SNOWDONIA


 

Crib Goch, Snowdonia

The dramatic landscapes of Snowdonia National Park are deceptively wild – the area is actually home to around 26000 people, at least half of whom proudly speak Welsh. The rest of the people you'll bump into here are climbers, hikers, and nature enthusiasts. That's because Snowdonia National Park, or Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri in Welsh, is home to over a hundred lakes and over a hundred mountains over 2000ft. The park also plays host to a variety of plants and animals, the unique natures of which have resulted in 17 National Nature Reserves and 56 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, as well as countless other protected areas, within Snowdonia.

Devoted hikers and easygoing daytrippers alike can find their niche here: climb to the summit of 1085m Mount Snowdon or go by rail from the town of Llanberis; explore the coastline, a Special Area of Conservation, where you can also find seaside resort towns like Barmouth, Tywyn, and Porthmadog (also the birthplace of Lawrence of Arabia); get set for a feeling deja vu as you wander around the unusual village of Portmeirion, constructed in the early 20th century as a nod to the Italian seaside, and thereafter used by many a film crew as a conveniently close Mediterranean backdrop; climb Cadr Irdis from its base at the market town of Dolgellau; go white water rafting near Bala; stay in any number of charming local villages including Capel Curig, Betws-y-Coed, and Beddgelert; or immerse yourself in the history of the imposing Harlech Castle, one of Edward I's 'Iron Ring' constructions, which clings to a cliff near Tremadog Bay. You can walk, cycle, horse-ride, white water raft, or climb your way through Wales' breathtaking Snowdonia National Park.

Layout
Snowdonia National Park covers 2140 square kilometres, making it the UK's third largest national park after the Lake District and Cairngorms. Covering almost half of the north of Wales, the park stretches from Conwy in the north to Aberdovey in the south and from the coast out to Bala in the east. On the official park   website is  and here you can find out about activities, places to visit, and even the latest weather conditions. The Gwynedd Council website is an excellent source of information about public transport in Snowdonia. Two useful means of transport are the Ffestonig and Welsh Highland railways here and the Sherpa Bus here.

 

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Points of Interest:  1. Llanberis  2. Dolbadam Castle  3. National Slate Museum  4. Capel Curig  5. Betws-y-Coed  6.  Gwydir Castle  7. Mt Snowdon  8. Beddgelert  9. Sygen Copper Mine  10. Blaenaeu Ffestiniog  12. Porthmadog  13. Portmeirion  14. Harlech Castle  15. Bala  16. Bryn Mawr Farm  17. Cymer Abbey  18. Dolgellau  19. Barmouth  20. Cadair Idris  21. Tywyn

 



SnowdoniaLlanberis [pop.1,850] was named after Saint Peris, a Welsh saint. Situated on the south bank of Llyn Padarn, the village grew out of the slate quarrying industry. Today, Llanberis is a popular place for outdoor sports of many kinds including walking, climbing, pony-riding, mountain-biking and even Scuba diving at the Vivian Diving Centre. The main reason that tourists come here though is to climb the impressive Mount Snowdon. The trail from Llanberis is one of the longest but it was quite easy going. The Snowdon Mountain Railway takes those less inclined to tackling inclines from the village to the summit of the mountain, a journey of around 7.6 km.

Sights
Snowdonia Mountain RailwayTake a trip on the Snowdon Mountain Railway [Llanberis, +44 0844 4938120 Llanberis to the Summit Return Adults ₤25] to appreciate the beautiful scenery at your leisure. Highlights include picturesque viaducts and Rocky Valley, a unique part of the landscape that was formed by volcanic action millions of year ago. Trains can run every 30 minutes depending upon demand. The return journey from Llanberis to the Summit takes 2.5 hours including 30 minutes at the summit.  However, from March till May trains often stop short of the summit at Clogwyn Station because of snow and inclement weather.

