopes. Ruined small holdings dot the hillside, remnants of a simpler way of life. Farmers from the surrounding area brought livestock and produce to sell at the market towns old Llanrwst, Bala and Dolgellau. Now only Llanrwst has a livestock market, but the historic towns remain a focal point for locals and visitors.
Snowdonia is a stronghold of Welsh language and culture. Here, you are likely to hear Welsh spoken in the villages and towns as it is the first language of more than half the population. Old welsh traditions of folk singing and poetry have remained strong since the days when bards entertained at the Princes’ courts. Modern versions include events like the National Eisteddfod and local festivals such as Sesiwn Fawr in Dolgellau where the Welsh and Celtic bands perform. The park is managed by the Snowdonia National Park Authority, based at Penrhyndeudraeth. Its role is to conserve the landscape and the wildlife it supports, to help visitors enjoy it safely and appreciate its special qualities and foster the social and economic wellbeing of it communities. Most of the land within the National Park is in private ownership and the National Park Authority works with all landowners and has built strong partnerships. Landowners include many farmers and organisations like the National trust and Woodland Trust, along with the 1000’s of people who live in the villages and towns. A key landowner is National Resources Wales, formed in 2013 following the merging of the Forestry Commision, the Environment Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales. It owns large areas in the Dyfi Forest and Coed y Brenin to the west and Gwydyr Forest around Llanrwst. It also manages the National Nature Reserves within the park, including Cwm Idwal and Snowdon itself.
Key members of the Snowdonia National Park staff are the team of wardens, who each look after a particular area within the park. They advise the public on the safe and enjoyable use of the park, liaise with landowners to help with visitor management, help schools and community groups with conservation projects, and work alongside the team of estate workers on practical improvements to the path network. Many other community groups and conservation organisations are involved with the management of the park. These include the Snowdonia Society, a charity working to protect, enhance and celebrate the Snowdonia National Park. It is based in Ty Hyll, the Ugly House, just outside Betws y Coed, and organises events and regular volunteer conservation tasks within the park. New members and volunteers are always welcome.
Balancing the needs of visitors and the conservation of the landscape is not easy. National Park staff work closely with landowners and user groups to ensure that the special qualities of the park will not be degraded by visitor pressure. The popularity of some of the honeypot areas causes problems as paths become eroded, habitats can be destroyed and wildlife disturbed. Path erosion is a major problem on Snowdon and at Cwm Idwal. Bringing in stone to repair paths in mountainous locations is incredibly expensive as the stone is bought in by helicopter. They can cost £6500 per day, but each helicopter can lift between 80 and 120 bags per day, with each bag weighing around half a tonne. Repairing the ground, putting in effective drainage and laying the stones is very labour intensive and physically demanding.
Traffic is another major problem. In the 1970’s, the National Park Authority first introduced a bus service for walkers, taking them to start points of popular walks to ease the pressure on parking and the narrow mountain roads. The bus became known as the Snowdon Sherpa and a daily service between Llanberis and Llanrwst via Pen y Pass and Capel Curig still runs today, giving great opportunities for linear walks without the need of a car. Snowdonia is a walkers paradise and I’m sure most readers have their own favourite walks, but if you are looking for a fresh route there are plenty available, all with different degrees of difficulty. We can arrange a day out to suit your requirements. The varied terrain, from rugged mountain peaks and long sandy beaches to paths along crystal clear lakes and rivers, will ensure that there is something suitable for all fitness abilities and ages. We are lucky to have such superb walking country within easy reach. Why not take the time to explore some fresh parts of the Snowdonia National Park, I guarantee you will not be disappointed!!!!