It’s the mountain where Arthur slew a giant, a DJ did a practice run for Kilimanjaro, a rare flower grows and ancient fossilised sea shells lie. It’s Snowdon, of course – Wales’ highest mountain – but how many of these facts about The Great Tomb did you already know?
Beautiful and majestic though Snowdon is, it’s easy to see it as just a lump of rock. A very big lump of rock, granted, and one that hundreds of thousands of people ascend every year; but still, you might not expect this lump of rock to be as interesting as it is…
Prepare to be dazzled by our ten favourite interesting things about Snowdon – can you add any others?
1. Size matters
At 1,085 metres or 3,560 feet, Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales and England (but not in Britain; that honour goes to Ben Nevis, in Scotland). Snowdon is one of more than 90 summits over 2,000 feet in Snowdonia, and one of 15 peaks exceeding 3,000 feet.
2. What’s in a name?
The English name “Snowdon” comes from the Saxon “Snow Dun”, meaning “snow hill”. In Welsh, we call the mountain Yr Wyddfa – a shortened version of its old name, Yr Wyddfa Fawr (which means the Great Tomb or the Great Throne). It was also at one time known as Carnedd y Cawr (the Cairn of the Giant). These names hint at some of the more mystical stories surrounding Snowdon – more about those later.
3. Now you ‘sea’ it…
Five hundred million years ago, Snowdon was on the seabed (as evidenced by fragments of shell fossils that have been found on the mountain’s summit). Snowdon is on the northern extent of the ‘Harlech Dome’, which is said to be Snowdonia’s oldest physical feature. Some of the mountain’s distinctive features were produced by volcanic rocks, while many of the nearby valleys were gouged out by glaciers.
4. The only way is up (unless you’re coming back down)
There are six official routes up Snowdon, varying in difficulty and approaching the summit from different sides of the mountain. These are the Watkin Path, the Llanberis Path, the Miners Path, the Pyg Track, the Rhyd Ddu Path and Snowdon Ranger. If walking is not an option for you or a member of your group there’s a train to the summit, which runs from Llanberis (see the Snowdon Mountain Railway website for times and prices).
5. Let’s summit up…
Once you reach the top, depending on the time of year you may be able to stop at Hafod Eryri for rest and refreshment (see the Snowdon Mountain Railway website for details). If you’re fortunate enough to reach the summit on a clear day, take advantage of the views – you may be able to see 18 lakes and the aforementioned 14 summits over 3,000 feet, while further afield you may be able to see Ireland, the Isle of Man and even the Lake District.
6. Languid as a lily…
Snowdon has a lily named after it. The Snowdon Lily – a delicate arctic-alpine plant with white flowers and grass-like leaves – grows high in the mountains of Snowdonia but has not been recorded anywhere else in Britain. It’s protected by law, so if you’re lucky enough to see one, don’t be tempted to pick it!
7. … busy as a beetle
There’s also a Snowdon Beetle. This small, brightly-coloured beetle is known elsewhere in Europe as the Rainbow Leaf Beetle, because it has brightly-coloured red, gold, green and blue striped elytra. The population of Snowdon Beetles in Snowdonia is very low – only about 1000 adults.
8. Stuff of legend
As the mountain’s old Welsh names (in English, The Great Tomb and The Cairn of the Giant) suggest, Snowdon and indeed the entire Snowdonia region has connections with ancient myths and legends – especially those surrounding Arthur, the ‘once and future king‘. In one story, Arthur kills a giant – Ritta – on Snowdon’s slopes, to avoid having his beard added to the giant’s collection. In another tale, Arthur’s body lies beneath a cairn of stones – Carnedd Arthur – at Tregalan, while his knights, in full armour, lie in a cave on Y Lliwedd. They all await the call to save Britain in her hour of greatest need.
9. Hold your horses
In the olden days, tourists were carried up the Llanberis Path by pony or mule. This path is still popular for pony treks, and for this reason there’s a voluntary agreement with mountain bikers to keep off this path at busy times of the year.
10. In good company
Over 350,000 visitors reach Snowdon’s summit every year. The first recorded ascent was by the botanist Thomas Johnson in 1639, and since then the summit has been reached by many well-known people, especially those in training for going up some of the world’s largest, toughest mountains. In recent years celebrity Snowdon-trekkers have included Chris Moyles, the former BBC Radio One DJ, who ascended Snowdon with his team while in training for a charity hike up Kilimanjaro.