Snowdonia, or Eryri in Welsh, is an extensive area of mountains and hills in North Wales, which are home to some of the highest, rockiest and wildest peaks in the British Isles. Originally the name Snowdonia applied only to the area immediately around Snowdon and the high mountains around it; but has since been extended to accommodate an area stretching from the Menai Straights in the north, to the Dyfi Estuary in the south; and from the Lleyn Peninsula in the West to the Berwyn Mountains in the east.
As is so often the case with Celtic names, the entomology of the word Eryri, is less than straight forward. William Camden was firm in his belief that the mountains lay covered in snow throughout the year, and that Eryri was derived from the Welsh name for snow - eira; he wrote in his encyclopaedia Britannia (1586), ”It harbours snow continually, being throughout the year covered with it, or rather with a hardened crust of snow of many years continuance. And hence the British name of Creigiau Eryri, and that of Snowdon in English”. The naturalist Edward Lhuyd (1695) was equally defiant in his own interpretation – “The British name of these mountains, Creigiau Eryri, signifies Eagle Rocks, which are generally understood by the inhabitants to be called from the eagles that bred here too plentifully”; hence the often cited ’abode of the eagles’. Alternatively, a more modern interpretation by Welsh linguist Sir Ifor Williams (1945), is that the word simply means ’highland’, after the now unused word for’ boundary’ or ‘edge’ – ‘eryr’. The word Snowdon, whatever its origin, is also very old; according to Thomas Pennant it can be found in Saxon documents written as ’Snawdune’. The name Snowdon originally referred to the whole of Caernarfonshire rather than a single mountain, and so in the days when scholars wrote in Latin, Snowdon, or rather ‘Snaudon’ would have been latinised to Snowdonia, or rather Snaudonia.
In 1951 the Snowdonia National Park (Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri in Welsh) was established, and was among the first areas in Britain to receive such a landscape designation. The Park covers an area of 2,132 km² (823 miles²) and has over 60km of coastline. It’s the largest of the Welsh national parks, and the second largest in the UK. The landscape is characterised by mountains and upland plateau, intersected by deep glacially ploughed valleys, and is home to Snowdon, or Yr Wyddfa in Welsh, the highest mountain in England and Wales. The area is home to some nine mountain ranges which cover approximately 52% of the park, much of which exceeds 3000 feet in height, including Snowdon, the Carneddau and the Glyderau.
This page takes what I hope is a pragmatic approach to describing the region. Since the park boundary is an artificial conception, the page will not constrain itself to merely describing what falls within its defined area, but instead will also describe everything that overlaps or falls just outside that area – essentially everything that can be said to belong to the region now known as Snowdonia.
Snowdonia has some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Britain, which stretches from the Carneddau in the north to the Tarrenydd in the south. In all there are over 90 summits within the park boundary over 2,000ft, 15 of which exceed 3,000ft. Snowdonia can, and probably should, be split down into two separate sub-areas, which would be better aligned with the historic view of the region. The northern part, the part traditionally called Snowdonia, is known as Eryri (which if you were paying attention earlier is the Welsh name for Snowdonia); while the southern, much larger part of the region, is known as Meirionnydd. The areas are closely related, and many would argue over their true dimensions and where the boundary between them actually lies. For the purpose of this page, and for the sake of simplicity and continuity, I will take the approach used by the majority of guidebooks.
Essentially, Eryri roughly covers the area of the old county of Caernarvonshire and parts of the county of Conwy. It‘s home to Snowdonia’s highest, rockiest and arguably most spectacular mountain scenery, encompassing the Carneddau, Glyderau, Eifionydd and Snowdon ranges. It is characterised by many spectacular crags, buttresses, ridges and arêtes, and has been a magnet for rock climbers since the late 19th century.
Meirionnydd covers the area of the old county, and even older kingdom, which give the area its name. The area is home to the Moelwynion, Berwynion, Yr Aran, Arenigs, Rhinogydd, Tarrenydd, Dyfi Hills and Cadair Idris. With the exception of Cadair Idris, its mountains are more rounded and less rocky in appearance. They are often much wilder and less visited than their northern counterparts, and offer an atmosphere quite unique to anywhere else in Britain. Furthermore, the eastern mountains, such as the Arans and Berwynion, often boast the most reliable winter conditions, and are a good alternative to the usual northern venues when conditions are more marginal.
Although the area is famous for its mountains, it's also home to a wide variety of other fine natural and semi-natural environments. The valley floors and lower mountain slopes have been shaped by pastoral farming practices, which have been the principle industry in the area since before the arrival of the Romans. Even during the industrial revolution, when the mineral mining and slate quarrying industries where at their height, the farmers remained on the mountains, and they still remain there today. This farmland is intersected by plantations of both deciduous and coniferous woodland; the coniferous plantations are a late addition to the landscape, a product of post war economic regeneration. In some areas, remnants of the ancient woodland which once covered the whole of Wales still survive, and contain a mixture of oak, birch, ash, mountain-ash and hazel. The Park’s coastline is characterised by long sandy beaches and dune slack, the product of long-shore drift, which carries sand and gravel from the northern shores of Pembrokeshire to the southern shores of the Lleyn Peninsula.
The primary attraction that draws people to the National Park is its mountains and Snowdonia is home to many beautiful ranges, each with their own individual character and charm. The park contains a wide diversity of mountain types from the steep and rocky ridges and arêtes of Snowdon and the Glyderau to the rolling heather clad hills of the Rhinogydd. There are also large areas that are relatively flat, including the remote Migneint Plateau and the bogs and marshes that surround the Arenig Mountains.
|Snowdon Group |
More of a range than a single mountain, Snowdon (1085m) is host to several subsidiary peaks including Crib Goch (923m), Y Lliwedd (898m), Garnedd Ugain (1065m) and Yr Aran (747m). The main summit is located in the centre of the range and radiates six fabulous arêtes, each separated by deep Cwms and beautifully clear glacially carved lakes. The range has some of the finest climbing, scrambling, and hiking in the whole of Britain and is home to the UK’s most iconic mountain crags, including Clogwyn Du’r Arddy, Dinas Mot and the aforementioned Lliwedd.
Its beauty and fame make it one of the busiest mountains in the UK, each year around 350,000 visitors reach the summit, arriving either on foot or via the Snowdon Mountain Railway. There are many routes to Snowdon's summit, and range in difficulty from easy plods through to fun scrambles and challenging multi-pitch climbs. The most traveled route is probably the Llanberis Path, which is usually teeming with tourists, however much quieter ascents can be found notably from Cwm Glas Mawr or Cwm Llan.
| Carneddau |
The Carneddau are located in the far north-eastern part Snowdonia. The range is the largest area of high ground in England and Wales comprising of some seven summits over 3000 feet in height. These include Carnedd Llewelyn (1064m), Carnedd Dafydd (1044m) Pen yr Ole Wen (978m), Foel Grach (976m) and Yr Elen (962m). The range comprises a long mountain ridge with surrounding grass and moorland, and a number of beautiful valleys providing excellent hillwalking, rock climbing, winter climbing and ski touring. Llech Ddu and Ysgolion Duon, which are large remote cliffs on the northern side of Carnedd Llywelyn are particularly important as both summer and winter climbing venues.
The Carneddau are typical of British uplands comprising rolling hills, craggy in some places, soft and rounded in others covered in rock, heather and grassland and are populated with welsh mountain sheep, wild ponies, buzzards and other birds of prey, foxes, rabbits, hares, stoats and adders.
| Glyderau |
The Glyderau comprise a large elongated upland plateau stretching from Mynydd Llandegai to Capel Curig, and include five of Wales' fifteen summits over 3000 feet. The eastern half of the range is particularly popular and, includes the summits of Glyder Fawr (999m), Glyder Fach (994m), Y Garn (947m), Elidr Fawr (924m) and Tryfan (915m).
Perhaps the most spectacular mountain of the range is the aforementioned Tryfan; its distinctive rocky, blade-like shape dominates the view from Nant Francon and from every direction it shows off nothing but steep crags and striking ridges. It is said that it is impossible to climb this mountain without using ones hands.
The range is also home to Cwm Idwal, one of Wales’ best winter climbing scenes. It’s an archetypal winter venue, having a northerly aspect, high altitude and plenty of moisture. The cliffs of Clogwyn y Geifr have an almost unlimited number of classic lines.
| Eifionydd |
These mountains are located to the west of Snowdon and are some of the least visited summits within the National Park. The main part of the range is centred around the Nantlle Ridge, which when traversed is one of the best ridge walks in Britain. The range's highest peak however, is located just to the south, in the form of Moel Hebog (783m). It’s an oft-ignored little mountain, but offers superb views of Snowdonia and the Lleyn Peninsula.
Those looking for something to climb will find the range’s best offerings on it’s northern and southern margins. In the Nantlle Valley, Craig Cwm Silyn and Craig y Bera offer some great, long traditional routes in a wild and wonderful setting. At the opposite side of the range lies one of Wales’ most famous climbing venues, Tremadog, home to some absolutely superb routes of various lengths. Tremadog benefits from a comparably favourable climate and is a popular choice with visitor and local alike when conditions in the Pass are on the wrong side of harrowing.
| Moelwynion |
The Moelwynion are the central mountain range of Snowdonia, the backbone if you will, and extend in a north easterly direction from Porthmadog to Bwlch y Rhediad. The landscape varies from rocky pyramidal peaks to remote wilderness, littered with the scars of the industrial revolution. Many disused quarries and ruins associated with the former slate mining industry still remain largely intact. During the Second World War, the range's slate caverns were used to house Britain's important works of art, safe from the German bombs that threatened the countries largely city based galleries. The main summits are Moel Siabod (872m), Moelwyn Mawr (770m), Moelwyn Bach (710m) and Cnicht (689m), however many will find delight in exploring the ranges less precipitous regions.
For the rock climber, much interest can be found in the crags above Tanygrisiau which consist of a highly intriguing pocketed quartzite rock. It’s also a great place to visit if you want to avoid the crowds of the Pass and the Ogwen Valley.
| Arenigs |
One of the wilder parts of Wales, the Arenigs comprise of three main peaks Arenig Fawr (854m), Arenig Bach (689m) and Moel Llyfnant (751m). The mountains rise steeply from the relatively subdued surrounding countryside which is made up of a mixture of rough moorland and blancket bog.
The only mountain frequently visited in the area is Arenig Fawr itelf, with the most popular route only taking in the northerly part of the mountain. At the summit is a trig point and a memorial to the US air-crew of a Flying Fortress bomber which crashed on Arenig Fawr in 1943 with the loss of all crew. Moel Llyfnant and Arenig Bach are rarely visited, however their rolling slopes are not without interest.
| Yr Aran |
Yr Aran is the most easterly mountain range in the National Park. The range comprises of a long broad ridge running from the shores of Llyn Tegid in the north to Dinas Mawddwy in the south. The main peaks are Aran Fawddwy (905m), Aran Benllyn (885m) and Glasgwm (780m). The crags of Craig Cywarch, the imposing series of buttresses on the eastern flank of Glasgwm are home to the greatest density of technical rock climbs in southern Snowdonia, and although rarely visited it sport some fantastic routes.
There are numerous routes up the mountains, with the most popular starting in Cwm Cywarch. On the ridge that connects Aran Fawddwy to Drysgol there is a Monument to a man from the RAF Mountain Rescue Service who was tragically killed by lightening in 1960.
| Rhinogydd |
The Rhinogydd or Rhinog area is one of Wales' wildest and least visited mountain ranges. The range stretches some 20 km from north to south with the highest peaks found in the southern half of the range. The mountains from which the range takes its name, Rhinog Fawr (720m) and Rhinog Fach (712m), are not in fact the highest, as to the south Y Llethr reaches 756m and Diffwys reaches 750m. Despite their marginally lower height, by far the most spectacular peaks are Rhinog Fach, and Rhinog Fawr. The summits are quite rocky and afford excellent views of the whole range.
