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Snowdon and its acolytes from the slopes of Moel Eilio - - 1730676.jpg
The Snowdon group seen from Moel Eilio
Range: Snowdonia
Summit: 3,560 feet SH6098954379
53°4’7"N, 4°4’34"W

Snowdon in Caernarfonshire is the highest mountain of the British Isles outside Scotland, climbing to 3,560 feet above sea level. It is the heart of the great massif called Snowdonia, which forms the major part in turn of the Snowdonia National Park.

Snowdon, despite its height, is not a difficult climb, and has been described as "probably the busiest mountain in Britain".[1] There are however several routes to the top; the Llaberis Path taken by most visitors is an easy climb on a well worn, broad path, but others are more challenging scrambles to the top. The whole mountain is designated as a national nature reserve for its rare flora and fauna.

The rocks that form Snowdon were produced by volcanoes in the Ordovician period, and the massif has been extensively sculpted by glaciation, forming the pyramidal peak of Snowdon and the arêtes of Crib Goch and Y Lliwedd. The cliff faces on Snowdon, including Clogwyn Du'r Arddu, are significant for rock climbing, and the mountain was used by Edmund Hillary in training for the 1953 ascent of Mount Everest.

Snowdon boasts some of the best views in Britain, and the summit can be reached by a number of well-known paths, the most demanding of which is the Snowdon Horseshoe. The summit can also be reached on the Snowdon Mountain Railway, a rack and pinion railway opened in 1896 which carries passengers the 4.7 miles from Llanberis to the summit station. The summit also houses a visitor centre called Hafod Eryri, built in 2006 to replace one built in the 1930s.

The name Snowdon is from the Old English for "snow hill", a name appearing as Snawdun in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 1095.[2] The Welsh name, Yr Wyddfa, means "the tumulus", which may refer to the cairn thrown over the legendary giant Rhitta Gawr after his defeat by King Arthur. As well as other figures from Arthurian legend, the mountain is linked to a legendary afanc (water monster) and the Tylwyth Teg (fairies).


Snowdon stands at 3,560 feet. A 1682 survey estimated that the summit of Snowdon was at 3,720 feet above sea level; in 1773, Thomas Pennant quoted a later estimate of 3,568 feet above sea level at Caernarfon.[3] Recent surveys give the height of the summit as 3,560 feet, making Snowdon the highest mountain in Wales, and the highest point in the British Isles outside Scotland.[4] Snowdon is one of three mountains climbed as part of the Barmouth Three Peaks Yacht Race, and for the landlubber the National Three Peaks Challenge.[5]

Snowdon offers some of the most extensive views in the British Isles. On exceptionally clear days, Ireland, Scotland, England, and the Isle of Man are all visible, as well as 24 counties, 29 lakes and 17 islands. The view between Snowdon and the peak of Merrick, Kirkcudbrightshire is the longest theoretical line of sight in the British Isles at 144 miles.


The unique environment of Snowdon, particularly its rare plants, have led to its designation as a national nature reserve.[6]

Lloydia serotina, the "Snowdon lily", grows on the cliffs of Snowdon

In addition to plants that are widespread in Snowdonia, Snowdon is home to some plants rarely found elsewhere in Britain. The most famous of these is the "Snowdon lily", Lloydia serotina, which is also found in the Alps and in North America. It was first discovered by Edward Lhuyd in Wales, and was later named in his honour by R A Salisbury.


The "knife-edge" arête of Crib Goch (foreground) and Snowdon (background), both the result of glaciation

The rocks which today make up Snowdon and its neighbouring mountains were formed in the Ordovician era. At that time, most of modern-day Wales was near the edge of Avalonia, submerged beneath the ancient Iapetus Ocean.[7] In the Soudleyan stage of the Caradoc age, a volcanic caldera formed, and produced ash flows of rhyolitic tuff, which formed deposits up to 1,600 feet thick. The current summit is near the northern edge of the ancient caldera; the caldera's full extent is unclear, but it extended as far as the summit of Moel Hebog in the south-west.

Snowdon and it surrounding peaks have been described as "true examples of Alpine topography".[8] The summits of Snowdon and Garnedd Ugain are surrounded by cwms, rounded valleys scooped out by glaciation. Erosion by glaciers in adjacent cwms caused the characteristic arêtes of Crib Goch, Crib y Ddysgl and Y Lliwedd, and the pyramidal peak of Snowdon itself. Other glacial landforms that can be seen around Snowdon include roche moutonnée|roches moutonnées, glacial erratics and moraines.