The Llanberis Lake Steam Railway [Rheilffordd Llyn Padarn, Gilfach Ddu, +44 1286 870549,  Adults return £7.40] is a leisurely trip through Llanberis' charming countryside. Leaving from Gilfach Ddu and passing Dolbladarn Castle [see below], Llan Padarn, and Llan Peris, the train stops at Llanberis and then passes through Padarn Country Park to Penllyn. The return journing takes around one hour

Near Elider Mountain, the Dinorwig Slate Quarry operated from 1787 through till 1969. After its closure, it was turned into the Welsh Slate Museum [Padarn Country Park, +44 1286 870630 , free entry]. The museum preserves the history of slate quarrying in Wales. It also captures the everyday lives of quarrymen and for example, each of the houses recreates a different era in the history of the quarry. 

Dolbadarn CastleDolbadarn Castle [Llyn Padarn, free entry] was built by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, a Welsh prince, in the 13th century. Much of the castle has been ruined but today you can still see the simple strength of the design. It was built before Edward I’s conquest of Wales and saw skirmishes until it was at last abandoned and many of its building materials stripped for other uses. 

Find out about hydro-electricity at Electric Mountain [+44 1286 870636, Adults £7.75] through audio-visual displays and exhibitions. Visitors can take a tour through the dark tunnels inside Elidir Mountain to the monumental underground Dinorwig Power Station.

UK NORTH Wales Snowdonia Capel Curig
Capel Curig
Lying on the River Llugwy, Capel Curig [pop.200] is often called the wettest place in Britain. Capel Curig literally means 'Curig's Chapel' and it takes its name from Saint Julitta's Church, which, it is claimed, was founded by Saint Curig in the 6th century AD. The remains of a Roman fort can be found on Bryn Gefeiliau, a farm in the south east of the village. A stop along the Sherpa bus line, Capel Curig is a hot spot for outdoor pursuits of all kinds. Check out Plas Y Brenin, the National Mountain Centre [+44 1690 720214], for more details about everything from mountaineering and kayaking to road cycling and first aid training.

 



Betws-y-CoedThe name of the village of Betws-y-Coed [pop. 540] means 'prayer house in the woods'. Said to have been founded in the 6th century A.D., it's a pretty gateway to Snowdonia National Park, with plenty of outdoor activities to keep visitors occupied. Betws-y-Coed lies within Gwydyr Forest and it is a useful transport hub to remember if you're thinking of exploring the park – catch the train or hop on the Sherpa bus.

Sights
Gwydyr Forest, encircling Betws-y-Coed, is the main attraction here. The forest covers around 72.5 square kilometres and is an ideal place for walking, horse-riding, and mountain biking on the recently opened Marin Trail.

St Michael's ChurchBetws-y-Coed's oldest building is the 14th century St Michael's Church [Contact the Friends of St Michael's on +44 1690 710333, free entry]. It stands on the site of a much earlier church or monastery from which Betws-y-Coed got its name. It houses a stone effigy of Gruffydd ap Dafydd Goch, grandson of the brother of the last native Prince of Wales. He is depicted in 14th century armour.  

North of the village and on the very edges of Snowdonia Natinal Park is Gwydir Castle [Llanwrst, +44 1492  641687, £85-95 per night], an atmospheric fortified manor house dating back in parts to the 15th century. Rumoured to be one of the most haunted houses in Wales, it is now a quiet, boutique B&B.

Swallow Falls [+44 1690 710770, Adults £1.50] is a cascade waterfall on Afon Llugwy, 3 km northwest of Betws-y-Coed.

Explore beautiful forest and mountain scenery by horse when you visit Gwydir Stables [Penmachno, +44 1690 760248, see website for pricing], not far from Betws-y-Coed. There's a fun pub crawl ride at £45 that's not to be missed.

 



Mt Snowdon district in winterIt's a surpising fact that Sir Edmund Hillary trained on Mt Snowdon for his Everest climb. At only 1085 metres, Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales and England. There are a number of tracks you can take to reach Yr Wyddfa, the summit: these include the more challenging Crib Goch route, the unusually named Pyg Track,  the Miners' Track, the track over Y Lliwedd, the Watkin Path (where scenes for Carry on Up the Kyber were filmed), and the Llanberis path, one of the longer, gentler routes.