The northern half of the range is characterised by a series of rocky, heather clad terraces, intersected by a series of shallow gorges and small lakes. The highest points in the northern half are Moel Ysgyfarnod (623m) and Foel Penolau (614m).
Rock climbing was a relative late comer to the range, however, today a large number of crags have been developed. The climbing is unusual because it mostly takes place on short gritstone crags, which have more in common with the Peak than Snowdonia. They are also, by and large, quite difficult to get to, and thus, one can walk or climb in the Rhinogydd without seeing a single other soul, something quite rare in the context of this National Park.
| Rhobell Group |
The area around Rhobell Fawr (734m) is surrounded by a number of lesser tops including Rhobell Ganol (510m) and Drosgl (662m). Rarely visited, the area has few paths and is characterised by thick heather, scattered crags and boulders. Although unremarkable in their shape and stature the mountains in this area are in the unique position of being able to offer views of the whole of Snowdonia. Furthermore, they offer solitude where others offer crowds and are a worthwhile objective for those with an affection for isolation.
| Cadair Idris |
Often mistaken as being a single mountain, Cadair Idris is in fact a large plateau topped by several minor summits including Pen y Gadair (893m) and Mynydd Moel (863m). The range displays some magnificent glacially carved cwms, flanked by steep cliffs that are popular with both scramblers and climbers. Pen y Gadair's summit has a small stone shelter that can be overnighted in if necessity dictates, but beware, legend has it that anyone who spends the night alone on the summit will become either a poet, go blind or die by the morning.
Cadair Idris boasts some of the highest, steepest cliffs south of Snowdon and consequently is home to a number of good quality, long routes. Craig Cau and Cyfrwy are the best and most popular of these and are home to a number of classic routes.
| Tarennydd |
The most southerly range in Snowdonia the Tarennydd or Tarrens consist of a series of rounded grassy hills connected by a series of broad ridges. In the northern part of the range, much of the land has been planted with coniferous forest with the peaks protruding above the tree line. The main mountains are Tarren y Gesail (667m), Tarrenhendre (633m) and Tarren Cwm Ffernol (544m) and the ridge walk between them makes for a fine day hike. Dotted sporadically throughout the area are a number of small quarries which are home to some short rock routes, however these days they are mostly too overgrown to bother with. For the rock climber therefore, the range’s real interest can be found in the depths of the Dysynni Valley in the form of Craig yr Adyeryn, or Bird Rock as it is often known by the English. This roadside crag is home to some of the best and most easily accessible traditional climbs in Meirionnydd and is made even more appealing by its unquestionably idyllic situation and surroundings.
| Dyfi |
The Dyfi Hills are a series of grassy hills flanked by a series of steep rocky cliffs on their northern slopes. Like the Tarennydd, which are located to the south west, much of the area is covered by coniferous forest. The main summits are Maen Du (674m), Waun Oer (670m) and Cribin Fawr (659m).
| Berwynion |
Although strictly speaking the bulk of the Berwynion are located outside the National Park’s boundary, many of its lower peaks are, and Snowdonia does make an excellent base to visit them from. The mountains consist of an isolated ridge which stretches in a north-south direction and is home to three major summits, Cadair Bronwen (785m), Cadair Berwyn (830m), and Moel Sych (827m).
Obviously, for us here on SummitPost, the mountains themselves are the most important aspect of the Snowdonia National Park. The area is home to many famous and iconic British peaks including such attractions as Snowdon, Tryfan and Cadair Idris, which have been the playground of many great climbers including O.G. Jones, George Mallory, Edmund Hillary, Don Whillans and Joe Brown to name but a few. This table takes a pragmatic view towards listing Snowdonia's peaks by not only including those that fall within the park boundary, but also those which fall just outside. Okay a quick explanation about what qualities made these summits eligible to be in list - to put it simply they must qualify to be on at least one of the UK’s official mountain lists; any of them. Now I’m sure some of SummitPost’s international members, and probably a good number of British ones, will be scratching their heads and wondering what the hell some of these lists mean (Buxton & Lewis anyone!?!). Well I’m not going to tell you, there just isn’t room here to explain, however, if you really want to know, here are some links to some relevant pages, several of which are already here on SP – Hewitt, Nuttall, Marilyn, Buxton & Lewis and Dewey.
Finally, the following table only lists Snowdonia’s 3,000+ ft mountains, for a full list of the areas peaks and pinnacles check out the following link:
|Rank||Photo||Name||M||Ft||Range||Sheet 1:25k||Sheet 1:50k||Grid Ref||Map 1:25k||Map 1:50k||Ma||SM||H||SH||N||BL||D|
|2.||Garnedd Ugain/Crib y Ddysgl||1065||3494||Snowdon||17W||115||SH610551|
|7.||Pen yr Ole Wen||978||3209||Carneddau||17W||115||SH655619|
This section has the potential to be absolutely massive as there is almost no end to the fun that can be had in these mountains. However, in order to keep this page from becoming a never-ending scrollable mess, I’ll try and keep this brief and focus only on the activities that will most interest SummitPost users (hopefully). Also, there is no way that this can even hope to be a comprehensive guide to all that is available, therefore it will only give a flavour of the best the area has to offer. So without further ado, I introduce to you hiking, scrambling, rock climbing, winter climbing, bouldering and mountaineering in Snowdonia.
Hiking has a long tradition in Snowdonia and most visitors to area will have engaged in one form of hiking or another, whether it be a valley stroll taken by the casual tourist, a multi-day backpacking expedition or an approach to a remote rock climb. Hiking in the loosest sense of the word, has in all likelihood been practiced since people first began to call the valleys and forests of the area home thousands of years ago; but it wasn’t until the 18th century that visitors really began to arrive in the area for the sole purpose of leisure. Young wealthy gentlemen would come and visit the area as part of their Grand Tour, a practice which grew in popularity in the latter part of the century when war and revolution barred their access to the continent. Although many would make a token ascent of Snowdon or Cadair Idris, most didn’t see the need. For the children of the Romantic Movement viewing the landscape from the valley floors was enough. Today hikers in their thousands descend on the area every summer, attracted by its spectacular scenery, rich history and distinctive cultural identity.
It would be impractical, nay impossible, to even attempt to describe all the area has to offer in a section such as this. It would even be impossible to give an adequate summary of the area’s very best hikes; after all there are multi-volume books which attempt this, and even the authors of those would admit that they can only hope to share with you the very tip of the proverbial iceberg.
This leaves a conundrum regarding the direction of this section, so first of all a suggestion, and this might seem obvious – take a look at the Area/Range and Mountain/Rock pages attached to this page. All have information on routes, and most have their own route pages attached to them. Each range or area has its own unique blend of characteristics which combined create any number of distinct personalities. A hike in one range can provide a completely different experience to hiking in another, even if they are in reality, only a few kilometres apart.
Secondly, I’d like to make a personal recommendation. Most people coming to the area will be familiar with, or at least heard of, the larger ranges such as Snowdon, the Glyderau and the Carneddau, as well as the area’s other more popular areas. But few ever pay attention to those ranges south of this main group, the ranges of Meirionnydd, which is a shame, since among these are the Rhinogydd, which in this authors opinion at least, are without equal when it comes to opportunities for hiking. While unable to match their northern counterparts in terms of scale, these little mountains more than match them in sheer ruggedness, quiet wilderness and raw atmosphere. The range’s summits are interesting enough, but the most satisfying and remarkable hikes can only be found by straying from the obvious paths and into the heather-clad terraces and hidden valleys to their north.
Thirdly you could just ignore all this, buy a map (or don’t!), and just head for Snowdonia with the intention of exploring somewhere not mentioned in any of these pages, the guidebooks or at the tourist information office; for this way, you will be sure to stumble upon one of the small, hidden or obscure treasures this area has to offer, and that few have ever seen.
Attempting to trace the origins of scrambling in Snowdonia is probably a futile exercise since it’s likely that the sport has been practiced, in some form of other, for as long as people have called the areas home. The area did however, give Britain its scrambling grading system, which was devised by Steve Asherton for his guidebook Scrambles in Snowdonia, a which is still the difinitive guide to scrambling in the area. An explanation of how the system works can be found on Summitpost’s Ben Nevis page.
There are too many routes to describe adequately here, so I will limit myself to describing some of the must-do classics which should be on every visiting scramblers wish list. Without question, the Snowdon Horseshoe is the most well known route in Wales, and deservedly so, as it has some of the most enjoyable, atmospheric and spectacular easy scrambling anywhere in Britain. The route circumnavigates Snowdon’s biggest lakes, Llyn Llydaw and Glaslyn, taking the scrambler along the knife-edge arête of Crib Goch, onto Crib Y Ddisgyl and then the mountain’s summit itself, before descending into Bwlch y Saethau, and a traverse of Y Lliwedd. Perhaps the only thing that detracts from the experience is the route’s popularity, which considering its quality, is only to be expected.
The second must-do route definitely worth mentioning is the Bochlwyd Horseshoe, a route that easily matches its quality of its neighbour on Snowdon. The route combines four superb easy scrambles and visits two of the Glyderau’s best summits, Tryfan and Glyder Fach. The routes highlights include ascents of Tryfan’s North Ridge and Glyder Fach’s Bristly Ridge, which are worthwhile outings in their own right.
Snowdonia is also home to a number of harder scrambles, but here the definitions of what constitutes a scramble and what constitutes a rock climb blur, with routes potentially falling into both categories. Of particular note is the Clogwyn y Person Arête on Snowdon, a grade 2/3 scramble with plenty of exposure and bags of atmosphere. The route can be combined with a traverse of Crib Goch or Y Lliwedd to create a harder variation of the Snowdon Horseshoe. Then there’s the Cneifion Arête in the northern Glyderau, a long ridge climb with an Alpine feel. Again the route can be combined with a selection of other routes to create an even longer more enjoyable experience. The route is considered to be either a Grade 3 scramble or a Moderate technical rock climb, which brings us nicely to the start of our next section…
Rock climbing came early to Snowdonia, and the area can boast the first recorded rock climb in Britain which took place on Snowdon in 1798, impressively on ‘the most formidable rock face in Snowdonia’ – Clogwyn Du’r Arddu, which lies a mile northwest of the summit. The ascent was made by Rev. William Bingley and his friend Rev. Peter Williams, who were familiar with the area having made a number of mountain expeditions to Snowdonia in search for botanical specimens. On this occasion they were studying the flora at the base of Cloggy and decided to search the cliff for more specimens; Bingley’s description of their climb (which can be read on SummitPost’s Snowdon page) indicates that they ascended via the crags East Terrace.
In the late 19th century Welsh climbing grew up and matured among the mountains and crags of northern Snowdonia. It was a golden age for climbing in Great Britain; the Scottish Mountaineering Club had been established in Glasgow; the Fell and Rock Climbing Club were exploring the mountains of the Lake District; and the Pen y Gwryd and later Pen y Pass Parties were pushing the limits of technical rock climbing on the precipitous faces of Y Lliwedd, Clogwyn Du’r Arddu and the Devil’s Kitchen.
These days, Snowdonia as a climbing venue is extraordinarily well developed, with crags and routes to suit all types of climber. The vast majority of crags are entirely given over to traditional climbing and no bolting is allowed whatsoever, those abusing this simple rule will likely incur the wrath of the British Mountaineering Council, the Countryside Council for Wales, the entire Welsh climbing community, and if you’re particularly unlucky, a heavily armed farmer. I know the Americans and Europeans out there seem to love bolting everything, but over here it’s just not acceptable, I really can’t stress this enough. There are certain locations where sports routes do exist, and where, with the permission of the first ascentionist, bolting is allowed. The vast majority of these are located on Snowdonia’s old slate quarries such as the Dinorwig Quarry near Llanberis. It’s best to check the guidebooks before heading to these locations, particularly if you intend to add new bolts, as the existence of a quarried rock face does not necessarily equate to a permissible bolting policy.