The English name "Snowdon" comes from the Old English snaw dun, meaning "snow hill", as Snowdon often has a covering of snow (and this name was in use during the Mediæval Warm Period). Although the amount of snow on Snowdon in winter varies significantly, 55% less snow fell in 2004 than in 1994.[9] The slopes of Snowdon have one of the wettest climates in Great Britain, receiving an annual average of more than 170 inches of rain and snow.


Llyn Llydaw, crossed by a causeway at its eastern end

A number of lakes are found in the various cwms of the Snowdon range.

  • Llyn Llydaw, at 1,430 feet, 110 acres, lies in Cwm Dyli, Snowdon's eastern cwm, and is one of Snowdonia's deepest lakes, at up to 190 feet deep. Various explanations of its name have been put forward, including lludw ("ash"), from ashen deposits along the shore, to Llydaw ("Brittany").[10] It contains evidence of a crannog settlement, and was the location of a 10 ft x 2 ft dugout canoe described in the Cambrian Journal in 1862.[10] The lake is significantly coloured by washings from the copper mines nearby, and is used by the Cwm Dyli hydroelectric power station, which opened in 1906.[10] The lake is crossed by a causeway, built in 1853 and raised in the 20th century to prevent the causeway from flooding frequently.[11]
  • Glaslyn, at 1,970 feet, 18 acres, lies higher up Cwm Dyli than Llyn Llydaw.[12] It was originally called Llyn y Ffynnon Glas, and has a depth of 127 feet.[12] For a long time, it was said to be bottomless, and is also the setting for various myths.[12]
  • Llyn Ffynnon-y-gwas, at 1,430 feet, 10 acres, lies in Cwm Treweunydd, Snowdon's north-western cwm, and is passed by the Snowdon Ranger path.[13] It was enlarged by damming for use as a reservoir for use by slate quarries, but the level has since been lowered, and the lake's volume reduced.[13]

Other lakes include Llyn Du'r Arddu below Clogwyn Du'r Arddu, at 1,901 feet, 5 acres, Llyn Teyrn near Pen-y-pass at 1,237 feet, 5 acres, and several smaller pools.[14]

Rock climbing

Clogwyn Du'r Arddu

The Snowdon massif includes a number of spectacular cliffs, and holds an important place in the history of rock climbing in the United Kingdom. Clogwyn Du'r Arddu is often colloquially known as 'Cloggy' among climbers, and was the site of the first recorded climb in Britain, in 1798.[15] It was carried out by two botanists, Reverends Peter Williams and William Bingley, while searching for rare plants.[15] It is now considered to be one of the best cliffs in Britain for rock climbing.[16]

Y Lliwedd was also explored by early climbers, and was the subject of a 1909 climbing guide, The Climbs on Lliwedd by J. M. A. Thompson and A. W. Andrews, one of the first in Britain.[15]

Snowdon was used by Edmund Hillary and his group during preparations for their successful 1953 expedition to climb Mount Everest.[15]


Sketch map of the Snowdon massif
•grey: ridges
•red lines: paths
•orange lines: roads
•dotted grey line: Snowdon Mountain Railway

The first recorded ascent of Snowdon was by the botanist Thomas Johnson in 1639.[15] However, the 18th-century historian Thomas Pennant mentions a "triumphal fair upon this our chief of mountains" following Edward I's conquest of Wales in 1284, which could indicate the possibility of earlier ascents.[17]

A number of well-established footpaths lead to Snowdon's summit from all sides,[4] and can be combined in various ways.[18] The circular walk starting and ending at Pen-y-Pass and using the Crib Goch route and the route over Y Lliwedd is called the Snowdon Horseshoe, and is considered "one of the finest ridge walks in Britain".[19] The routes are arranged here anticlockwise, starting with the path leading from Llanberis. During winter, all these routes become significantly more difficult and many inexperienced walkers have been killed over the years attempting to climb the mountain via the main paths.

