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A Taste of Snowdonia

Updated on September 1, 2016

In general

I spent many idyllic days hiking either through the valleys or up and down hills and mountains in this region of North Wales. It offers so many recreational opportunities for leisurely walks or a more serious climb or hike, or merely to spend time out of time, that you could never tire of its timeless charms.

Hidden among the hills and valleys is a treasure-trove of historical sites.

The Tallylyn narrow-gauge railway provides steam train travel, Thomas-the-tank-engine style, evocative of the early twentieth century. This extends from the seaside town of Tywyn on the west coast to the village of Abergynolwyn further inland, at the foot of Cader Idris. You can sit back and enjoy the scenery or even drive the train.

Edward Thomas at Tywyn Wharf
Edward Thomas at Tywyn Wharf | Source


The peak of Snowdonia, visible in the background
The peak of Snowdonia, visible in the background | Source

In my experience there are basically two flavours of mountain in Snowdonia. Firstly, there is the rather spartan Cader Idris, whose peak stands 2,907 feet above sea level, though there is a lake, Llyn Cau, near the summit for those adventurous, hardy souls who feel the need to take a bath. Don't forget the soap and towel! If you decide to try this bear in mind that the water will very cold; be wary of real risks of hypothermia, cramps and any risk of drowning. Also, bear in mind that you still must descend the mountain.

Cader Idris, showing LLyn Cau
Cader Idris, showing LLyn Cau | Source

On the other hand, there is Mount Snowdon, standing at 3,560 feet above sea level, albeit with a train service to the peak, where cafeteria service is provided. The cafeteria was rebuilt entirely in 2008.

Cader Idris has several recommended footpaths from its base to the summit. Some of these are entirely walkable - naturally generally uphill. Probably the most challenging route that I undertook up this mountain is from the south, past the lake, which will be out of sight to the left near the summit, and straight up the cliff opposite. I found it to be at most a scramble rather than a climb. In fact much of the ascent up the cliff was more like a very steep walk, though I used hand-holds where available. Perhaps in this age of safety-gear a helmet might be a good idea. From the cliff-top it is not far to the summit.

The summit of Cader Idris


If you are interested in trekking up Mount Snowdon, there are several recognised paths - again, each of these is entirely walkable, though the Miners' Path I describe below is less so toward the summit.

My experience of the Miners' Path was in deep winter, after a heavy snowfall. At one point on the trail, where it is steeper, there are holes wide enough to fall down, presumably made by miners digging for ore. For some reason, I was wearing town shoes, albeit stoutly built and rubber soled, and was slipping and sliding all over the place. I remember before we started up the mountain, comparing the others' big, chunky boots against my shoes and thinking "Hmm, maybe I'm pushing my luck a bit." I made it without mishap to the summit, though I recall slipping on the way down, and sliding about fifty feet on the snow. It could easily have been worse.

The Miners Path, Mt Snowdon


The Llanberis Path, by comparison, is gentle and uneventful, though I am sure Mount Snowdon holds many challenges if you seek them. I sometimes saw people rock climbing with ropes, for instance. More recently I cycled up the Llanberis Path; more accurately, we pushed the bikes nearly all the way up and rode them nearly all the way down.

Llanberis Path, Mt Snowdon


Map showing Cader Idris and the surrounding region

Cadair Idris PenyGadair:
Cadair Idris - Penygadair

get directions

The approximate location of the summit of Cader idris

Dolgellau, Gwynedd LL40, UK

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A small town convenient for Cader Idris

Abergynolwyn, Tywyn, Gwynedd LL36, UK

get directions

A small town convenient for Cader Idris


First and foremost, safety-first arises from a state of mind. In the context of hazardous recreation generally, a useful analogy might be to enjoy the exhilaration of riding fast downhill on a bicycle while constantly looking out for possible dangers, and having in mind sensible preventative measures to take in good time to avert any calamity.

Naturally, there is some degree of danger in everything we do, whether mountain-walking, martial arts or housework. When walking on a mountain many risks will be with you all day long, step by step. Part of your mindset should be that you pay a lot of attention to the detail of everything you do. For example, on a mountain the ground you walk on will be rough, perhaps pitted with holes and strewn with small rocks and stones. Mountains are generally very uncivilised places; you will see neither pavements - that is, sidewalks, street-lighting, nor warning signs. With every step you should pay attention to where you place your feet, and be wary of tripping, or just of a small rock giving way beneath your foot.

Even if you suffer only a sprained ankle that could slow your progress so much that you have difficulty in getting off the mountain in daylight.

Ideally, you should develop a state of mind of being careful even without thinking about it. After all, you don't consciously pay enormous care in the routine of your daily life, yet on the mountain there will be many issues you must pay constant attention to, and any one of them could cause you serious injury or even a long, lingering death on the mountain.

I think a simple test might be that if you believe you could not appreciate the humorous aspect of a hazard then perhaps that might be more hazardous than you are prepared to accept. You should then make choices accordingly.

For mountain walking I cannot emphasise enough the need for proper hiking boots, waterproof clothing and adequate insulation. The weather and visibility can change quickly and drastically. Bear in mind that from a height of around 500 feet and upward you could be at cloud level. Therefore mist, fog, rain and generally cold weather at short notice must be anticipated.

It is especially important to plan the timing of your trek up and down the mountain, unless you take a specialist tent and sleeping bags. Even then, you must allow time to erect the tent, and should be competent in using the equipment to ensure your safety. Otherwise, you cannot sensibly expect to stay on the mountain overnight. The only safe option is to descend off the mountain in daylight. Therefore, you must time your ascent and descent accordingly.

It is not a good idea to depend on emergency services, and appearing on the television news after being rescued probably will not enhance your reputation.

Remember - be safe and be prepared.

© 2009 Peter Ray


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