There’s this place called Snowdonia.
It’s in Wales and its all craggy mountain tops, breathtaking views, lakes upon lakes, and quaint villages. And when it gets covered in snow during winter, it’s every bit as epic as it sounds. But even when it’s not snowing, Mount Snowdon epically peaks over all the other mountains in Wales and England at 1058 meters (the highest peaks in the UK are dotted around Scotland). It’s Welsh name, Yr Wyddfa, recalls the origin story of the large mountain – when the mourning people of Gwynedd (the region), covered the corpse of their giant-king with boulders after being defeated by King Arthur.
Not knowing any of this, we blindly said ‘YES!’ when our friend Emily suggested we go climb it.
Choosing which path to take up and down
Mount Snowdon bears the accolade of being the busiest mountain in the UK, with over half a million visitors each year. Even so, the hike should not be taken lightly – proper footwear is essential and knowing which path to take relative to your abilities is crucial. Enough googling can get you into pretty grim stories of Mount Snowdon fatalities – there actually were two helicopter evacuations on the day that we went hiking.
I’m sounding very knowledgable, but we found all of this out only the night before we were planning to reach the summit. we were a bit confused when we googled ‘hiking Mount Snowdon’ and realised there’s a ton of ways to get to the summit, some of which are hair-raising and death-defying. Luckily, I came upon an infographic that was super helpful in choosing which way to go:
We chose the Pyg Track ascent and the Miners’ Track descent.
Partly because it’s a little less busy and more challenging than the most popular Llanberis Path, and partly because we had a rental car – this way we got to experience two trails and still end up where we started. But also because I have a healthy fear of heights and was not mentally prepared for anything higher than 5/10 scariness.
The low down on the Pyg and Miners’ tracks
Pyg track ascent
We were lucky and got a spot at the parking lot, to the right of which the start of the Pyg track is clearly marked. The start of the path is quite busy, but it thins out quickly when people start getting tired. We were very optimistic when we saw the first peak ahead, thinking, ‘oh this will take no time at all!’ …
This is not the peak. This is where those crazy people go up to take the super high and very scary trail along the ridge. No thanks.
The road carries on for much, much longer past some gorgeous lakes, next to which our descent trail, the Miners’ track, is clearly visible.
These two trails meet up after the lakes, and then the worst part is ahead of you: the long, steep and rocky ascent to the top ridge.
When you’ve reached this part, it’s a gradual and ultra-scenic walk up to the highest point. But we would suggest you take your lunch break here, because the actual summit can be suuuper crowded.
Miners’ track descent
The miners’ track splits up from the Pyg track after what was the worst part coming up, and descends quite steeply all the way down to the lakes.
This made me realise that we made a great choice NOT coming up with the Miners’, because that would be a hellishly steep ascent. Not so much scary, or difficult, but just unendingly steep.
From there it’s an easy, mostly paved walk along the edges of the lakes, until it ascends again slightly back to the parking lot.
The road to the final summit leads along the Mount Snowdon Railway and it gets very crowded, very quickly as you approach it; people eventually queue up for the ten or fifteen built out steps to reach the highest point. Having a fairly serious aversion to queues, we couldn’t really be bothered. (Or were we bothered by the fact that this is what is has become?…hard to say). There’s a café and toilets at the top, but, again, it is seriously crowded. We found a slightly quieter spot where we could sit down and watch the clouds roll in and out while the birds dipped over and under them.
As mentioned above, this is the United Kingdom’s most popular mountain, and the Llanberis Path is its most popular trail – so if you want to cut corners crowd-wise, we’d suggest you stay off that one. While the start and the summit were both very crowded (ladies – PEE AT HOME! Lonnnng queue for the restrooms in the parking lot), it thinned out quite a bit until we reached the nasty, zigzaggy ascent, where people slowed down again and bundled up again.
On top of this, we went at the end of the season. Weather-wise it’s a bit risky (though we were blessed with the perfect conditions), but I do not want to know what the high-season crowds look like…
Enough reason to put your back into this hike. The lush green valleys, spotted with wildflowers; the deep-blue lakes reflecting the dramatic skies, the clouds rushing in, momentarily engulfing you in grey-white at the summit; and the sheep, leisurely grazing at impossible heights.