Llanberis Path

The summit

The Llanberis Path is the longest route to the summit, and has the shallowest gradient. It follows the line of the Snowdon Mountain Railway fro Llanberis. It is considered the easiest and least interesting route to the summit of Snowdon.[4] The Llanberis Path is the route used by the annual Snowdon Race, with a record time of less than 40 minutes recorded from the start to the summit.[20]

The section of the Llanberis Path beside the railway near the summit has been called the "Killer Convex"; in icy conditions, this convex slope can send unwary walkers over the cliffs of Clogwyn Du'r Arddu. Four people died there in February 2009.[21][22]

Snowdon Ranger Path

Bog before the ascent to Llyn Ffynnon-y-gwas

The Snowdon Ranger Path begins at the youth hostel beside Llyn Cwellyn, to the west of the mountain, served by the A4085 and Snowdon Ranger railway station. This was formerly the Saracen's Head Inn, but was renamed under the ownership of the mountain guide John Morton.[3] It is "probably the oldest path to the summit".[4]

The route begins with zigzags through "lush green turf",[11] before reaching a flatter boggy area in front of Llyn Ffynnon-y-gwas. The path then climbs to Bwlch Cwm Brwynog, and then snakes along the ridge above Clogwyn Du'r Arddu towards the summit. This path meets the railway, the Llanberis Path, the Crib Goch path, and the combined Pig Track and Miners' Track all within a short distance, just below the summit.[11]

Rhyd Ddu Path

The Rhyd Ddu path, also called the Beddgelert Path, leads from the village of Rhyd Ddu, west of Snowdon, gently up on to Llechog, a broad ridge dropping west from the summit.[15] It is considered one of the easier routes to the summit,[11][15] with the advantage that the summit is visible from the start,[15] but is one of the least used routes.[16] It climbs at a shallow gradient to Bwlch Main, shortly southwest of the summit, from where it climbs more steeply, meeting up with the Watkin Path at a site marked with a large standing stone a few hundred yards from the summit.[11] An alternative start begins at Pitt's Head on the A4085 road.[16]

Watkin Path

Plas Cwmllan and Gladstone Rock in Cwm Llan

The Watkin Path is "the most demanding route direct to the summit of Snowdon".[6] It is the highest relative ascent as it starts at the lowest elevation of any of the main routes.[11] The path was first conceived by Edward Watkin, a railway owner who had attempted to build a railway tunnel under the English Channel, and had a summer home in Nant Gwynant near the start of the path.[4] It was originally designed as a donkey track and opened in 1892.[11]

The start of the Watkin Path has been described as "the prettiest beginning" of the routes up Snowdon.[11] It begins at Bethania on the A498 and climbs initially through old broadleaved woodland.[11] After leaving the woods, the path climbs past the waterfalls of the Afon Llan to the glacial cirque of Cwm Llan, crossing a disused incline from an abandoned slate quarry.[6] It then reaches Plas Cwmllan, formerly the home of the quarry manager for the South Snowdon Slate Works beyond, and later used for target practice by commandos during the Second World War.[6] Near Plas Cwmllan, is the large boulder known as Gladstone Rock, which bears a plaque commemorating a speech given in 1892 by William Ewart Gladstone, the then 83-year-old Prime Minister, on the subject of Justice for Wales.[11] The slate workings in Cwm Llan were opened in 1840, but closed in 1882 due to the expense of transporting the slate to the sea at Porthmadog. Various buildings, including barracks and dressing sheds, remain.[6]

From the slate quarries, the Watkin Path veers to the north-east to reach Bwlch Ciliau, the col between Snowdon and Y Lliwedd, which is marked by a large orange-brown cairn.[11] From here, it heads west to meet the Rhyd Ddu Path at a standing stone shortly below the summit of Snowdon.[6]

Scenes from Carry On... Up the Khyber were filmed on the lower part of the Watkin Path in 1968, with the Watkin Path representing the Khyber Pass in the film. One of the stars of the film, Angela Douglas, unveiled a plaque at the precise location where filming took place in 2005 to commemorate the location filming and it forms part of the North Wales Film and Television Trail, run by the Wales Screen Commission.[23]

Over Y Lliwedd

Y Lliwedd: a sharp ridge south-east of Snowdon's summit

The route over Y Lliwedd is more frequently used for descent than ascent, and forms the second half of the Snowdon Horseshoe walk, the ascent being over Crib Goch. It is reached by following the Watkin Path down to Bwlch y Saethau, and then continuing along the ridge to the twin summits of Y Lliwedd.[19] The path then drops down to Cwm Dyli to join the Miners' Track towards Pen-y-Pass.