You can also take the Snowdon Mountain Railway [Llanberis, +44 0844 4938120, Llanberis to the Summit Return Adults ₤25] to the summit – for more information on this, see our Llanberis listing. Walk Eryri, have some excellent and detailed information on each of the paths to the summit as well as information about other walks in Snowdonia.

At the summit you can relax at the new visitor centre and Snowdon Railway terminus, Hafod Eryri, which includes a cafe, toilets, and information about the mountain. The front of the centre is glass panelled so that you can aways enjoy the views and feel yn nes at y nefoedd, “nearer to Heaven”, as the end of Gynn Thomas' couplet, displayed at the entrance, proclaims.

 



Serene riverBeddgelert [pop.950] is a picturesque spot, at the confluence of the Rivers Colwyn and Glaslyn and in the midst of charming countryside. There is a fascinating, though likely fictional, story behind its name: Llywelyn the Great, the Prince of Gwynedd, came home one day to find his baby missing. The cradle was overturned and beside it was his hound Gelert with blood around his mouth. Overcome with anger, Llywelyn slew the dog, which yelped as it died. The baby then cried from underneath the cradle and Llywelyn saw the dead wolf that Gelert had killed in order to save the baby. Llywelyn buried his faithful hound, its yelps still haunting him on the breeze. The village's name means 'Gelert's Grave' and there is indeed a grave, which tourists can visit.

Sights

St Mary's Church [Church Street] stands on a site that was home to a 6th century Celtic Christian community and an Augustinian Priory in the 13th century before being destroyed by fire in the late 1200s. It was restored by Edward I.

Sygun copper mineThe Sygun Copper Mine [+44 1766 890595, £8.95] is unexpectedly beautiful. Visitors can explore the copper hued caves by themselves with audio-visual guides to learn more about the miners who worked the during the Victorian period. 

Beddgelert is a station on the Welsh Highland Railway, which runs from Caenarfon to Porthmadog.

Hire a mountain bike from Beddgerlert Bikes [+44 1766 890434, Adults 2 hours £12 per bike, check their website for further details] and explore the surrounding countryide.

 


Mountain trainBlaenaeu Ffestiniog [pop. 3,960] is situated in the very midst of Snowdonia National Park but the park’s boundaries exclude the town because of the large waste heaps of slate that dominate the area. In fact, it is sometimes called ‘the town that roofed the world’. The two factors that gave rise to this epithet are the Ffestiniog Railway and the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, which are now the town’s main tourist attractions.

Sights
The Ffestiniog Railway [+44 1766 516000, Adults return All Day Rover £19] is the oldest railway company in the world that is still operating. The railway was constructe din the 1830s to make the transportation of slate from the quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog to the harbour at Porthmadog a
 LLechwedd Slate Cavernsmore efficient process. The first carriages were pulled by horse and steam trains were not used until around the 1860s. Today the trains carry tourists through the mountainous Snowdonia National Pak to the coast.
 
Llechwedd Slate Caverns [Blaenau Ffestiniog, +44 1766 830306, Adults one tour £10, both tours £16.30] possess the steepest mining cable railway in Europe, the ‘Miners’ Tramway’. This tour and the ‘Deep Mine’ tour teach visitors about slate mining in the 19th century. Experience what it was like to work in the vast, hand-dug caverns aided only by candlelight and that only if you were lucky enough to be able to afford it. Back on the surface, there are a number of other attractions in the ‘Victorian Village’ such as a traditional pub and a sweet shop.

