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Llyn Llydaw from Crib Goch

Snowdonia (Welsh: Eryri) is a mountain region in north Wales, almost wholly in Caernarfonshire. It has given its name too to the Snowdonia National Park which covers not just he Snowdonia range but the wider mountainous fastness of Caernarfonshire and Merionethshire.

At the heart of Snowdonia is Snowdon, the highest mountain in Great Britain outside the Highlands of Scotland, rising to 3,560 feet above sea level.

The Snowdonia Society is a registered charity formed in 1967. It is a voluntary group of people with an interest in the area and its protection.

Names of Snowdonia

Snowdon from Llyn Llydaw

The current English name of the range, Snowdonia, derives from Snowdon. An earlier name was the Forest of Snowdon, in his Britannia of 1586, William Camden, who lavished unrestrained praise on the Snowdon Forest, notes that Snaudonia had appeared as a name amongst the "Latin historians".[1]

The name of Snowdon is English; the mountain is named Snawdun ("Snow mountain") in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 1095.[2]

In Welsh, this region is named Eryri. One assumption is that the name is derived from eryr ("eagle"), but others state that it means quite simply Highlands, as leading Welsh scholar Sir Ifor Williams asserted.[3]

In the Middle Ages the title "Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia" (Tywysog Cymru ac Arglwydd Eryri) was used by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd; his grandfather Llywelyn Fawr used the title "Prince of North Wales and Lord of Snowdonia".

Since the designation of the National Park, the term "Snowdonia" has come to be used for the far wider area of the park than the Snowdon massif to which it properly belongs, and indeed to an area more than twice that size extending far to the south into Merionethshire. The traditional Snowdonia, as ascertained in books published before the aggrandisement of administrative boundaries, includes the ranges of Snowdon and its satellites, the Glyderau, the Carneddau and the Moel Siabod group. It does not include the hills to the south of Maentwrog.

Shape of the land


Snowdonia proper contains the greatest mountains in England and Wales. This part of the Park is the most popular part with tourists. It includes (from west to east):

These last three groups are the highest mountains in Wales, and include all of Wales' mountains over 3000 feet; the "Welsh 3000s".

William Camden in Britannia did not stint on praise for the Forest of Snowdon, but said that they are the true British Alps:

A man may truely, if hee please, terme these mountaines the British Alpes: for, besides that they are the greatest of the whole Island, they are no lesse steepe also with cragged and rent rockes on every side than the Alpes of Italie, yea and all of them compasse one mountaine round about, which over-topping the rest so towreth up with his head aloft in the aire as hee may seeme not to threaten the skie, but to thrust his head up into heaven.[1]

The Welsh 3000s

SW end of the Carneddau range from Elidir Fach, in Glyderau

All of the mountains over 3,000 feet in Wales are in Snowdonia and all are within Caernarfonshire. There are fifteen of these, known as the Welsh 3000s. The highest are of course Snowdon at 3,600 feet followed by Garnedd Ugain (also known as Crib y Ddysgl) at 3,494 feet.

Though all in Snowdonia, they fall within three ranges, all sufficiently close to make it possible to reach all 15 summits within 24 hours, a challenge known as the Welsh 3000s challenge.

The length of the Welsh 3000s challenge (from first peak to last) is about 26 miles, but including the walk to and from any start point, this will total some 30 miles. Most people undertaking the challenge walk it, and many achieve it in much less than 24 hours. The record for the challenge (from first peak to last) stands at 4 hours 19 minutes, by Colin Donnelly in 1988.[4] On 17/18 June 1978 John Wagstaff of West Bromwich Mountaineering Club completed a triple crossing in 22 hours 49 minutes, a feat which has yet to be repeated.[5][6]

The walk is also known as "The 14 Peaks" as Carnedd Gwenllian (or "Garnedd Uchaf") is not always included, as it has the least relative height, being little more than a bump on the ridge rather than a separate summit in its own right. Many nevertheless choose to make the small diversion to include it on the traverse. There is also an option to include a sixteenth top, Castell y Gwynt on the Glyder range which has been reclassified since a survey in 2007.

Snowdon Massif Glyderau Carneddau
Asterisk.svgif included

Mountain walking

Southern edge. Waymarked path near Llyn Barfog

Many of the hikers in the area concentrate on Snowdon itself. It is regarded as a fine mountain, but can become quite crowded, particularly with the Snowdon Mountain Railway running to the summit.[7]

The other high mountains with their boulder-strewn summits, and as well as Tryfan, one of the few mountains in the United Kingdom south of Scotland whose ascent needs hands as well as feet, are also quite popular. There are however some spectacular walks in Snowdonia on the lower mountains which tend to be relatively unfrequented. Among hikers' favourites are Y Garn (east of Llanberis) along the ridge to Elidir Fawr; Mynydd Tal-y-Mignedd (west of Snowdon) along the Nantlle Ridge to Mynydd Drws-y-Coed; Moelwyn Mawr (west of Blaenau Ffestiniog); and Pen Llithrig y Wrach north of Capel Curig. Further south are Y Llethr in the Rhinogydd, and Cadair Idris near Dolgellau.