Eryri remains to be the most popular destination for rock climbers; it’s home to the highest crags, the cleanest rock and has the best transport links. Many novice climbers will have cut their multi-pitch teeth on one of the many, now classic routes of the Idwal Slabs in the Glyderau or on one of the many south facing valley side crags of Llanberis Pass. Clogwyn Du’r Arddu, one of Snowdon’s more imposing cliff faces, is well know for the quality of its rock, and is considered to be something of a climber’s paradise. British climber Leo Houlding called it “the best crag in the world”, and such is its fame that it rightfully deserves a special place in the history of Welsh climbing, having been explored by many of its great characters. Affectionately known as ‘Cloggy‘, so numerous are the routes that the Climbers Club have produced a guidebook solely for this outcrop, with bona fide classics in just about every grade.
When the weather’s poor, which it often is, the area’s valley crags offer a good alternative to a day of suffering on the high mountains. Craig Bwlch y Moch and Craig Pant Ifan near Tremadog offer such an alternative. Located on an old sea cliff on the now drained Glaslyn Estuary, the crags are sheltered, close to the road and close to Eric’s Café – a café owned by Eric Jones who is famous for, amongst other things, soloing the North Face of the Eiger. The crag has many classic climbs including Christmas Curry (Severe), One Step in The Clouds (Very Severe 4c), The Plum (E1 5b), Joe Brown's Vector (E2 5c), Void (E3 6a), Zukator (E4 6a) and of course the very serious Strawberries (E7 6b) and Dream Topping (E7 6c).
Climbing in Meirionnydd is a much wilder affair. On the whole, with perhaps the exception of Cadair Idris, the crags are smaller, remoter and ‘veggier’ in nature, and are consequently much less visited than their northern neighbours. Early visitors to Meirionnydd were primarily drawn to Cadair Idris, and the mountain is home to a number of classic routes dating from that era including the Cyfrwy Arête (Very Difficult) on the mountain’s northern flanks and The Pencoed Pillar (Severe) in Cwm Cau. The second nameable venue is Craig Cywarch in the Yr Aran, which has the highest density of technical climbs in southern Snowdonia. Classics include Will o’ the Wisp (Hard Very Difficult), Doom (Very Severe 4b) and Acheron (Hard Very Severe 5a).
Climbing in Meirionnydd is more susceptible to bad weather than elsewhere in Snowdonia, as by the nature of its geology, the crags tend to hold onto moisture for far longer than seems reasonable. This, coupled by their generally vegetative nature, can create some unpleasant, if not downright dangerous, climbing conditions. However, a scattering of small or low lying crags, as well as a few bolted slate quarries, provide a good alternative if poor weather conditions prevail. The best of these is probably Craig yr Aderyn in the Dysynni Valley, a delightful mini-mountain with a precipitous north face that would be the envy of a peak ten times its size. It has a good mix of easy, moderate and hard single and multi-pitch routes, which take place on mostly clean rock which affords good protection. The crag is also one of the few in Snowdonia subject to seasonal restrictions, which are explained in greater detail in the Red Tape section.
No guide to Snowdonia’s climbing would be complete without mentioning some of the coastal crags that dot its periphery. These include locations on the Lleyn Peninsula, Llandudno and Gograth. Gogarth, although not technically in Snowdonia, is well worth mentioning as it’s considered by many climbers to be the premier rock climbing venue in North Wales. A series of sea cliffs located on the island of Holyhead, it sports a large number of bold, sparsely protected routes, sometimes on suspect rock, which require the climber to not only be a highly competent leader, but also to have a cool head. Despite the area’s difficulties it’s home to some of the all-time classic British routes, such as The Cad (E6 6a), A Dream of White Horses (Hard Very Severe 4c), and Mousetrap (E2 5a).
If you’re looking for good, reliable, winter conditions, then look elsewhere; you’re not going to find them here. On the other hand, if you happen to be visiting the area for other reasons, and it also happens to be winter, then pack your winter gear anyway, because there’s always a chance that you might get lucky. And if you do, what a glorious day that will be! As you would expect the best climbing is on the northern aspects of the highest mountains, where the altitude and shade combine to create the most reliable conditions. Welsh winter climbs are graded using the Scottish system, an explanation of which can be found of Summitpost’s Ben Nevis page.
Naturally, Snowdon has its fair share of winter routes, some of which could be described as little classics. The most often climbed is probably a completion of the Snowdon Horseshoe, which when in season, becomes a fantastic grade I/II snow and ice climb among spectacular surroundings. Another easy route well worth considering is Central Trinity Gully, a 3 pitch grade I/II sow climb which runs the entire length of Clogwyn y Garnedd. The route is rightly popular, so an early start is recommended in order to beat the crowds.
Providing its cold enough, some of the mountain’s waterfalls freeze enough to be climbable. In the event of am exceptionally cold spell, or impending ice age, Craig y Rhaeadr in Llanberis Pass gets transformed into a veritable mesh of ice-falls. The ice creates a number of fine routes including Central Ice-Fall Direct (VI) and Cascade (V), each of which rise over 100m up the mountainside.
The northern cirques of the Glyderau also provide several lines worthy of note. In fact, Cwm Idwal is the birthplace of Welsh Winter climbing, when in 1895 J.M. Archer Thompson scaled the cascade of ice and snow that tumbled forth down the rear of the Devil's Kitchen. Owing to their northerly aspect the steep, sheltered cliff faces are able to hold snow and ice long after the accumulations on neighbouring larger mountains have withered and gone. This is an all essences, the heart of Welsh Winter climbing. Although there are climbs on all the major peaks, the greatest density are located around the northern cliffs of Glyder Fawr, with each of its glacially carved corries and hanging valleys holding an array of lines - which in all fairness vary in quality significantly. Among the best and most popular are Left Hand Branch (IV 120m) on Clogwyn Ddu, and South Gully (IV 140m) on Clogwyn y Geifr, also known as The Devil's Kitchen Cliff.
Meirionnydd’s ranges provide less reliable conditions; however there are lines established on most of its mountains. The Western ranges, such as the Rhinogydd are probably not worth bothering with, as their proximity to the sea renders them wholly unaccommodating when it comes to ice and snow. The same would be true for Cadair Idris, if it were not for its superior height, and Barn Door (III, 4) and One Pitch Gully (I/II) on the Cyfrwy Arête are probably well worth mentioning. Further afield, Yr Aran may offer something in terms of winter climbing, but their generally rounded character means that this is largely restricted to the areas around Creiglyn Dyfi and Llyn Lliwbran.
Although bouldering, in some form or other, has probably taken place for as long as people have had rocks to climb on, the practice wasn’t documented until much more recently. According to John Gill, credited by many to be the father of modern bouldering, bouldering as a sport, as a method of preparing for longer climbs, began in Great Britain in the 1880s and was championed by one Oscar Eckenstein (1859 – 1921) - ”a short but sturdily built gymnastic climber capable of one-arm pull-ups”. Scholars of early British climbing will know of Eckenstein as an English rock-climber and mountaineer, and a contemporary of Aleister Crowley, G. W. Young, J. M. Archer Thomson, O. G. Jones and George and Ashley Abraham.
A railway engineer by profession, his combined appeal for mathematical and scientific work, his very precise nature, his love of climbing and his gymnastic talent may well have drawn him to focus on what would have seemed to be an unusual amount of his time climbing on boulders. He spent hours exploring and perfecting technique which he would later transfer to his longer climbs. Although he climbed in the Alps, Karakoram, Himalaya, Mexico and all over the British Isles, he spent most of his Alpine career climbing in North Wales with his friends Crowley, Young and Archer Thompson. It was here, on the boulders of Llanberis Pass, that he first practiced the sport. It seems that he loved the concept of bouldering, and enjoyed the sort of strenuous play that would become popular fifty or sixty years later. He may well have been the first climber to appreciate bouldering for its own sake.
If you, like Eckenstein, have a love for the delicate and intricate art of bouldering then Snowdonia still has much to offer. Unfortunately, as bouldering has become more popular in the UK, the incidents of vandalism and littering have also become more common. Anyone who has climbed in the Pennines or the Peak District will know of the damage careless and irresponsible people have done to some of the more popular crags. Luckily the worst antics of England are yet to make their way to North Wales; so for the sake of everyone’s enjoyment, the environment and future access I ask you to follow the following 10 Commandments set out in Bowldro Gogledd Cymru/North Wales Bouldering (2004):
The area is now well explored and is known to have some of the finest bouldering in Britain. Of particular note are the Cromlech Boulders located high in the upper reaches of Llanberis Pass. With easy access and a massive density of quality problems ranging from V0- to V11, the area is rightfully popular and is definitely worth visiting by anyone – from novices to experts. It is fortunate that the boulders exist at all, as on the 6th of December 1973 they were within an hour or two of being blown up by the Gwynedd County Surveyor’s men for road widening purposes. Luckily for us, locals, climbers, historians, conservationists, geologists and ordinary people from all over Britain, had been campaigning diligently for the boulders to be saved, and at the 11th hour they were, through a direction from the then Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Thomas.
Other highlights such as the Clogwyn Bwthyn Idwal, The Orion Boulder and Gallt yr Ogof can be found in the Ogwen Valley; and in the Capel Curig area, the Plas y Brenin Boulder, Mallory Boulder and RAC Boulders add further interest to the area. The RAC Boulders are of particular note as they offer a good range of fun mid-grade problems away from the crowds that often plague the Cromlech Boulders. Another plus point for the RAC Boulders is that they are located in a nice little sun-trap, making them ideal for winter bouldering or when the sun has set over the generally sheltered and cold recesses of Llanberis Pass.
Bouldering in southern Snowdonia is less well documented however there are limited opportunities at locations such as Craig Cywarch and Craig yr Aderyn where small crags and pinnacles intersect the main rock faces. One site of particular note is Cae Du, a short section of coastal crag on the Meirionnydd coast between Fairbourne and Aberdyfi. The crags have some of the best bouldering in Snowdonia, and if it weren’t for their relative isolation from the area’s main climbing venues, they would surely be crawling with eager boulderers. As things stand though they are rarely visited, and instead offer a beautiful and tranquil location to while the afternoon away. It’s important to note that the crags are tidal, so if you do plan to head there be sure to check the tide timetables first.
There are literally thousands of lakes and ponds in and around the Snowdonia National Park, over a hundred of which are more than an acre in size. To describe them all would take an eternity, so this section will just give a quick overview of some of the most interesting ones. Lakes form an integral component of the park's landscape and have long been praised for their visual and aesthetic beauty. In 1862 George Borrow had this to say of the view from Snowdon:
"There we stood on the Wyddfa, in a cold bracing atmosphere... enjoying a scene inexpressibly grand, comprehending a considerable part of the mainland of Wales, the whole of Anglesey, a faint glimpse of part of Cumberland; the Irish Channel, and what might be either a misty creation or the shadowy outline of the hills of Ireland. Peaks and pinnacles and huge moels stood up here and there, about us and below us, partly in glorious light, partly in deep shade. Manifold were the objects which we saw from the brow of Snowdon, but of all the objects which we saw, those which filled us with delight and admiration, were numerous lakes and lagoons, which, like sheets of ice or polished silver, lay reflecting the rays of the sun in the deep valleys at his feet."
