Snowdonia, known in Welsh as Eryri (land on the eagles), is a land of high peaks, steep, plunging valleys, and open moorland bounded on the west by the Llyn peninsula and the Cardigan coast; in the north by the Conwy river; in the south by Machynlleth; in the east by Bala. The glaciers of the last ice age moulded the ancient rock. Mountains, glacial lakes, waterfalls, and wilderness compete for attention.
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The park includes the mountain ranges of Tryfan, the Glyderau, the Moelwynion, Aran and Arennig, Cader Idris and the most well known mountain, Snowdon, the highest peak south of the Scottish border at 3560 feet (1113m). Thirteen other peaks are above 3000 feet.No matter which way you turn, the scenery will catch your breath.
Three estuaries—the Glaslyn/Dwyryd, Mawddach and Dyfi offer sandy bays and dunes. Rivers, lakes and waterfalls, and remnants of ancient deciduous woodlands add to the attractions of the area. A rich variety of plants and wildlife mirrors the diversity of the landscape. Peregrine falcon and merlin soar in the skies. Birdwatchers can spot sparrowhawks, buzzards, and kestrels, just some of the species to be found here. By night polecats and pine martens prowl, and there are otters in the rivers and lakes. On the ground the Snowdon lily, an arctic/alpine plant, offers a brave face to the wild weather.
The park is a mecca for hikers. Divided into stages with high and low level choices, it runs for 140 miles (220km). Starting in Llangollen, it heads through southern and northern Snowdonia providing two separate routes of a week’s walk each. The route ends at Conwy, after taking in scenic mountain routes that include major summits, lakes, waterfalls and coastline. A spectacular 200-foot (60m) high waterfall, Rhaeadr Fawr (Aber Falls) is on one trail.
Prehistoric man and Celtic chiefs left their mark here. The Romans built roads and forts. Pilgrims visited. The Welsh Princes of Gwynedd reigned from mountain strongholds-armies disappeared into the vastness of the remote countryside, eluding their enemies. The English came to conquer and marked the landscape by building castles. The gold, lead and copper mining and the slate quarrying industries scarred the mountains. Today Snowdonia Park is a stronghold of the Welsh language and way of life. 28,000 people live here.
Llanberis is a popular mountain centre in the park. It is flanked by two lakes, Llyn Padarn and Llyn Peris. The beautiful Llanberis pass is a not-to-be missed driving adventure. From Llanberis, the Snowdon mountain rack and pinion railroad, built in 1896, runs an hour long trip—5 miles (8km)—to the summit of Mt Snowdon on its northwestern slope. It’s a scenic wonder on a clear day but the clouds can roll in quickly, obscuring the view. Weather is an important factor in whether the trains operate—high winds are a danger across the last part of the track, which is on a narrow saddleback, so trips are not always completed.
The Snowdonia National Park Visitor Centre is located at the Old Stables in Betws-y-Coed, a popular resort in the heart of the Gwydir Forest. It’s the meeting place of three valleys and the river Conwy and its three tributaries. At one time the village was a scattering of houses on a packhorse trail. The Conwy Valley Railway museum at the train station features a miniature railway, shop, and buffet coach restaurant. Nearby a motor museum features a collection of vintage cars. The 14th century church of St Michael’s is one of the oldest in Wales. Welsh choirs perform in the summer at the parish church of St. Mary’s.
Interesting bridges abound in the area. The iron Waterloo bridge, built in 1815 by Thomas Telford, is inscribed “This arch was constructed in the same year the battle of Waterloo was fought.” Many countryside walks start from the bridge of the cauldron, Pont-y-Pair, built in 1468. Close by, Miner’s bridge, on the road to Capel Curig, is the location where the miners used a ladder to cross the river on their way to work. The famous Swallow falls and its chasm are nearby. To the south of the village is the Fairy Glen, a narrow gorge of the river Conwy.
Nearby, Dolwyddelan castle stands high on a mountain ridge and was a stronghold of the Welsh princes in the early 13th century. The views, rather than the ruins, are spectacular.
Beddgelert, a stone village located amid steep mountain slopes, lakes and wooded hillsides, was featured on a stamp in 1997 and won a Gold Award for village in a Europe in Bloom competition. The Sygun copper mine, on the outskirts of the village, offers an opportunity to experience the working environment of Victorian miners.
The wild, undisturbed mountains, deep valleys and moorland of Eryri, land of the eagles, is Wales at its finest.
The Betws-y-Coed and District Tourism Association: Tel. 01690 710758
Email: Welcome at Betws-y-coed
Snowdon Mountain Railway
Trains run from mid-March to end November. Capacity: 59 passengers (reserve ahead by at least one day during the tourist season). They run from around 9am. There is shelter and limited food available at the terminus. Tel. 0870 458 0033
Email: from the website
Web: Snowdon Railway
Photos courtesy Wales Tourist Board except
Dolwyddelan castle by Barbara Ballard