 

 

 


 


Porthmadog Steam TrainThe mountain Moel y Gest, with its iron age stone hillfort, rises above the town of Porthmadog [pop.3.010] on one side while others are dominated by the Glaslyn Estuary. Porthmadog is a bustling little town with interesting maritime and railway history to explore despite its relatively young age. It was named after William Madocks, who undertook an impressive series of largescale changes to the landscape. In 1811 he built the Cob, a sea wall that allowed a significant amount of land to be reclaimed and resulted in the diversion of Afon Glaslyn. This created Porthmadog's deep harbour, perfect for the large ocean-going ships that would transport slate from the area. Porthmadog is the southern terminus point for the Ffestiniog Railway (Rheilffordd Ffestiniog), which transported slate from the quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog to the port for around 100 years. Now a tourist attraction, a trip on the narrow gauge railway is a great way to be introduced to the town. There's also the Welsh Highland Railway (Rheilffordd Eryri) which runs from Caernarfon to Porthmadog. Don't confuse it with the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway [Tremadog Road, +44 1766 513402]

Ffestiniog Railway
The Ffestiniog Railway or Rheilffordd Ffestoniog [+44 1766 516000, Adults return All Day Rover £19] is the oldest railway company in the world that is still operating. The railway was specially constructed in the 1830s to make the transportation of slate from the quarries around Blaenau Ffestiniog to the harbour at Porthmadog a more efficient process. Steam trains were not used until the 1860s and the original slate laden wagons were first pulled along the rails by horses. Today the trains carry tourists rather than sheets of slate through the mountainous Snowdonia National Park to the coast.

Welsh Highland Railway
The Rheilffordd Eryri or Welsh Highland Railway [+44 1766 516000, Caernarfon to Porthmadog return ticket £32] runs from beneath the impressively robust Caernarfon Castle through the foothills of Snowdon to the village of Beddgelert. From there trains pass through the Aberglasyn Pass, often rated as one of the lovliest spots in the UK, and on to a harbourside station at Porthmadog. A return trip takes a leisurely 4 hours, making it the UK's longest heritage railway.

 


PortmeirionPortmeirion [Portmeirion, +44 1766 770000, Adults £9] is odd. A breath of the Mediterranean on the North Welsh coast, Portmeirion was designed and constructed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975. When Sir Williams-Ellis bought the land, it was in his words "a neglected wilderness - long abandoned by those romantics who had realised the unique appeal and possibilities of this favoured promontory but who had been carried away by their grandiose landscaping...into sorrowful bankruptcy."  He set about designing a village that complemented the beautiful surrounding landscape. The result is a fanciful nod to the resort villages of the Italian Rivierra, with Italianate gardens, piazzas, colannades, and the bright, sunny houses of a Portofino.

Portmeiron has inspired writers and TV producers alike. Blithe Spirit was written here by Noel Coward. A few Doctor Who episodes were filmed here for the 'Masque of the Mandragora' story. However, the village's main contingent of visitors are fans of the 60s cult TV series, The Prisoner, which was filmed here in 1966-7. There are also annual The Prisoner fan conventions held here in March/April.

The village welcomes day visitors and overnight guests, who can stay in one of the many self catering cottages, in Castell Deudraeth, or in the  Hotel Portmeirion. Visit the village website above for details or to make a booking. 

Sights
Portmeirion Castell DeudreathOpt to stay in the fantastic Castell Deudreath, a Victorian castellated mansion with Gothic and Tudor accents and modern, comfortable rooms.

PortmeiriCon is the official Prisoner Convention of Portmeirion and includes a programme of reenactments, screenings, and discussions among other othings to bring the surreal 1960s TV series, The Prisoner, back to the village for one weekend every year. 

Portmeirion's Town Hall is a pastiche of a building with an interesting history. Parts of it came from the ancient Emral Hall that was home to the Pulestons for 700 years before its demolition in the late 1930s. In particular, Sir Williams-Ellis bought parts of the ballroom which he then reconstructed in his Town Hall.

 


Harlech CastleMere months after the death of Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and the capture of his brother Dafydd in Dolwyddelan Castle that followed, work began on Harlech Castle [+44 1766 780552, Adults £3.60], one of Edward I's 'Iron Ring' of defences built to solidify his conquest of Wales. Built between 1283 and 1289, the castle is of concentric design with a very strong inner ring of walls and an imposing gatehouse on the east side of the outer walls. The castle seems to grow out of the rock and, at one point, could be entered directly from the sea.  The water line has receded now and Tremadog Bay is simply a picturesque view from the castle.

