Steaming up to the Summit
The train line, which is Britain’s highest Rack Railway, has been in existence since 1896 taking over 12 million visitors in that time from Llanberis to the summit of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales and England standing at 3,560ft/1,085 metres.
Today there are three steam locomotive departures a day from May to the end of September with a heritage carriage that seats 34 passengers, and diesel locomotives every 30 minutes from March to the end of October with carriages that seat 60 passengers. And the return journey on both takes two and a half hours which includes a 30 minute stop at the Summit.
We opted for the nostalgic mode of Steam travel and booked ourselves on the 9.30am train. You are advised to get there half an hour before the train departs and having seen how busy the station was with train goers as well as walkers it definitely does pay to get there as early as you can, especially as we were one of the last cars to get onto the car park nearest the station at 9am.
Seats for the steam train are allocated and initially we were disappointed to be on the land side of the mountain but we needn’t have been as we still saw the amazing views, plus we had the bonus of having some jaw-dropping views of Ceunant Mawr waterfall and Llanberis Pass on our side. Once everyone was settled in their seats and we’d had a very short health and safety talk, there was a toot of the engine and off we went. If you’re used to hurtling through life at a million miles an hour this sedate mode of transport is very relaxing and great fun, and if you download the brilliant interactive App beforehand you can read all about your journey as you progress up to the Summit.
Soon after you leave Llanberis, the train crosses the first of two viaducts across the Afon Hwch river where the Ceunant Mawr waterfall can be seen before you then pass Waterfall station which used to be a local family’s home. Look up ahead through the carriage and you’ll catch glimpses of the track as well as your first view of Snowdon’s Summit. To the right you’ll see Moel Elio, named after a 4th Century Irish King.
The train then passes Hebron Station which is named after the nearby Hebron Chapel. To the right is a large and ruined farm at the bottom of Cwm Brwynog or Valley of Reeds which historians claim was the hunting ground for wild boar.
As the train climbs higher Moel Hebog can be seen in the distance above the village of Beddgelert. Moel Hebog means Hill of the Falcon and this is home to the Peregrine Falcon, the world’s fastest animal. To its north is a cave where it is believed that Owain Glyndwr, the leader of the last Welsh rebellion against the English is meant to be waiting to rise and lead his people once more!
At the Halfway Station there’s a short stop for the steam engine to re-fill its water tanks. From here you can see walkers on the Llanberis Path to the right, and Moel Cynghorion, the Mountain of Councillors, rising on the far side of the Valley. Beyond the Halfway Station are remnants of one of the largest medieval settlements in Wales and the black volcanic rock face of Clogwyn du’r Arddu rising in the distance.
As the train leaves the station it approaches the dramatic and sheer edge of Rocky Valley, a rock-littered landscape with spectacular views down to the valleys and Llanberis Pass. To the right through the valley you can see views of the Llyn Peninsula as you head towards Clogwyn Station. This is the highest the trains go to in early Spring, and it has superb views over Llanberis Pass and Clogwyn du’r Addu cliffs. Keep an eye out for the huge boulders which are rumoured to be the home of a witch named Canthrig Bwt who would try to catch children climbing on the rocks!
Your journey then proceeds to the Summit and you disembark at Hafod Eryri, the UK’s highest visitor centre for a 30 minute stop. Hafod Eryri opened in 2009 and it is estimated that it receives half a million visitors a year so if you want to climb up to the cairn make sure you don’t leave it to the last minute! The building was built to withstand all that the mountainous weather throws at it while also blending in to its natural surroundings. It’s clad in oak and granite with panoramic windows so everyone can see the stunning views to the valleys below, and as well as having lines of poetry from Gwyn Thomas, the National Poet of Wales at the time built into the building there’s also a plaque bearing The Imperial Hotel’s name as we were one of the many sponsors that helped Hafod Eryri become a reality. There’s also a café with a good selection of hot and cold drinks and snacks and a Summit gift shop.
The weather on our trip was fabulous and by the time we’d walked around the centre and admired the spectacular views it was sadly time to hop on board the train for the return journey. By then there was a constant stream of walkers making it up to the summit and we couldn’t help sparing a thought to the man who rode to the top on a penny-farthing bicycle in 1884! Other modes of transport that have made it to the top are a car in 1904 and a motorcycle in 1912 and in 2009, Bryn Terfel, the reclaimed Welsh opera singer managed to get a grand piano up to the summit where he performed My Little Welsh Home!
Return tickets for the Heritage Steam Experience are £39 for adults aged 16+ and £29 for children aged 3-15. The Diesel Service is £30 for adults aged 16+ and £21 for children aged 3-15 for return trips or if you fancy taking the train up but walking down it’s £23 for adults and £18 for children. And as demand is very high we recommend you book as early as you can on the Snowdon Mountain Railway website.