Now you may be wondering what lakes Geraldus Cambrensis was describing when wrote about floating islands and one-eyed fish; as it happens both tales are founded in some truth. The floating island belongs to Llyn Dywarchen which sits between Y Garn and Mynydd Mawr in the Eifionydd (not to be confused with a second Llyn Dywarchen in the Rhinogydd). Geraldus and his party would have passed the lake on the way to Caernarfon while enlisting men for Third Crusade, and one can only imagine their surprise at seeing such a spectacle. The 'island' was in fact a large slab of peat, which had detached itself from the bottom of the lake and floated to the surface. Although it no longer exists, it was a point of interest for hundreds of years and in 1698 even attracted the attention of astronomer Edmund Halley (he of comet fame), who swam out to the island to satisfy himself that it really did float. The second lake is less obvious, and Geraldus was almost certainly exaggerating when he claimed that all the fish had only one eye. The most likely explanation is that he was describing the lamprey (sometimes known as lamprey eel), a kind of jawless fish (Agnatha) with a toothed, funnel-like sucking mouth. A number of subspecies occupy Snowdonia's lakes and rivers including Lamprey Sp. (Lampetra), Brook Lamprey (Lampetra planeri), Lampern (Lampetra fluviatilis) and Sea Lamprey (Petromyzon marinus). The fact that they are quite common throughout the area makes it extremely difficult to identify which lake Geraldus was refereeing to. I certainly won't be hazarding a guess, although it is likely to be one that was on the route he and his party travelled by on their way through Snowdonia.
The largest natural lake in the area, and one which historically has received considerable attention, is Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake in English), which at its maximum extent it is 6.4km (4 miles) long and 1.6km (1 mile) wide, making it the largest natural body of water in Wales. The lake is an important international conservation site (it has both SAC Ramsar designations), teeming with aquatic life and has abundance of pike, European perch, trout, eel, and uniquely to Snowdonia, the Gwyniad. The Gwyniad (Coregonus lavaretus) is a type of freshwater whitefish, a relic of the last ice age, and geographically isolated from its parent species - the common whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus). The 18th century botanist Thomas Pennant said this of the lake's fish:
”...Its fish are pike, perch, trout, a few roach, and abundance of eels; and shoals of that Alpine fish, the Gwyniad which spawn in December and are taken in great numbers in spring and summer. Pike have been caught here of twenty-five pounds weight, a trout of twenty-two, a perch of ten and a gwyniad of five”
Pennant was probably another given over to over-exaggeration, since if he is to be believed, a ten pound perch would be a British record! Lying about the size of ones catch is clearly a timeless phenomenon among fish enthusiasts. The lake also contains the very rare mollusc Myxas glutinosa - the Glutinous snail. According to legend the lake is inhabited by a monster known affectionately as Teggie, typically it’s likened to a crocodile or small plesiosaur, and there have been many reported 'sightings', most of them since the 1920’s.
If Geraldus and Pennant were fond of telling a tall tale or two, their efforts were nothing when compared to Snowdonia's traditional folk tales originally passed down orally from generation to generation. It seems that every cave has a hidden treasure, every burial mound a horde of fairies (or Tylwyth Teg as they are known in Welsh) and every lake a monster. Glaslyn on Snowdon has its fair share of legends. The lake, originally named Llyn y Ffynnon Las (The Lake of the Green Well), has a sinister reputation; it's thought to be the abode of demons, be bottomless, have no fish, never freeze (it does though) and no birds fly across is waters.
According to various stories, any living creature brave enough to enter Glaslyn will swiftly succumb to a grizzly fate at the hands (or possibly tentacles) of a terrible monster. The monster, or so the legend goes, is the infamous Afanc, which originally lived in Llyn-yr-Afanc in the Conwy Valley. The Afanc was the scourge of the villagers who lived nearby, largely thanks to the creature’s irritating fondness of flooding the valley and destroying everything. One day the villagers, by now thoroughly fed up with having their livestock drowned and their crops washed away, held a meeting to try and work out what the best way of dealing with their monster problem was. After much deliberation, scratching of heads and arguing, it was decided that brute force just wouldn't work, and that the Afanc would have to be somehow enticed out of his pool and removed to a lake far away in the mountains, where he could cause no further trouble. For some reason Llyn y Ffynnon Las was chosen as the most suitable candidate for the monster's new home, and preparations were made straight away for his transportation. Naturally, the finest blacksmith in the land was hired to forge the strong iron chains that would bind and secure the Afanc, and Hu Gardan and his two long-horned oxen, which were of course the mightiest oxen in Wales, were sent for to come to Betws-y-coed in order to transport the thing.
Of course the Afanc still needed to be captured; luckily, like many other ugly great monsters, the Afanc had a thing for pretty young women... well who doesn't? The daughter of a local farmer volunteered to act as bait and entice the monster out of the water, and so the girl approached the Afanc's lake while her father and the rest of the men remained hidden a short distance away. At this point you have to wonder what sort of father lets his daughter do this kind of thing; I guess he just loved his cows more than his children. Standing on the shore she called softly to the Afanc, and like a prize chump he popped his ugly head out of the water and swam towards the girl. Faced with this potentially fatal situation, she could be forgiven for making a run for it, cursing her father for being a truly dreadful parent, leaving the hapless villagers to their fate and moving to a town where the locals didn't think so little of her as to use her as monster bait; instead though, she sang a lullaby. Most people might consider this a risky strategy, but the trick seemed to work and as the Afanc crawled out of the water, he became hypnotised by the sweet song and fell asleep.
The girl signalled to her father and his mates, who were still hiding in the bushes, and so they set about the task of binding the Afanc in the iron chains. The men had only just managed to finish the job when the monster awoke, and was understandably furious about being enticed out of the lake by the promise of a beautiful girl, put to sleep, and bound in chains; the whole event now sounding increasingly like some sort of stag do. The creature thrashed and roared and smashed and flailed and was able to slide back into the water. Fortunately the chains had already been hitched to the oxen, and the Afanc was slowly dragged out of the lake. It would have seemed prudent to kill the monster there and then while it was chained and unable to fight back. But clearly these villagers were ahead of their time; monsters were an essential component of the area's biodiversity in those days and these early conservationists saw fit to preserve it.
The oxen dragged the Afanc up the Lledr Valley, struggling under his immense weight. On the way up a steep mountain field one of the oxen was pulling so hard that it lost an eye – it popped right out of the socket under the strain of the endeavour, and the tears the oxen shed formed Pwll Llygad yr Ych, (Pool of the Ox’s Eye). But losing an eye was nothing to one of Hu Gardan's oxen and they pulled the monster all the way up Snowdon’s lower solpes to Llyn Ffynnon Las. There the chains of the Afanc were released, and with a roar, the monster leapt straight into the deep blue water that was to become his new home, where he could trouble the villagers no more - just shepards, miners, hikers, climbers, tourists and the occasional goat.
After that story, I think its time to return to reality, to the world of geology in this case. To the south west just below Cadair Idris' southern slopes, and occupying the same faultline as Llyn Tegid, is Tal-y-llyn Lake, also known as Llyn Mwyngil. The lake is worth mentioning as, unlike the other valley lakes in the region, Tal-y-llyn does not occupy a hollow carved out by Pleistocene glaciers; instead it's origin is later. The lake owes its existence to a massive landslide which occurred during the Late Glacial period, when a large portion of Graig Goch gave way, leaving a massive scar on the hillside. The debris from the landslide blocked the valley, acting as a damn and allowing the formation of the lake. Despite thousands of years of erosion the landslide scar can still be clearly seen when viewed from Cadair Idris.
A more recent addition to the area's landscape is another of Snowdonia's largest lakes, Llyn Trawsfynydd, a man-made reservoir located near the village of Trawsfynydd from which the lake takes its name. It covers an area of 1180 acres and as such is larger than Llyn Tegid. The lake was originally created in 1928 to supply water to the Maentwrog hydro-electric power station, and was later also used to supply cooling water to Trawsfynydd's twin reactor nuclear power station, used for the commercial generation of electricity for the UK National Grid. Despite the lakes size it's actually quite shallow and is consequently one of the area's warmest water bodies.
Talking of power stations, another of the area's famous lakes is the Llyn Marchlyn Mawr Reservoir on the northern flank of Elidir Fawr in the Glyderau. The lake is used by the Dinorwig Power Station as part of a 1728 MW hydroelectric pump-storage system that operates through a man-made cavern within the mountain. At times of peak electricity use, water is quickly pumped through six 288MW turbines reaching peak production within 6 seconds.
The creation of new lakes in Wales has never been particularly popular, and the damming of the Afon Tryweryn to create Llyn Celyn had repercussions that went beyond simple issues of water abstraction. The reservoir was constructed between 1960 and 1965 to support the water abstractions from the River Dee as part of the River Dee regulation system, and provide water for Liverpool and parts of the Wirral. Construction of the reservoir involved flooding the village of Capel Celyn and adjacent farmland, a move which evoked considerable anger since the village was seen as a stronghold of Welsh culture and the Welsh language, whilst the reservoir was being built to supply England.
The legislation enabling the development was passed in 1957 despite the opposition of 35 out of 36 Welsh Members of Parliament, with the 36th not voting. The villagers waged an eight year campaign to save their village, unfortunately their efforts were in vain and when the valley was flooded in 1965, the village and its buildings, including the post office, the school, and a chapel with cemetery, were all lost. Twelve houses and farms were drowned, and 48 people of the 67 who lived in the valley lost their homes.
The construction led to an increase in support in the Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru, and sharpened debate within the party about the use of direct action. Plaid emphasised its constitutional approach to stopping the development, however some members frustrated with their inability to stop the development by attempting to sabotage the power supply at the site of the dam in 1962.
A more serious repercussion was the formation of the militant group, Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (Welsh Defence Movement) or MAC, which blew up a transformer on the dam construction site in February 1963. MAC would carry out a number of bombings between 1963 and 1969, many of which were directed towards water and power infrastructure ;however they also bombed the Temple of Peace and Health in Cardiff's civic centre, a tax office in Cardiff, the Welsh Office building in the same city. In 1969 two members, Alwyn Jones and George Taylor, attempted to sabotage the investiture of the Prince of Wales by bombing the railway line at Abergele on which the royal carriage would travel, but were killed when their bomb exploded prematurely. In 1963 a second militant group, Byddin Rhyddid Cymru (Free Wales Army) were established in response the perceived lacklustre efforts of MAF.
At the official opening, which took place on 21st October 1965, representatives of Liverpool Council were met by a Plaid Cyrmru protest as well as members of MAC and the FWA. The ceremony lasted less than 3 minutes, for protesters had cut the microphone wires, and the chants of the hundreds of protesters rendered the speeches inaudible.
The area's lakes are often busy with water sports enthusiasts with canoeing, sailing, swimming, and on the larger waterbodies, motorboating all taking place. There are several watersports centres within the park, the most prestigious being Plas y Brenin, which holds courses on Llynau Mymbyr near Moel Siabod; and Gwersyll yr Urdd Glan-llyn, which has a centre on the shores of Llyn Tegid.
From Snowdonia’s many mountains and moels flow a host of crystal clear streams, which tumble and pour from their lofty sources, along valley floors steepened and scoured by the passage of ancient ice, to their journey’s end in one of the small seas that surround Wales.
Flowing west into Cardigan Bay, the Afon Glaslyn pours from Snowdon’s northern cwms, the Afon Mawddach makes its way from the Rhobells, and the Afon Dyfi runs from the eastern slopes of Aran Fawddwy and forms the southern boundary of the National Park.
Flowing north into the Irish Sea are the Afon Gwyrfai and Afon Rhythallt, both of which begin their journey on Snowdon; the Afon Ogwen which is fed by waters from the Glyderau and Carneddau; and Afon Conwy which winds its way from the Migneint Plateau and out onto the broad river plain of Dyffryn Conwy.
The rivers form important habitats for both aquatic and terrestrial animals. Among the fish that can be found are the Brown Trout, Salmon, and Sewin (Sea trout), all sought after by fishermen and anglers, as well as a countless number of smaller fish and eels. Along their banks birdlife thrives, with heron, kingfisher, swan, geese and numerous species of duck all taking advantage of the food they provide. Terrestrial mammals, some of which are becoming increasingly rare in the UK, form an important aspect of these habitats. European Otter, European Water Vole, and Eurasian Water Shrew all call these waters home.