Harlech Castle courtyardHarlech Castle was involved in a number of battles. One of the most famous of these was during the War of the Roses when the castle was held under siege for seven years, the longest known in the history of the UK. This gave rise to the rousing military song “Men of Harlech” which has since entered into popular culture. A number of regiments, including the Royal Welsh, use the song as their regimental march.

 

 


Bala Lake RailwayBala [pop. 1,980] is a small market town in North Wales that was once known for its gloves, stockings, and flannel. Although the town only really consists of a main road, it heaves with tourists during the summer months. Llyn Tegid, Bala's beautiful lake, is a popular place for watersports.

Sights
Bala Lake or Llyn Tegid is the largest natural lake in Wales. It is an ideal spot for watersports such as sailing, windsurfing, and kayaking and it is home to the unique Gwyniad, a kind of herring. Bala Adventure and Watersports Centre [Bala Lake Foreshore, +44 1678 521059] are able to organize for you to try out a wide variety of sports on and around the lake.

Take in the spectacular views that the area offers from the Bala Lake Railway or Rheilffordd Llyn Tegid [+44 1678 540666, Adult single £6.50, return £9.50], a narrow gauge steam railway that runs from Llanuwchylln to Bala. The journey takes around half an hour but remember that Llanuwchylln station is the one with the facilities – i.e. refreshments, toilets, etc.

To the northeast of Bala, off the A494, is The Glassblobbery [Glanfaron, near Corwen, +44 1490 460440], a quirky place to while away an afternoon – shop for unique handmade glass sculptures or visit the workshop to watch the artisans at work. Occasionally there are talks and demonstrations [£2.50 per person] but check out the website for event details before you go.

 


Dolgellau Creggenan LakeDolgellau [pop. 2,410], pronounced 'Dol-geth-lau', is a stately little market town on the River Wnion. Surrounded by beautiful scenery and at the base of Cadair Idris, it is the perfect place for walkers, hikers, and climbers, and there are opportunities for horse-riding and white-water rafting too. There's also Coed-y-Brenin (the 'King's Wood' in Welsh) nearby which is well-known for its network of mountain bike trails.

First consistently inhabited from around the 11th century, the town was an important early centre for Quakerism and the source of many immigrants to Pennsylvania, USA. Dolgellau became prosperous through the wool trade in the 18th century and through a minor gold rush in the 1900s. In fact, the Gwynfynydd Mine, which was active from the 1860s through till 1998, was quite a prestigious mine and was the source of the kilogram of gold that was presented to the Queen on her 60th birthday.  

Sights
North of Dolgellau and near the village of Llanelltyd is the ruined Cymer Abbey [+44 1443 33 6000, free entry]. Built in 1198, it served as a Cistercian Abbey until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s. The still substantial stones form a picturesque scene amongst the fields.

At 893 metres high, Cadair Idris one of the UK most popular mountains for hiking and is usually approached from Dolgellau. The name of the mountain apparantly refers to Idris, a giant from myth who was proficient in the arts of astronomy, philosophy, and poetry. Today there is still a legend that wans any who would sleep on the slopes of the mountain alone: you will awaken as either a poet or a madman. For detailed and up to date advice on each of the trails up to the summit, visit the Snowdonia National Park website.  

Bryn Mawr Farm near Dolgellau gave its name to the prestigious college in Pennsylvania, USA. The farm was owned by Roland Ellis, one of the prime movers behind the immigration of so many local Quaker families to America. There is also Quaker Graveyard at Dolgellau and an exhibition on local Quaker history at the Tourist Information Centre. You can follow the Quaker Trail which takes in a number of sites in the area, on this website.

Head north of Dolgellau to Coed-y-Brenin [+44 1341 440742] to experience some of the UK's best mountain bike trails. Mountain Biking Wales can help you find a bike and a trail to suit your skill level [+44 1341 440747]

Sesiwn Fawr, the Big Festival, [+44 871 2301314] brings world music to Dolgellau every July.