Miners' Track

The Miner's Track, from the summit

The Miners' Track begins at the car park at Pen-y-Pass, at an altitude of around 1,148 feet. It begins by skirting Llyn Teyrn before climbing slightly to cross the causeway over Llyn Llydaw.[15] It follows the lake's shoreline before climbing to Glaslyn, from where it ascends steeply towards Bwlch Glas. It is joined for most of this zigzag ascent by the Pig Track, and on reaching the summit ridge, is united with the Llanberis Path and Snowdon Ranger Path.[15] Derelict mine buildings are encountered along several parts of the path.[15]

Pig Track

The Pig Track (above) and Miners Track (below) merge above Glaslyn

The "Pig Track", or "Pyg Track" (both spellings may be encountered), also leads from Pen-y-Pass.[11] The track climbs over Bwlch y Moch on the eastern flanks of Crib Goch, before traversing that ridge's lower slopes.[15] Above Glaslyn, it is joined by the Miners' Track for the zigzag climb to Bwlch Glas between Snowdon and Garnedd Ugain.[15] Regarding its name, the website of the Snowdonia National Park Authority states:

Nobody knows for sure why this path is called the Pyg Track. It's possible that it was named after the pass it leads through, Bwlch y Moch (translated Pigs' Pass) as the path is sometimes spelled 'Pig Track'. Or, maybe because it was used to carry 'pyg' (black tar) to the copper mines on Snowdon. Another possible explanation is that the path was named after the nearby Pen y Gwryd Hotel, popular amongst the early mountain walkers.[24]

Crib Goch route

The traverse of Crib Goch is "one of the finest ridge walks in Britain",[19] and forms part of the well-known Snowdon Horseshoe, a circuit of the peaks surrounding Cwm Dyli.[15] The path follows the Pig Track before separating off from it at Bwlch y Moch and leading up the side of Crib Goch. All routes which tackle Crib Goch are considered mountaineering routes or scrambles.

Snowdon Mountain Railway

A train approaching the summit station

The Snowdon Mountain Railway is a narrow gauge rack and pinion mountain railway that travels for 4.7 miles from Llanberis to the summit of Snowdon. It is the only public rack and pinion railway in the United Kingdom, and after more than 100 years of operation it remains a popular tourist attraction. Single carriage trains are pushed up the mountain by either steam locomotives or diesel locomotives. It has also previously used diesel railcars as multiple units. The railway was constructed between December 1894, when the first sod was cut by Enid Assheton-Smith (after whom locomotive No.2 was named), and February 1896, at a total cost of £63,800 in the money of the day.

Summit buildings

Hafod Eryri, built in 2009

The first building on the summit of Snowdon was erected in 1838 to sell refreshments, and a licence to sell intoxicating liquor was granted in 1845.[15]

When the Snowdon Mountain Railway was opened in 1896, a hotel was built at the terminus, near the summit. This was replaced in the 1930s by a restaurant designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, which later served as a café and gift shop.[15] The building displayed a slate plaque with the following couplet:

Grwydryn, aros ennyd; ystyra ryfeddol waith Duw a'th daith fer ar y ddaear hon. (Wanderer, wait a moment; consider God's wondrous work and your short journey on this earth.)

Having become increasingly dilapidated, this building was described by Charles Prince of Wales as "the highest slum in Wales".[25] Its state led to a campaign to replace the building. In April 2006, Snowdonia National Park Authority with the support of the Snowdonia Society agreed a deal to start work on a new café and visitor centre complex.

The new RIBA Award-winning[26] £8.4 million visitor centre, Hafod Eryri was officially opened on 12 June 2009.[27] The Poet Gwyn Thomas, composed a new couplet for the new building, displayed at its entrance and on the windows, which reads:

Copa'r Wyddfa: yr ydych chwi, yma, Yn nes at y nefoedd" (The summit of Snowdon: Here you are nearer to Heaven).

The name Hafod Eryri was chosen from several hundred put forward after a competition was held by the BBC.[28] Hafod is Welsh for an upland residence, while Eryri is the Welsh name for Snowdonia.[15]


Bedivere casts Excalibur into the lake

In Welsh folklore, the summit of Snowdon is said to be the tomb of Rhitta Gawr, a giant.[15] This is claimed to be the reason for the Welsh name Yr Wyddfa,[11] literally meaning "the tumulus".[29] Rhitta Gawr wore a cloak made of men's beards, and was slain by King Arthur after claiming Arthur's beard.[12] Other sites with Arthurian connections include Bwlch y Saethau, on the ridge between Snowdon and Y Lliwedd, where Arthur himself is said to have died. A cairn, Carnedd Arthur, was erected at the site and was still standing as late as 1850,[12] but no longer exists.[15]