Of all the rivers in the area, the Afon Conwy is likely to be of most interest to climbers; for two and a half kilometres south of Betws-y-coed is an intriguing section of gorge known as The Tubes. The climbing here is probably unique in Britain, the rock features are rounded like gritstone, but lack the abrasive texture that makes gritsone climbing possible. The rock is polished, like glass in places, and to climb it one must harness every millilitre of palm and finger surface to progress. The routes force the climber to use every muscle in their body, with strong backs and shoulders surpassing good finger technique in usefulness. The climbing is so unusual that the the first climbers here, who only arrived as late as 1996, had to invent their own grading system specifically for the area; and so T1, T2 and T3 are used in ascending order of difficulty. Furthermore the area is rarely in condition, often the beginning of routes are submerged under swollen river water, and even when dry certain parts of the rock weep water profusely. All these factors give the experience of climbing here a very special feel, and much to be recommended.
Along its many beautiful rivers Snowdonia hides some of Britain’s most spectacular waterfalls. In the 17th and 19th centuries they were popular destinations for aristocrats and wealthy gentlemen on their tours of Wales; for example Thomas Pennant took particular care to visit the falls at Rhaeadr Du, Pistyll Cain and Rhaeadr Mawddwch, and because his writing proved so influential, many others followed suit. The waterfalls are no less visited today.
The highest of these is Pistyll y Rhaeadr on the Afon Disgynfa, which at 75 m (240 ft) is also the highest waterfall in Wales. Its name in Welsh means ‘Spring of the Waterfall’ and is located just to the south of Moel Sych in the Berwyn Mountains, around 6km north west of the village of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant. The falls are counted as one of the Seven Wonders of Wales and were designated Britain’s 1000th Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW), for its importance to Welsh geology. The 19th century English author George Borrow remarked of the waterfall, “I never saw water falling so gracefully, so much like thin, beautiful threads, as here”. Although the waterfall falls outside the National Parks boundary it is only a few kilometre away, and within the geographical area of Snowdonia.
Pistyll y Rhaeadr is also home to a limited number of interesting and atmospheric rock climbs, all in the Extremely Severe (E) spectrum of the grading system. Riparian (E1 5b; FA 1998) and Rhythms of the Planet (E3 5c; FA 1994) are to the left of the waterfall, a wall often used by outdoor centres for abseiling; while Aquatic (E3 6a; FA 1998/2001) and Waterworld (E3 5b; FA 2001) are to the right of the falls. If climbing here, please be aware that you are in an SSSI and great care should be taken not to damage any of the rare flora which grows there, less access be restricted.
In winter, providing its cold enough, many of the area's waterfalls freeze and can be climbed. Of particular interest is Craig y Rhaeadr in Llanberis Pass which, if conditions prove favourable, is transformed into a veritable mesh of ice-falls. The ice creates a number of fine routes including Central Ice-Fall Direct (VI) and Cascade (V), each of which rise over 100m up the mountainside. Waterfall ice climbing also takes place at Aber Falls in the Carneddau; Nant Perris Waterfall in Nant Perris (obviously); Cwm Dyli Falls on Snowdon; Nantmor Falls, Rhaeadr y Cwm and Maesgwm Falls in the Moelwynion; and Nant y Cafn Falls, Pistyll Gwyn, Nant Efail-Fach Falls, Maesglasau Falls and Craig Wen Falls in the Dyfi Hills. To be fair though, some of these would require nothing short of an ice age to make most of these reliably climbable.
Due to the mountainous nature of the area and its close proximity to the Irish Sea, on the whole Snowdonia receives a greater volume of rainfall that other regions in England and Wales. The months from October to January are significantly wetter than those between February and September, unlike places in south-east Scotland or in the English Midlands where July and August are often the wettest months of the year. It’s often cloudy with average annual sunshine totalling less than 1,100 hours. Mean daily sunshine figures reach a maximum in May or June, and are at their lowest in December. Given the mountainous nature of the country and its proximity to the sea, hill fog can be both extensive and frequent and is a potential hazard to be borne in mind by walkers, climbers and mountaineers.
There is a close relationship between surface isobars, wind speed and direction over open, level terrain. However, local topography also has a very significant effect, with winds tending to be aligned along well-defined valleys. The strongest winds in Snowdonia are associated with the passage of deep depressions across, or close to, Wales; these are most frequent during the winter months, when gales are most frequent. These depressions are usually at their most intense over the open Atlantic Ocean, the strongest winds being observed over the summits of hills and mountains.
Over Snowdonia the mean annual temperature at low altitudes varies from about 9.5 °C to 10.5 °C, with the higher values occurring around or near to the coasts. The mean annual temperature decreases by approximately 0.5 °C for each 100 m increase in height so that, on this basis, Snowdon (at 1,085 m) would have an annual mean temperature of about 5 °C.
In winter, temperatures in the area are influenced by those of the surface of the sea, which reach their lowest values in late February or early March. Around the coasts, February is thus normally the coldest month, but inland there is little to choose between January and February as the coldest month.
Some of the highest winter temperatures in the British Isles have been recorded in North Wales. These high winter temperatures (up to 18 °C on occasion) occur when a moist south to south-easterly airflow warms up downwind of Snowdonia after crossing the mountains, an effect known as the föhn after its more dramatic manifestations in the Alps. July is normally the warmest month in Wales, and the highest temperatures of all have occurred furthest away from the cooling influence of the Atlantic.
Owing to Snowdonia's close proximity to the sea, snow is comparatively rare. On average the number of days each year when sleet or snow falls in Snowdonia totals over 40 and the average number of days where snow lies on the ground exceed 30.
The main structural feature of Snowdonia is of course the broad belt of rugged mountains that runs diagonally across it through the mountain groups of the Carneddau, Glyderau and Snowdon. It corresponds with the complex downfold of Ordovician rocks known as the Snowdon syncline. To the south of the Snowdon area is the geological structure known as the Harlech Dome, a folded sequence of lower Palaeozoic rocks forming the thickest and most complete sequences of Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian strata to be found anywhere in Europe.
The oldest rocks (Pre-Cambrian) in the region are found to the North West on the island of Anglesey. They consist of metamorphosed sedimentary and volcanic rocks over 6000m thick, highly deformed by earth movement. Lower Palaeozoic rocks mark the development across the area of a great depositional trough in which accumulated thousands of metres of marine sediments. The lower rocks (Cambrian) rest unconformably on the older formations. This trough marks the establishment of a sedimentary basin that covered all of Wales, much of England, parts of Ireland and extended into Belgium. The basin was situated on the edge of a continental mass which lay to the south-east, with the Iapetus Ocean on the north-west. At the end of the Cambrian, slight uplift exposed the erosional deposits, and a new period of submergence during the Ordovician, led to more deposition and more unconformity. Volcanic activity is the outstanding feature of the Ordovician period. Vulcanism spread throughout the region and eventually culminated in eruptions of central Snowdonia giving birth to Snowdon, the Glyderau and the Carneddau. This volcanic activity coincided with the continued deposition of marine sediments and was a prelude to the later closure of the Iapetus Ocean.
Though volcanic activity ceased at the end of the Ordovician, marine sedimentation continued into the Silurian. At the end of the Silurian, earth movements culminated in the Caledonian Orogeny, a major period of uplift, folding and fracturing which partly destroyed the marine trough and resulting in the closure of the Iapatus Ocean and the resultant continent-continent collision. The Lower Palaeozoic seas retreated from North Wales and the strong earth-movements transformed the landscape, and the marine rocks of the Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian periods were replaced by the continental rocks of the Devonian period. Subsequent erosion has revealed the major Caledonian structures such as the Snowdon Syncline and the Harlech Dome.
The Devonian period is followed unconformably by strongly transgressive Carboniferous rocks. The marine transgression in the Carboniferous covered most of North Wales with only the highest mountains probably remaining unsubmerged as islands. A second period of major earth movement (Hercynian) affected the Carboniferous and older rocks, with the main movements occurring along existing fractures. Apart from Pleistocene and recent sediments, no post Hercynian sedimentary rocks are found in Snowdonia.
During the Tertiary era, North Wales was situated at the edge of a landmass which was undergoing uplift in relation to the development of the North Atlantic Ocean. The uplift of the landmass during the Tertiary resulted in intensive erosion of overlying rocks, exposure of the Lower Palaeozoic rocks forming the Snowdon Syncline and Harlech dome, and development of an upland plateau. The uplift resulted in the dominant primary drainage directions of the North Wales area. The river systems formed part of an extensive drainage system draining the uplifted continent towards the south-east.
The denudation of the mountains and the carving out of the valleys took place in stages. In parts of Snowdonia, imperfect plateau surfaces occur, probably the result of erosion controlled by higher base levels (river erosion). They were primarily developed by river erosion controlled by an intermittently falling base level (rejuvenation). Some of the plateau surfaces (below 180m) are thought to have been marine cut and end abruptly as if along a cliff line. The low-level coastal platforms are definitely pre-glacial and the whole series of erosion plateau surfaces indicate a falling base level in the Tertiary period. The higher surfaces are thus older than the lower ones and are less well preserved.
Rivers in the Tertiary rejuvenation, exploited structural weaknesses and created some river capture, which in turn caused more rejuvenation. All evidence now points to the fact that the Snowdon area was deeply dissected by rivers attempting to grade themselves to a succession of lower base levels, down to levels less than 60m above sea level. Although glaciers have considerably deepened the valleys and later-glacial rivers also, the main valleys and mountain outlines were already in existence prior to the Pleistocene glacial phases.
The modern physical landscape and geography of Snowdonia mainly reflects the influence of intensive glacial erosion during the Pleistocene epoch. During the late Pleistocene glacial phase, a large British Ice Sheet developed in response to global cooling. This ice sheet developed by coalescence of several ice centres, one of which was centred in North Wales around the Migneint Plateau and Arenig Mountains area, with outlet glaciers radiating from that centre. These outlet glaciers carved fairly extensive trough valleys, some good examples of which are Nant Ffrancon and Llanberis Pass. Even when the ice was at its thickest the tops of the highest peaks protruded above the ice sheet as nunataks, with large areas around Snowdon, the Glyders and the Carneddau undergoing extensive periglacial weathering. This is perhaps most obviously in evidence around the summits of Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach, whose summits are characterised by a series of broken rocky tors.
During this period, relative sea level was around 130m lower than that of today, and the area now known as the Irish sea was occupied by a large glacier approximately 700 metres thick and fed by Welsh, Irish and Scottish Ice Sheets. The Irish Sea Glacier pushed its way southwards down Cardigan Bay and into the Celtic Sea, displacing large quantites of marine sediment which were deposited as a thick blue/grey calcareous till known as Irish Sea Drift along the lenghth of the present day coastal zone. During phases of more severe climatic conditions, Welsh ice quickly spread over south Anglesey and the coastal plains preventing the Irish Sea ice from advancing. Erratics from the mainland have been recorded on the west coast of Anglesey, indicating that the coastal zone was subject to Welsh and Irish ice at different times, thus tills of both are found. In Cardigan Bay these advances produced three lateral moraines: Sarn Badrig, Sarn-y-Bwlch and Sarn Cynfelin, which now exist as sub-marine ridges, and can occasionally be seen when the tide is particularly low.
The majority of glacial landforms found beyond the mountainous areas were last formed, or modified, during the last glacial maximum approximately 18,000 yrs BP (Dimlington Stadial) by the Late Devensian Ice Sheet. The freshest glacial deposits and landforms plus those found in high mountain areas were last formed/modified during the last glacial event (Loch Lomond Stadial or Younger Dryas) approximately 11,000 - 10,000 yrs BP. During the Loch Lomond Stadial, Snowdonia supported local glaciers which emerged from the high cwms and were channelled down existing valleys (carved during the previous glacial phases), and in a few cases carved out new ones.
