North Wales, UK
Wales is a strange and beautiful place, and the most strange and
beautiful part of it is Snowdonia in the northern county of Gwynedd. Snowdonia
is a land of lakes and high mountains, many of which are covered in snow
throughout the winter months.
Probably the best place from which to explore Snowdonia (of Eryri, as it’s
known in the local Welsh language) is the coastal city of Bangor. As cities go,
Bangor is pretty small. But it gets its city designation by virtue of having a
cathedral – there’s been one here since the twelfth century. Bangor is also a
great place for exploring the Isle of Anglesey, which is easily reached by
bridge across the Menai Straits.
While you’re in Bangor, climb up to the main University
building, Top College and enjoy the view from its south-facing terrace. On your
left you will see the Irish sea and the north Welsh coast receding into the
misty distance. Straight ahead are the mountains of Snowdonia. The biggest ones
you can see from Bangor are Carnedd Llewelyn and Carnedd Dafydd. A little to
the right you should be able to make out the rocky peak of Tryfan. Further
along still is Mount Snowdon itself, the highest peak in Great Britain south of
the Scottish highlands.
Snowdon is a little difficult to pick out from the coast, as it’s surrounded by
other hills. The best way to get up close and personal with the famous mountain
is to take a trip to the lakeside town of Llanberis, which lies at the foot of
Snowdon. Llanberis itself is a rather gray, unprepossessing place – a mass of
rendered brick buildings and the local slate that is mined on the far side of
the lake in the Deiniolen slate quarries. Don’t be fooled by appearances,
however: there’s a lot to do in Llanberis. For a start, it’s the home of
arguably the most famous eaterie in Wales. Pete’s Eats is not what you would
call a fashionable or glamorous establishment; neither is the food particularly
haute cuisine. But if you like bacon sandwiches, huge slices of chocolate cake
and steaming pint mugs of tea, it’s almost certainly the place for you. It’s
also tremendously atmospheric. The best time to go to Pete’s is late on a
Saturday afternoon, when it becomes a Mecca for climbers and hikers who have
come down off the mountain sides to dry out and enjoy some home cooking. Don’t
forget to buy a souvenir pint mug and check out the hundreds of maps and photos
that cover the interior walls.
If you’re in the mood for a little adventure, you could always make the ascent
of Snowdon yourself. The mountain’s summit is 1085 meters above sea-level, so
getting up there is no light proposition. But if you’re a seasoned and
properly-equipped hiker you should have few problems on the main path that
leads up from Llanberis. Remember to take all the usual safety gear – and if
you don’t know what that is, don’t go up on your own! More ambitious and
experienced hikers and mountaineers should try the routes that start from
Pen-y-Pass a few miles out of Llanberis. These include the notorious Crib Goch
route – a mile-long crawl along a knife-edge of rock with thousand-foot drops
on either side. Crib Goch is not for the faint of heart or the inexperienced.
Even experienced mountain people should be wary of it when the weather is bad.
If climbing and hiking aren’t you thing, you can still get to the top of
Snowdon by taking the train. The Snowdon Mountain Railway has been carrying
tourists to the summit for many years now. The slow, clanking journey to the
top lets you enjoy some truly spectacular views over the Snowdonia ranges.
On the small plateau at the top of Snowdon is a café. After
you’ve enjoyed a refreshing hot drink you only have to walk a hundred yards or
so to the summit proper, which is marked by a small cairn. From this lofty
vantage point you can see for miles: along the ridge of Crib Goch, down to
Llanberis, over to Bangor, the Menai Straits and Anglesey. On clear days you
can see for miles out across the Irish Sea, sometimes as far as the Isle of Man
and the Galloway coast of Scotland. Although all of Snowdonia is a UK national
park, Snowdon itself is exclusively owned by the British public – it was bought
for £3 million several years after a campaign spearheaded by Hollywood movie
star and patriotic Welshman Sir Anthony Hopkins.
The summit of Snowdon is only the start of an exploration of
this fantastic area. Snowdonia is wild and homely by turns – full of deserted,
windswept mountainsides wreathed in mist, and hidden villages, pubs and
restaurants where a warm welcome is always on offer.