The Pyg and Miners’ track combo was perfect for us, and I can definitely recommend this for first-time Mt. Snowdoners. It’s a mostly gradual walk, with more challenging, but not fear-inducing or back-breaking intervals of rocky ascents and descents, and breathtaking views.
Whilst the trek to the summit is certainly popular, it is not necessarily easy. It’s a stiff hike, and can even be frustrating where hikers bottle-neck on harder parts, but everyone is duly rewarded with the hard-earned exhaustion that only comes from accomplishment and, let me reiterate, THE SKY-HIGH VIEWS:
Where to stay
Beddgelert is an adorable little village with a population of about 500, just 20 minutes from the Mount Snowdon car park. We hung around here for a rewarding pint and early dinner after our hike and we loved it. We did not get to stay here, though.
We booked our bank-holiday weekend a wee bit late, when most places were already sold out, but came upon the cutest little cottage, with the most magical little garden, just outside of Barmouth through the HomeAway app. It was over an hour’s drive to get to our hike on Saturday morning, and the 3000-strong town lacks that specific quaintness that a village with only 500 people has, but we adored the cottage and the lovely couple who hosted us. They even came knocking on our door with a plate of home-made lemon drizzle cake!
If you DO end up in Barmouth, make sure that you go to Knickerbockers! They specialise in all the best decadent ice cream combinations…if I close my eyes I can still remember the sweet, dreamy taste of that birthday cake ice cream…
THE WEIRDEST VILLAGE IN WALES
Visiting Portmeirion has been one of the more surreal experiences of our time in the UK. It’s a small coastal village in Snowdonia meant to look like a small coastal village in Italy. The result is that it looks like neither, existing as a facade of both Wales and the Mediterranean, where pasty-white British tourists sip wine on neo-classical balconies or eat gelato besides lily-white Romanesque statues.
Portmeirion’s designer and creator, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, had bought the land of an abandoned Welsh village in 1925, and set out to create this out-of-place Mediterranean town over the next 50 years. He sought to create a ‘home for fallen buildings’, and ‘collected’ parts of buildings in the UK that were due to be demolished. Consequently, the town is a mad bricolage of nostalgia and architectural styles, painted in brights and varying pastels. There’s even a golden buddha on site for no sensible reason that I can think of. The combinations are flamboyant and extra and super strange, and it will put a smile on your face, however confused it may be. Visiting Portmeirion feels more like traveling through time and space – from 21st-century Wales to what someone in the mid-20th century imagined the perfect 19th-century Mediterranean town to be.
Keep in mind that we did not really know any of this when we set foot in Portmeirion, so the out-of-placeness felt jarringly bizarre.
We also found out later that the town was positioned as the back drop for a British TV series from the 60s. In ‘The Prisoner’, a former British secret service agent is knocked unconscious in his London flat, only to wake up to a recreation of his flat in ‘the Village’ – a coastal, picture-perfect Mediterranean place where it seems as if people are just peacefully living out their lives. Except he can’t leave, everyone has numbers for names, he regularly gets interrogated, and you can’t tell the prisoners and the guards apart. And you know what…Portmeirion seems like the perfect backdrop for this.
I am dying to watch this series, by the way.
Portmeirion is weird and wonderful and very kitch, like a beautiful lie told beautifully well. I think I was the only one in our group who really loved this village. I loved loved loved it. Because of how deceptive and uncanny it all felt. I felt like I was in some sort of twilight zone.
Besides the strange and colourful town, there’s also a small forest to be enjoyed with a couple of walking trails that lead off to surprisingly pretty little beaches, ocean-side views, a japanese garden, and a dog cemetery where the lady of the house, who preferred canine company to humans, buried her pooches in the previous century.
Portmeirion is open form 09.30 to 19.30.
Tickets are £12 for adults, £9 for students (save £1 when you buy online)