The post-glacial landscape evolution has largely developed through landscape adjustments especially isostatic rebound (uplift), slope modification and coastal processes (including sea-level rise).
With Snowdonia's diverse landscape and extensive range of habitats; including high mountain scarp, wooded valleys, upland bog, winding rivers, crystal clear lakes and sandy beaches; it's unsurprising that the area supports communities of flora and fauna which are of both national and international importance; some of which are unique to the area and cannot be found anywhere else.
In order to protect the area's distinctive wildlife around 20% of the National Park is specially protected by UK and European legislation. About half of this area has been selected by the Government under the European Habitats Directive as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). These cover areas on Snowdon, the Glyderau, Carneddau, Yr Aran, Arenigs and Rhinogydd. Also, the entire coast (and marine environment below low water mark) has been selected for designation as a Marine Special Area of Conservation.
Three areas - the Dyfi Estuary Biosphere Reserve, Cwm Idwal and Llyn Tegid - are Ramsar Sites, which are wetlands of international importance, listed and protected under a UN directive.
There are 17 National Nature Reserves within the Park's boundary; more than in any other National Park in England and Wales; and 56 Sites of Special Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI). In Llyn Tegid, the largest natural lake in the Wales, lives another Snowdonia rarity, the Gwyniad, a unique sub-species of the European white fish, trapped in the lake since the end of the last Ice Age over 10,000 years ago.
Possibly the most famous plant that grows in area is the aptly named Snowdon Lily (Lloydia serotina), an arctic alpine plant found on high peaks, and is unique to Snowdonia. So too are the equally appropriately named Snowdonia hawkweed (Hieracium snowdoniense) and Snowdon or Rainbow Beetle (Chrysolina cerealis).
Probably the most noticeable animal presence in the park are its sheep (Ovis aries), which were introduced to the area by the first Stone Age farmers, and then in the middle ages, with the realisation that more money could be made from meat and wool than grain, their numbers were expanded, and have subsequently been farmed in the region ever since.
On the higher mountain slopes feral goat (Capra hircus) cling to the steepest most exposed precipices. The goats were bought to Snowdonia approximately 4,000 years ago by Neolithic nomadic pastoralists, who were the first farmers, when they came to Britain from continental Europe. Today there is a population of approximately 500 goats in the area, distributed unevenly across the Glyderau, Rhinogydd, Snowdon and the lower slopes around Parc Padarn in the Llanberis Valley. In recent years the population have become a problem for local farmers and the National Park Authority, as according to one of the park’s conservation statements, "[The goats] can potentially kill entire cohorts of trees. They can severely affect tree regeneration. There is also evidence that they do cause short-term localised loss of forage to farmers”. Amusingly, in 2007 one woman reported that she had spent thousands of pounds on garden plants, only to have them all eaten by a herd of 50 goats. Culling has been used as a method to control their numbers, however this is extremely unpopular among some conservationists and a source of conflict within the park.
Deer were once common throughout the area, however thanks to over hunting in the 17th and 18th centuries, and a general loss of habitat to agriculture, their numbers have dwindled and are now only occasionally seen. In 1584 Sir John Price even made a special note of the plentiful number of deer in Caernarfonshire and Meirionydd, which was incidentally probably the last time deer were widespread in the area. Having said that, if you’re lucky, it's still possible to spot small herds of roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), fallow deer (Dama dama) and a late addition to the area, Chinese muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi). The muntjac is an alien species to Britain, and have generally had a negative impact on native biodiversity. They tend to out-compete roe deer for food sources and have a habit of damaging sensitive woodland species. Unfortunately they're a shy and elusive species, and so are difficult to cull humanely.
The largest wild animals in Snowdonia, and in fact the largest wild animals in Britain, for they are found nowhere else, are the Welsh mountain ponies (Equus caballus) of the Carneddau. They are smaller and hardier than other breeds of pony, and have been found to be hugely adaptable animals, and were once used throughout the British Empire from the Arctic tundra of Canada to the Sahel belt of North Africa. There are thought to be somewhere between 150 - 200 ponies living off the mountains, and are thought to have inhabited the area for at least 500 years. Although they are technically owned by the landowners whose land they live on, they aren’t managed in any way, and live off whatever food grows on the mountain. Like other large herbivores they travel in family herds sometimes up to 20 strong, with some stallions moving between herds in search of new mares to mate with.
Historically carnivores and larger mammals have not faired well in Snowdonia, and are considerably rarer today than they where when Geraldus, or even Lheud, Pennant and Borrow visited the area. The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) has faired particularly badly in the war against the gamekeepers and farmers; but despite its persecution, the fox is still quite numerous, but still somewhat unloved. The fox inhabit a remarkable range of habitats and are just as likely to be seen on the highest mountains as they are in the area’s valleys and woodlands. Of all Snowdonia’s nocturnal animals, it’s the one that is most likely to be seen during daylight hours. Tradition has it that there are two types fox in Wales: the mountain fox, large, strong, swift and grey; and the lowland fox, smaller, redder and not such a good runner. The mountain fox used to be called the ’milgi’ (the grey-hound); and the lowland fox was known as the ’corgi’ (the cur-fox). Modern science, at least if you look at the records of the Local Records Centre, does not recognise this distinction, but you never know, there might be something in it.
The Eurasian badger (Meles meles) is another of the area’s animals, which is either loved or hated depending on who you talk to. Although there is no strong evidence to support such a theory, the badger is believed by some to be a carrier of tuberculosis, and is thought to spread it among cattle. Every so often the government proposes a cull of the population, which is fervently opposed by conservationists and naturalists and strongly supported by farmers. Badgers usually inhabit lowland deciduous woodlands where the earth is deep enough to permit their extensive burrowing; on occasion however, they can be found to occupy burrows higher up on hillsides, although never beyond the bracken line. Although a member of the weasel family, in Wales the badger has been traditionally thought of as a type of wild pig, their name in Welsh being ’mochyn ddaear’ which means ‘hog of the earth’. During the early Middle Ages, the Welsh hunted them for their meat, their hind quarters being made into hams and served up on ceremonial occasions.
European otters (Lutra lutra) are also now rather scarce, and although they have quite extensive territories, they are mostly confined to the deeper lowland rivers, estuaries and coast; for it is here that fish are most readily found. They are more often heard than seen, but if your lucky you might spot them swimming amongst the rocks and reeds of one of the area’s larger valley lakes – my personal tip is to check out Llyn Mwyngil where they can sometimes be seen from the road.
Snowdonia's most elusive and distinguished mammal is probably the pine-martin (Martes martes). Pine-martins were once pretty common in the area; in the 18th century Thomas Pennant describes how widespread the species were, and that its valuable fir was much used for linings to the gowns of magistrates”. However decades of persecution by local gamekeepers has meant that they are now much rarer. This scarcity combined with the fact that the pine-martin is a largely nocturnal animal and tends to have no fixed territory, preferring to wonder far and wide in search of food, means that it’s rarely seen, and estimating its true population very difficult.
The polecat (Mustela putorius) is another of Snowdonia’s most distinctive animals, several varieties of which can be found in the area. The most common type is completely black with a small patch of white fur around its face, however there are also different coloured varieties, usually called red polecats, which vary from straw coloured, sandy and ginger to a bright fox-red. They were originally sighted in the Cambrian Mountains around the beginning of the 20th century, and by the 1930s several were spotted in Meirionydd. Although not as common as they were in the 17th and 18th centuries, the polecat has steadily increased in number throughout the 20th century, and is now probably the most populous of the weasel family; it lives in a variety of habitats including coastal sand dunes, verdant farm land and high coniferous forest.
Stoat (Mustela erminea) and weasel (Mustela nivalis) have also decreased in number since the days of Lheud and Pennant, however it is notoriously hard to estimate populations of nocturnal animals, so they may be more common than observations suggest. In winter a good proportion of Snowdonia’s stoat turn white, blending in with their temporarily pallid surroundings. Like the pine-martin they can be found in a large range of habitats, from valley woodlands to high mountain crags.
Equally elusive, and probably even rarer than the ‘weasels’, is the Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) which was once a common site throughout Britain. In the 20th century the eastern or North American grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), which had been introduced to England the century before, rapidly expanded in number and range, out-competing the red squirrel and taking over its habitat. In February 1955 the first recorded sighting of the grey squirrel was made on the road near Aberdyfi (roadkill), and since then they have spread throughout the area causing the range of the red squirrel to contract dramatically. Today they are confined to scrub-covered hillsides at the highest level of deciduous woodland, especially in ores and dingles; or in high conifer plantations; for neither of these habitats are popular with grey squirrels. This makes squirrel conservation a funny thing, as it’s completely at odds with current ideas on sustainable forestry development.
Among the area’s most common mammals is the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Like the red fox, some people believe that there are two variations of European rabbit in Snowdonia – rock rabbits which are smaller, hardier, do not burrow and live high up in the mountains; and the larger, less hardy, burrowing rabbits of the lowlands. Whether this is true or not has never been scientifically proven. Myxomatosis arrived in Snowdonia in 1954 and decimated the rabbit population, and although populations can expand quite quickly in localised areas, Myxomatosis always returns to reduce their numbers.
The area has two species of hare. The Brown hare (Lepus europaeus) is the most common. They can be found up to around 1,500 to 2,000 feet in altitude, but are most common on low lying wet ground near the coast, deciduous woodland, and young conifer plantations where the deep grass of the initial stages of forestry makes excellent cover. The mountain hare (Lepus timidus) is less common, and is a late introduction to the area, bought in from Scotland and Ireland by 19th century landowners to add sporting interest to the upland stock. They did well for many years, and although not naturally suited to the area, some of their descendents are still thinly distributed upon the highest mountains.
Smaller mammals and rodents inhabit the less exposed and often heavily vegetated valley floors and forests including European mole (Talpa europaea), West European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), Eurasian common shrew (Sorex araneus), Eurasian pygmy shrew (Sorex minutus), Eurasian water shrew (Neomys fodiens), field vole (Microtus agrestis), bank vole (Clethrionomys glareolus), harvest mouse (Micromys minutus), wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus), yellow-necked mouse (Apodemus flavicollis) and brown rat (Rattus norvegicus).
The area is home to another order of small mammal – the bat (Chiroptera), with many species found throughout the area. The most diverse range of bat species can be found in the Meirionnydd Oakwoods and Bat Sites Special Area of Conservation which stretches from Dolgellau in the south to Eryri in the north. The SAC includes maternity roost sites in various types of buildings and structures; and winter hibernation sites, especially in mines. There are other types of roost too such as night, transitional, leks and swarming sites, about which very little is known. Recorded sightings include pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus sensu lato), soprano pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus), brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus), Daubenton's bat (Myotis daubentonii), greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum), lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros), barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus), Bechstein's bat (Myotis bechsteinii), greater mouse-eared bat (Myotis myotis), whiskered bat (Myotis mystacinus) and Brandt's Bat (Myotis brandtii).
Snowdonia is a coastal mountain range, and although one might not usually associate marine mammals with mountains, there’s a chance you will come across some form of marine wildlife while visiting one of area’s beaches or sea cliffs. Cardigan Bay is one of only two areas in the UK hosting a semi-resident population of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncates) (the other is found in the Morray Firth in Scotland) and overall some 200 individuals are estimated to be using the area. Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus), striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba), Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus) and white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) are also known to frequent Cardigan Bay but are much less common. Atlantic grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) are more common in the southern half of the bay, however they can also be found as far north as the Barmouth, Harlech and the Lleyn Peninsula, preferring the rockier more secluded bays which the majority of Snowdonia’s coast lacks. Other marine mammals sighted in the area including common/harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) and a number of whale species of which minke whale ( Balaenoptera acutorostrata) is the most common. Other whales rarely visit the bay and are seldom seen if they do, however sightings of humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis), blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), northern right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas), northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus), Sowerby's beaked whale (Mesoplodon bidens), True's beaked whale (Mesoplodon mirus), Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) and killer whale (Orcinus orca) have been made.