According to the folklore, Arthur bade Bedivere throw his sword Excalibur into Glaslyn, where Arthur's body was later placed in a boat to be carried away to Afallon. Arthur's men then retreated to a cave on the slopes of Y Lliwedd, where they are said to sleep until such time as they are needed.[12][19] Merlin is supposed to have hidden the golden throne of Britain among the cliffs north of Crib y Ddysgl when the Saxons invaded.[30]

Glaslyn was also the final resting place of a water monster, known as an afanc (also the Welsh word for beaver), which had plagued the people of the Conwy valley. They tempted the monster out of the water with a young girl, before securing it with chains and dragging it to Glaslyn.[12][15] A large stone known as Maen Du'r Arddu, below Clogwyn Du'r Arddu, is supposed to have magical powers. Like several other sites in Wales, it is said that if two people spend the night there, one will become a great poet while the other will become insane.[31] Llyn Coch in Cwm Clogwyn has been associated with the Tylwyth Teg (fairies), including a version of the fairy bride legend.[32]


  1. "About us". Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team. Retrieved January 16, 2010. 
  2. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle  (1095 Chronicle) (Laud)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Jones 2009
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Barnes 2005
  5. "National Three Peaks Challenge". 25 February 2011. Retrieved 28 April 2011. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Marsh 2010, pp. 33–36
  7. R. S. Thorpe, P. T. Leat, A. C. Mann, M. F. Howells, A. J. Reedman & S. D. G. Campbell, 1993 Magmatic evolution of the Ordovician Snowdon Volcanic Centre, North Wales (UK): Journal of Petrology
  8. Wales: A Physical, Historical and Regional Geography ed. Emrys G. Bowen 1957
  9. "Snow 'disappears' from Snowdon". BBC News. 20 December 2004. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Roberts 1995, pp. 179–181
  11. 11.00 11.01 11.02 11.03 11.04 11.05 11.06 11.07 11.08 11.09 11.10 11.11 11.12 Hermon 2006
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 Roberts 1995, pp. 145–148
  13. 13.0 13.1 Roberts 1995, pp. 131–132
  14. Roberts 1995
  15. 15.00 15.01 15.02 15.03 15.04 15.05 15.06 15.07 15.08 15.09 15.10 15.11 15.12 15.13 15.14 15.15 15.16 15.17 15.18 15.19 Marsh 1984
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Marsh 2010, pp. 29–32
  17. Thomas Pennant (1778–1783). A Tour in Wales.  Cited by Marsh 1984
  18. Rowland 1975
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 Marsh 2010, pp. 25–28
  20. "Race records". Snowdon Race. Retrieved 20 April 2011. 
  21. "Walker's mountain hike 'madness'". BBC News. 30 July 2009. 
  22. Jack Geldard (February 2009). "Editorial: Recent Deaths on Snowdon". UK Climbing. Retrieved 29 April 2011. 
  23. "Carry On plaque unveiled". BBC News. 30 September 2005. 
  24. Snowdonia NPA
  25. Jonathan Brown (May 26, 2009). "Makeover for 'highest slum in Wales'". The Independent. Retrieved April 13, 2011. 
  26. "RIBA Awards 2010". Royal Institute of British Architects. 20 May 2010. 
  27. "£8.4m Snowdon summit café opens". BBC News. June 12, 2009. 
  28. "Snowdon visitors' centre is named". BBC News. 13 December 2006. Retrieved 28 April 2011. 
  29. "Welsh-English Lexicon". Cardiff University. Retrieved 1 May 2006. 
  30. Roberts 1995, pp. 143–145
  31. Roberts 1995, pp. 100–101
  32. Roberts 1995, pp. 38–39


  • Barnes, David (2005). "Caernarfonshire: Eifionydd; Llŷn; Arfon". The Companion Guide to Wales. Companion Guides. pp. 279–315. ISBN 9781900639439. 
  • Hermon, Peter (2006). "The Snowdon Range". Hillwalking in Wales, Volume 2. British Hills Series (2nd ed.). Cicerone Press. pp. 237–283. ISBN 9781852844684. 
  • Marsh, Terry (1984). "Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)". The Summits of Snowdonia. Robert Hale Publishing. pp. 178–183. ISBN 9780709014560. 
  • Marsh, Terry (2010). Great Mountain Days in Snowdonia. Cicerone Press. ISBN 9781852845810. 
  • Roberts, Geraint (1995). The Lakes of Eryri. Gwasg Carreg Gwalch. ISBN 9780863813382. 
  • Rowland, E. G. (1975). Ascent of Snowdon. British Hills Series (5th ed.). Cicerone Press. ISBN 9780902363137. 

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