National Park

Map of Snowdonia National Park

The Snowdonia National Park was created in 1951; the third National Park in Britain, following the Peak District and the Lake District. It covers 827 square miles, and has 37 miles of coastline.[8][9] The National Park covers an area far beyond Snowdonia itself and deep into the mountains of Merionethshire.

The Park has 1,479 miles of public footpath, 164 miles of public bridleways, and 46 miles of other public rights of way.[10] A large part of the Park is also covered by Right to Roam laws.

The Park is governed by the Snowdonia National Park Authority, which is made up of local and regional government representatives, and its main offices are at Penrhyndeudraeth. Unlike national parks in other countries, Snowdonia (and other such parks in Britain) are made up of both public and private lands under central planning authority.

View of some of the Snowdon Massif including Snowdon (centre right) taken from Mynydd Mawr. The Glyderau are visible in the distance
Disused quarry near Llanberis in the foothills of the Glyderau

More than 26,000 people live within the Park, of whom about 62% can speak at least some Welsh.[11][12] The Park attracts over 6 million visitors annually, split almost equally between day and staying visitors, making it the third most visited National Park in England and Wales.[13] Whilst most of the land is either open or mountainous land, there is a significant amount of agricultural activity within the Park.

There is a hole in the middle; around the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog a slate quarrying centre. This was deliberately excluded from the Park when it was set up in order to allow the development of new light industry to replace the slate industry, which has collapsed.

Nature, landscape and the environment

Rain coming on Llyn Cowlyd

The Park's entire coastline is a Special Area of Conservation, which runs from Llŷn down the mid-Wales coast, the latter containing valuable sand dune systems.

The Park's natural forests are of the mixed deciduous type, the commonest tree being the Welsh oak. Birch, ash, mountain-ash and hazel are also common. The Park also contains some large (planted) coniferous forested areas such as Gwydir Forest near Betws-y-Coed, although some areas, once harvested, are now increasingly being allowed to regrow naturally.

Northern Snowdonia is the only place in Britain where the Snowdon Lily, an arctic-alpine plant, and the rainbow-coloured Snowdon beetle (Chrysolina cerealis) are found, and the only place in the world where the Snowdonia hawkweed Hieracium snowdoniense grows.

A large proportion of the Park is today under designation (or under consideration for designation) as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National Nature Reserves, Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas, Biosphere and Ramsar sites.

One of the major problems facing the Park in recent years has been the growth of Rhododendron ponticum.[14] This fast-growing invasive species has a tendency to take over and stifle native species. 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 seven-year period after the Rhododendron infestations have been eradicated. As a result, there are a number of desolate landscapes.

Rare mammals in the park include otters, polecats, and the feral goat, although the pine marten has not been seen for many years.[15] Rare birds include raven, peregrine, osprey, merlin and the red kite.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Snowdonia)


  1. 1.0 1.1 William Camden's Britannia, 1586/1607 (Caernarvonshire): before that Wales was laied out into shires they termed it by the name of Snowden Forest, and the Latin historians Snaudonia of that Forest, and Arvonia out of the British name, because it hath Mona, that is, Anglesey, just over against it.
  2. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle  Laud Chronicle (1095) fyrde eall togædere com to ealra halgena to Snawdune. Ac þa Wylisce a toforan into muntan and moran ferdan þæt heom man to cuman ne mihte
  3. Ifor Williams, Enwau Lleoedd (Liverpool, 1945), p.18. Compare the late professor's article in Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, vol. iv, pp. 137-41. The plural of Welsh eryr (eagle) is eryrod or eryron, with no example of a form eryri being attested. A second word eryr, plural eryri, means "shingles" in modern Welsh; in the old Welsh place name this suggests uneven or upraised ground, a land of hills; "the uplands" or "highlands"
  4. The Record, Snowdonia Society website.
  5. “The Record” Snowdonia Society website
  6. Clayton & Turnbull (1997) “The Welsh Three Thousand Foot Challenges: A Guide for Walkers and Hill Runners” Grey Stone Books, Darwen, Lancashire. ISBN 978-1902017020
  7. Parker, Mike; Whitfield, Paul (2003). The Rough Guide to Wales (4 ed.). Rough Guides. pp. 385. ISBN 978-1843531203. 
  8. Culliford, Alison (24 July 1999). "National Parks - The complete guide to Britain's national parks". The Independent. 
  9. "Our national parks". MSN. 
  10. "Walks for region - Snowdonia Mountains and Coast". Walking in North Wales.;rid=11. 
  11. Thomas, Helen (28 October 2001). "Make the most of Snowdonia". The Independent. 
  12. "The Welsh Language". Snowdonia National Park Authority. 
  13. Park Profile 2007. Snowdonia National Park Authority.
  14. "Important plant areas in the UK". The Daily Telegraph. 24 July 2007. 
  15. Turner, Robin (3 August 2009). "If you go down to the woods today you might find an endangered pine marten". WalesOnline.