Reptiles are quite rare in Snowdonia, the climate generally being unfavourable towards cold-blooded animals. Adder (Vipera berus), grass snake (Natrix natrix), common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) and slow-worm (Anguis fragilis) are generally the most widespread, although sightings of sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) have been recorded along the coastal zone. Historical evidence suggests that adders, Britain’s only venomous snake, were once much more common in the area. In fact in 1936 they were so numerous in the Artro Valley in Meirionydd that workers had to be insured against snake-bite (these being the days before the NHS). Unfortunately, perhaps because of their poisonous bite, adders have been persecuted almost everywhere in Britain, and their numbers are now much smaller. Today adders are generally confined to the drier valley floors and coastal plain, however they can sometimes be found in peat bogs or on wet patches of sphagnum moss. Grass-snakes do better, their preference for damp, even watery habitats make them naturally suited to the area. Among the more unusual visitors to the area are leathery turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) and Kemp's Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) which have all been recorded within the catchment area of the Pen Lleyn and Sarnau Special Area of Conservation.
Amphibians are relatively few with common frog (Rana temporaria), common toad (Bufo bufo) and palmate newt (Triturus helveticus) being the most common. The common frog can live at some surprisingly high altitudes, sometimes breeding in the highest ponds or peat bogs, even when snow is on the ground and the water partially iced-over. Because of the low temperatures and poor feeding environments some of these higher pools offer, tadpoles can be extremely slow to develop, sometimes taking a year to grow to the size of normal tadpoles. The common toad on the other had prefers the damp and shady ponds of Snowdonia’s valleys, and is rarely found on the high ground. Palmate newt are the only species of newt found throughout the area, although great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) and smooth newt (Triturus vulgaris) can be found locally.
Bird life is also in abundance, with many orders of bird calling Snowdonia, at the very least, a seasonal home. The members of the Corvidae family are one of the area’s most successful avian residents, and in particular its crows (Corvus corone). The carrion crow is the most successful, it’s as at home in the town park as it is on the mountain side. It can be found almost everywhere apart the highest mountain crags, for these are the domain of the birds of prey, and that other member of the Corvidae family, the raven.
Ravens (Corvus corax) are the hardiest of mountain birds, and even in the bitterest winter conditions, they can still be found flying among the highest crags and summits. Even in the arctic winters of 1947, 1963 and 1982 ravens still nested in February as usual. A long hard winter means extra numbers of sheep dying, followed by extra casualties in spring when weakened ewes dye in birth. Not that ravens rely solely on carrion, their diets are remarkably varied and they are adept at finding food; it’s this adaptability that makes them so successful in mountainous regions.
Choughs (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) are the other hardy member of the Corvidae family, and will be a familiar species to mountaineers throughout Europe. They’re much rarer than the raven or crow; however Snowdonia is the seasonal home to a growing metapopulation of birds which largely originate from Ceredigion and Montgomeryshire in the south. In Meirionnydd the impressive crag of Craig yr Aderyn, which rises over 250 metres above the Dysynni Valley, is an important breeding and roosting site for chough. The crag used to regularly support over 1% of the British population of breeding chough, with five or six pairs nesting in holes and crevices, making it at one time the densest population of breeding chough in the British Isles (six pairs in 0.5Km). However, in recent years breeding numbers have declined to 3-4 pairs. Craig yr Aderyn is now more important as a year round roost site, with non-breeders in the summer and high numbers outside the breeding season. According to the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW), during the period 1991/92-1995/96 the average maximum count was 56 individuals, however since then the number of roosting birds has fallen to an average of 18 during the 1999/00-2004/05 period.
The other occupants of the area’s high crags are the birds of prey which patrol the skies in search of food. Species include peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), merlin (Falco Columbarius), hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) and buzzard (Buteo buteo). The area is lucky to retain an indigenous population of peregrines as in the first half of the twentieth century their numbers were severely reduced, caused by the use of poisonous seed dressings. The tainted seeds were picked up by grain-eating birds, which were in turn, preyed on and consumed by the peregrines. Eventually the peregrines accumulated enough poison in their bodies to kill or render them infertile. Fortunately the practice of using poisons on the land was banned in the 1950s and the peregrines have been allowed a revival, although their numbers are nothing compared to what they used to be. Kestrels and buzzards did not suffer in the same way as the peregrines, as their feeding habits differ to those of the falcons, mostly consisting of small rodents and carrion.
The eagles of Snowdon were once thought to be oracles of peace or war, triumph or disaster. It was said that when the circled high in the sky, victory was near, but if they flew low, close to the rocks, the Welsh would be defeated. It was also said that if they cried incessantly, the birds were mourning some impending calamity. These days, we know better... thankfully.
The Park is also blessed with the presence of a number of rare raptors. There are mating pairs of osprey (Pandion haliaetus) inhabiting Cwm Glaslyn and Cwm Cneifion in the southern Mowlwynion, as well as another pair at Ynys Hir on the Ceredigion side of the Dyfi Estuary. A more recent arrival to Snowdonia is the once near extinct red kite (Milvus milvus). In the 1930's the species were down to just a single breeding female, and were constrained to the Cambrian Mountains to the south of Snowdonia. It's thanks to the wildness of Mid Wales', and the hard work and dedication of a few local enthusiasts and farmers that saved it from extinction within Britain’s shores. Even as recently as the 1970s you could travel all day in Mid Wales and not see a single red kite, but today following the widespread appreciation of this magnificent bird and strict conservation measures, it is now thriving and can be found as far north as the Tarren, Dyfi and Aran ranges.
Whereas the birds of prey are more often seen than heard, the Park’s smaller, less conspicuous birds are more often heard than seen. Among the loudest are the cock ring ouzel (Turdus torquatus) and the wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). The ring ouzel favours tall heathery habitats, whether they grow on craggy slopes or peaty moorlands, however they can also be found nesting in old slate quarries, abandoned mines and deserted farmsteads far from the nearest heather. Swift and agile, they are a secretive bird, who will flee for the nearest undergrowth or into the nearest gully, even when you are still a long way off. While the ring ouzel will go unnoticed by most mountaineers and climbers, who by and large are preoccupied with other concerns, the wren is a difficult bird to miss. Despite its diminutive size, this small, brown, dumpy little bird has a powerful call, loud enough to be picked out in a woodland alive with bird song. This is particularly startling if you just happen to be clinging from a precipitous rock face on say Cloggy or Craig Cywarch, and one of them decides to belt out a tune. Their survival in these mountains is quite a surprise, as they aren’t the hardiest of birds and in the lowlands their numbers suffer greatly if afflicted by a severe winter. In Snowdonia however, their numbers remain fairly stable, perhaps because their nesting habits here differ so greatly from their lowland compatriots. In the mountains they live in small caves and hollows, which in the winter, thanks to the stable temperature of the earth, and the insulating effect of the snow outside, can subsist at quite comfortable temperatures. Carl Linnaeus, or who ever decided label them as Troglodytes (the cave dweller), did so for good reason.
The Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) is another upland species that makes its presence well known, and from June onwards can be found all over Snowdonia. Although numerous, they are extremely shy birds and will flee their perch or nest before you even see them. By late summer the young become independent and they spread all over the hills until no matter where you tread they fly up before you. They most enjoy a remarkable array of upland habitats and are happy living in grass, heather, bracken, rushes and bog. They are most abundant from early summer to late autumn, when food becomes scarce. Over the winter only a few remain and they must become seed eaters to ensure their survival. When the absent pipits return in March, they will fly together as flocks, often 100 or 200 in number.
In fact there are too many small upland, lowland and woodland birds in Snowdonia to be done justice in a section such as this so I shall simply list some of the more interesting remaining species in this paragraph. These include European Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus), Aquatic Warbler (Acrocephalus paludicola), Marsh Warbler (Acrocephalus palustris), Skylark (Alauda arvensis), Bittern (Botaurus stellaris), Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus), Linnet (Carduelis cannabina), Corncrake (Crex crex), Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus), Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus), Wryneck (Jynx torquilla), Red-Backed Shrike (Lanius collurio), Scottish Crossbill (Loxia scotica), Woodlark (Lullula arborea), Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra), Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra), Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata), Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus), Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix), Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus), Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii), Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur), Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) and Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos).
Both red grouse (Lagopus lagopus) and black grouse (Tetrao tetri) in Wales are much scarcer than their northern counterparts in Northumberland and Scotland; but are most common in the Berwynion, on the Migneit Plateau and in the Rhinogydd. Their numbers were once maintained by the gamekeepers of the great estates, however the First World War whisked the keepers away to other occupations, and after the war, estate management was never resumed at the same scale again.
One of the major threats facing the park's biodiversity in recent years has been the growth of Rhododendron ponticum particularly in the area to the south and south east of Beddgelert. The species was introduced from Portugal and Spain during the 19th century as an ornamental plant in the gardens and estates of the local gentry. This fast growing alien species has a tendency to take over and stifle native species from growing. It can form massive towering growths and has a companion fungus that grows on its roots producing toxins that are poisonous to any local flora and fauna for a period of up to seven years after the Rhododendron infestations have been eradicated.
The UK has a responsibility to ensure the conservation and enhancement of habitats and species in both a national and international context. One approach to achieving this is the establishment of a system of protected sites. The national suites of sites providing statutory protection for flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) (Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) in Northern Ireland) and Marine Nature Reserves (MNRs). As well as underpinning other national designations (such as National Nature Reserves), this system also provides statutory protection for terrestrial and coastal sites which are important within Europe (Natura 2000 network) and globally (such as Wetlands of International Importance). Further designations exist for sites outside of the national suite (such as Local Nature Reserves), varying in the level of protection afforded. Apart from designations for sites with particular natural features, there are also landscape designations which aim to protect areas of either national (e.g. Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) or international (e.g. natural World Heritage Sites) significance in terms of their outstanding scenic importance.
Because Snowdonia has such a rich natural heritage and wide variety of habitats much of its landscape is protected by both national and international legislation. There are over 200 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) within, and in close proximity to, the Parks boundary. An SSSI is a conservation designation denoting a protected area within the UK, and may be designated for a wide number of reasons based on their merits as areas of scientific interest. Sites may be notified due to their biological or geological interest and a minority of sites are notified for both. SSSIs are the basic 'building block' of nature conservation legislation and most other legal nature/geological conservation designations are based upon them, including National Nature Reserves, Ramsar Sites, Special Protection Areas, and Special Areas of Conservation.
Snowdonia also has around 15 National Nature Reserves (NNR), which are in effect the next line of protection for nationally important environmental areas. NNRs are usually designated for their broader ecological value rather than for the presence of any rare species. There are however a number of sites which hold important numbers of scarce or rare species. A number of factors may contribute to the designation of a NNR. These may include; how fragile a site is, the size of the site, how 'natural' the site is and the presence of species rich communities. The NNR network represents almost every kind of vegetation type found in the UK.
There is also a large number of sites protected under international law. Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas are part of the Natura 2000 Networks of sites and are therefore strictly protected under European law. Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are strictly protected sites designated under the EC Habitats Directive. Article 3 of the Habitats Directive requires the establishment of a European network of important high-quality conservation sites that will make a significant contribution to conserving the 189 habitat types and 788 species identified in Annexes I and II of the Directive (as amended). The listed habitat types and species are those considered to be most in need of conservation at a European level (excluding birds). Of the Annex I habitat types, 78 are believed to occur in the UK. Of the Annex II species, 43 are native to, and normally resident in, the UK.
Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are strictly protected sites classified in accordance with Article 4 of the EC Directive on the conservation of wild birds (79/409/EEC), also known as the Birds Directive, which came into force in April 1979. They are classified for rare and vulnerable birds, listed in Annex I to the Birds Directive, and for regularly occurring migratory species. In the UK, the first SPAs were identified and classified in the early to mid 1980s. Classification has since progressed and a regularly updated UK SPA Summary Table provides an overview of both the number of classified SPAs and those approved by Government that are currently in the process of being classified (these are known as potential SPAs, or pSPAs).
Some of Snowdonia’s best examples of wetland areas have also been listed as Ramsar sites; a type of protection especialy designed for wetlands of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention. Sites proposed for selection are advised by the UK statutory nature conservation agencies, or the relevant administration in the case of Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, co-ordinated through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). In selecting sites, the relevant authorities are guided by the Criteria set out in the Convention. The UK also has a national Ramsar Committee composed of experts who provide further advice.
Special Areas of Conservation
There are 12 SACs in Snowdonia, some of which cross over the boundary and into neighboring regions. Combined they cover an area of 78805.45 ha (just over 788 square km) and cover a variety of environments from wetlands and rivers to mountain summits. The Lleyn Peninsula and Sarnau Marine SAC also borders the Park and adds another 146023.48 ha (over 1,460 square km) to the total area of SACs within the parks area.
|Site Name||Area (ha)||Latitude||Longitude||Grid Reference|
|Afon Eden – Cors Goch Trawsfynydd||284.29||52 49 34 N||03 54 00 W||SH 720 271|
|Afon Gwyrfai a Llyn Cwellyn||114.29||53 04 59 N||04 10 15 W||SH 547 561|
|Berwyn and South Clwyd Mountains||27221.21||52 50 19 N||03 36 26 W||SH 917 280|
|Cadair Idris||3785.05||52 42 04 N||03 55 06 W||SH 704 132|
|Coedydd Aber||346.2||53 13 20 N||04 00 05 W||SH 664 713|
|Meirionnydd Oakwoods and Bat Sites||1832.55||52 47 42 N||03 53 56 W||SH 660 386|
|Eryri/ Snowdonia||19737.6||53 10 24 N||03 57 12 W||SH 695 658|
|Migneint–Arenig–Dduallt||19968.23||52 58 38 N||03 46 56 W||SH 816 440|
|Morfa Harlech a Morfa Dyffryn||1062.57||52 52 24 N||04 07 45 W||SH 567 328|
|Lleyn Peninsula and the Sarnau||146023.48||52 41 29 N||04 21 59 W||SH 401 130|
|Rhinog||3144.53||52 50 52 N||04 00 18 W||SH 649 297|
|River Dee and Bala Lake||1308.93||53 02 50 N||02 51 40 W||SJ 423 503|
|Site Name||Area (ha)||Latitude||Longitude||Grid Reference|
|Berwyn||24187.53||52 50 19 N||03 36 20 W||SH 917 280|
|Craig yr Aderyn (Bird`s Rock)||89.26||52 38 30 N||04 00 05 W||SH 645 067|
|Dyfi Estuary/Aber Dyfi||2048.11||52 32 39 N||03 59 00 W||SN 660 960|
|Migneint–Arenig–Dduallt||19968.23||52 58 38 N||03 46 56 W||SH 780 450|
Snowdonia lies in the heart of 'Y Fro Gymraeg' (The Welsh Region), the area of Wales where the Welsh language and culture is strongest. The language is widely spoken in the area, according to the 2001 census more than 62.5% of the population of Gwynedd speak Welsh. Generally the more rural and isolated the village or town is the stronger the language will be. Visitors to the area will therefore definitely hear the language being spoken at some point.
Although every welsh speaker also speaks English, if you use a bit of Welsh in conversation it will go a long way. Below are a number of Welsh words and phrases that may come in handy:
Okay, you’re probably not going to need the last few.
This section displays the mountain conditions for Snowdonia. The information is provided by the Met Office and is issued twice per day. It is valid for the full 24 hour period on each day. Click on the widget for maps and further information.
Snowdonia is busiest from late Spring to early Autumn and some mountains can get very busy. Snowdon in particular gets very busy due to the Snowdon Mountain Railway that takes tourists to the mountains summit. Although the weather is usually warm throughout the summer showers are common, and full waterproofs and quality walking boots are essential for all expeditions.
In winter the area is much quieter as most tourists prefer to visit the area when it's warm. In winter conditions an ice axe must be carried and if an attempt is to be made on the harder scrambles a helmet, crampons and a rope are also all essential. For true winter routes specialist winter and ice climbing equipment is necessary and owing to the unpredictable conditions of snow and ice on the mountain these lines should only be attempted by those with experience of winter mountaineering techniques. Despite the areas comparitivly low altitude it can get very cold with temperatures dropping to near Arctic levels, many inexperienced walkers and climbers have been caught out in these conditions most are rescued safely by mountain rescue teams however occasionally the consequences are more serious, and every year casualties occur.
Wales has fourteen Mountain rescue services, seven of which operate in the Snowdonia area. They are mostly staffed by local volunteers and funded primarily by public donations. They operate with the assistance of local Police, and in serious situations an RAF helicopter from RAF Valley. The West Wales Air Ambulance also helps out when necessary. The services work is not just restricted to mountain and wilderness rescue; often teams are utilised by the local police to search for missing or vulnerable persons in the community. The Mountain rescue services are:
Aberglasyn MRT HM Coastguard MRT 83 Llanberis MRT North East Wales Search and Rescue North Wales Cave Rescue Organisation Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Organisation South Snowdonia SART Search and Rescue Dog Association
In emergency situations Mountain rescue services can be contacted by ringing one of the UKs standard emergency service numbers: 999 or 112
Unlike the national parks of North America and certain parts of Europe, there are no permits required for entry into the park, no visitor limits or any other kind of red tape designed to restrict access. Since the passing of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) 2000, the public have the right to access almost all the land within the national park boundary regardless of ownership. Open access land is denoted by the signs below.
Certain locations of interest to climbers are subject access ro restrictions, some of which are only seasonal, or just affect specific parts of the location. These include Craig Pant Ifan, Craig y Castell, Drws Cwm Clyd, Gideon Quarries, Lower Slate Quarries and Upper Dinorwic Quarries.
Two crags are subject to seasonal restrictions associated with nesting birds: Clogwyn y Geifr (1st of March - 30th of June) and Craig yr Aderyn (1st of April to 31st of July).
Getting to Snowdonia is easy thanks to an excellent network of road and rail links. The easiest way into the area is from the north via the A55 which runs between Liverpool and Holyhead. There are numerous exits off this road into the northern mountains with major junctions at Conway (SH 806 774), Bethesda, Bangor (SH 593 695) and Caernarfon (SH 482 625).
If travelling from the east then the A5 runs to Bettws y Coed (SH 794 565) in the northeast, or Bala (SH 925 359) can be reached by turning off the A5 near Maerdy. Bettws y Coed makes an excellent base for visiting the Carneddau and Bala is near Yr Aran, Arenigs and Berwyns.
If travelling from the south then Dolgellau (SH 728 179) can be reached via the A458 to Mallwyd, and turning off onto the A470. Dolgellau makes an excellent location for visiting the areas southern mountains including Cadair Idris and the Rhinogydd.
Snowdonia can also be reached by rail, the main line stopping at Bangor (SH 575 716), Caernarfon (SH 481 624), Bettws y Coed (SH 795 565), Blaenau Ffestiniog (SH 700 458), Porthmadog (SH 565 391) and Harlech (SH 580 314). From Caernarfon the Welsh Highland Railway runs a steam train service to Rhydd-Ddu where trailheads for Snowdon and the Eifionydd are found. There is also a steam train service operating between Porthmadog and Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Throughout the summer the Snowdon Sherpa bus service, which has various mountain stops around the area, runs from Llanberis, Bettws y Coed, Caernarfon, Beddgelert, Bethesda, and Porthmadog. Be sure to check timetables first as you don't want to end up missing the last bus and find yourself stuck, of course in these situations hitching is always an option.
Due to the fact that Snowdonia has been designated a National Park there is an abundance of accommodation available throughout the area.
Wild Camping: The Law in England, Scotland and Wales
Tents cannot be pitched just anywhere because every piece of Britain is owned by some individual or some organisation and according to the strict letter of the law permission must be obtained prior to pitching tent and camping.
In practice however, this is often impractical and wild camping is usually tolerated in the more remote areas - typically, more than half a day's walk from an official campsite or other accommodation providing you:
A short list of campsites that are in good positions for outdoor sports.
Bodnant Caravan Park
A summary of Snowdonia’s Hostels and bunkhouses, both YHA and unaffiliated.
Youth Hostel Association in Wales
A few sites in the area offering self catering log cabins.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a summary of some of Snowdonia’s best and most famous (as well as expensive) hotels.
| ||Navigation Maps |
Ordnance Survey 1:25k Explorer Series OL 17 Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa
Ordnance Survey 1:25k Explorer Series OL 18 Harlech, Porthmadog & Bala/Y Bala
Ordnance Survey 1:25k Explorer Series OL 23 Cadair Idris & Bala Lake / Llyn Tegid
Ordnance Survey 1:50k Landranger Series 115 Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa
Ordnance Survey 1:50k Landranger Series 124 Porthmadog & Dolgellau
Harvey Map Services 1:25k Snowdonia: Snowdon and the Moelwynion
Harvey Map Services 1:25k Snowdonia: Snowdonia The Glyderau and the Carneddau
Harvey Map Services 1:25k Snowdonia South Rhinogs/Rhinogydd
Harvey Map Services/BMC 1: 40k British Mountain Map: Snowdonia
Ordnance Survey Tour 10 Travel Map North and Mid Wales
Cicerone Guide: The Mountains of England and Wales: Volume 1 Wales Cicerone Guide: Hillwalking in Wales Volume 1 Cicerone Guide: Hillwalking in Wales Volume 2 Cicerone Guide: Hillwalking in Snowdonia Cicerone Guide: The Lleyn Peninsula Coastal Path
Cicerone Guide: Ridges of Snowdonia (Also includes hiking routes)
Cicerone Guide: Scrambles in Snowdonia
Cicerone Guide: The Ridges of England, Wales and Ireland (Also includes rock climbs)
Northern Edge Books: North Wales Scrambles
Rock and Winter Climbing
Climbers' Club Guide to Wales: Clogwyn Du’r Arddu Climbers' Club Guide to Wales: Cwm Silyn & Cwellyn (Eifionydd) (Also includes winter climbs) Climbers' Club Guide to Wales: Gogarth Climbers' Club Guide to Wales: Llanberis (Also includes bouldering problems) Climbers' Club Guide to Wales: Lleyn Climbers' Club Guide to Wales: Pen Llyn Supplement Climbers' Club Guide to Wales: Lliwedd Climbers' Club Guide to Wales: Meirionnydd Climbers' Club Guide to Wales: North Wales Limestone Climbers' Club Guide to Wales: Ogwen (Also includes bouldering problems) Climbers' Club Guide to Wales: Carneddau and Crafnant Climbers' Club Guide to Wales: Tremadog Rockfax Guide: North Wales Climbs Rockfax Guide: North Wales Classics (Also includes winter climbs) Rockfax Guide: Clwyd Limestone Rockfax Guide: North Wales Limestone Out of Print Rockfax Guide: Monk’s Buttress Free Download Ground Up Guide: North Wales Rock (Also includes bouldering problems) Ground Up Guide: North Wales Slate Ground Up Guide: Gogarth North Constable Guide: Rock Climbing in Snowdonia The Long Routes: Mountaineering Rock Climbs in Snowdonia and the Lake District Cicerone Guide: Welsh Winter Climbs Ground Up Guide: North Wales Winter Climbing n-soul Guide: North Wales Bouldering/Bowldro Gogledd Cymru
Government Bodies and Official Organisations
Hiking, Climbing and Mountaineering Organisations and Companies
Maps and Guidebooks
Wildlife and Conservation