IUCN category V (protected landscape/seascape)
|Location||United Kingdom (Wales)|
|Area||823 sq mi (2,130 km2)|
Snowdonia (Welsh: Eryri; Welsh pronunciation: [ɛrərɪ]) is a mountainous region in northwestern Wales and a national park of 823 square miles (2,130 km2) in area. It was the first to be designated of the three national parks in Wales, in 1951. It contains the highest peaks in the United Kingdom outside Scotland.
Name and extent
The English name for the area derives from Snowdon, which is the highest mountain in Wales at 3560 ft (1,085 m). In Welsh, the area is named Eryri. A commonly held belief is that the name is derived from eryr ("eagle"), and thus means "the abode/land of eagles", but recent evidence is that it means Highlands, and is related to the Latin oriri (to rise) as leading Welsh scholar Sir Ifor Williams proved.
In the Middle Ages the title Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia (Tywysog Cymru ac Arglwydd Eryri) was used by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd; his grandfather Llywelyn Fawr used the title Prince of north Wales and Lord of Snowdonia.
Before the boundaries of the national park were designated, "Snowdonia" was generally used to refer to a smaller area, namely the upland area of northern Gwynedd centred on the Snowdon massif, whereas the national park covers an area more than twice that size extending far to the south into Meirionnydd. This is apparent in books published prior to 1951, such as the classic travelogue Wild Wales by George Borrow (1862) and The Mountains of Snowdonia by H. Carr & G. Lister (1925). F. J. North, as editor of the book Snowdonia (1949), states "When the Committee delineated provisional boundaries, they included areas some distance beyond Snowdonia proper." The traditional Snowdonia thus includes the ranges of Snowdon and its satellites, the Glyderau, the Carneddau, the Moelwynion and the Moel Hebog group. It does not include the hills to the south of Maentwrog. As Eryri (see above), this area has a unique place in Welsh history, tradition and culture.
There is a movement to make the Welsh name Eryri the region's only name. This would proscribe the terms Snowdonia and Snowdonia National Park from official use, but they could still be used colloquially. The name used is ultimately decided by the park's authority and not the Senedd. A motion put forward by Gwynedd Councillor John Pughe Roberts to rename Snowdonia and Snowdon was rejected in April 2021. The movement is propelled by instances of locals renaming their houses from Welsh to English names, but the motion to ditch the name Snowdonia has faced criticism.
Snowdonia National Park
Snowdonia National Park (Welsh: Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri) was established in 1951 as the third national park in Britain, following the Peak District and the Lake District. It covers 827 square miles (2,140 km2), and has 37 miles (60 km) of coastline. The Snowdonia National Park covers parts of the counties of Gwynedd and Conwy.
The park is governed by the Snowdonia National Park Authority, which is made up of local government and Welsh Government representatives, and its main offices are at Penrhyndeudraeth. Unlike national parks in other countries, Snowdonia (and other such parks in Britain) is made up of both public and private lands under central planning authority. The makeup of land ownership at Snowdonia is as follows:
|Ownership type||Share (%)|
|National Park Authority||1.2|
|Natural Resources Wales||17.5|
More than 26,000 people live within the park. 58.6% of the population could speak Welsh in 2011.
While most of the land is either open or mountainous land, there is a significant amount of agricultural activity within the park.
Since the local government re-organisation of 1998, the park lies partly in the county of Gwynedd, and partly in the county borough of Conwy. It is governed by the 18-member Snowdonia National Park Authority; nine members are appointed by Gwynedd, 3 by Conwy, and the remaining six by the Welsh Government to represent the national interest. Unusually, Snowdonia National Park has a hole in the middle, around the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, a slate quarrying centre. This was deliberately excluded from the park when it was set up to allow the development of new light industry to replace the reduced slate industry. (There is a similar situation in the Peak District National Park where the boundaries were drawn to exclude large built-up areas and industrial sites from the park with the town of Buxton and the adjacent quarries outside but surrounded on three sides by the park.) The Snowdonia Society is a registered charity formed in 1967. It is a voluntary group of people with an interest in the area and its protection.
The geology of Snowdonia is key to the area's character. Glaciation during a succession of ice ages, has carved from a heavily faulted and folded succession of sedimentary and igneous rocks, a distinctive rocky landscape. The last ice age ended only just over 11,500 years ago, leaving a legacy of features attractive to visitors but which have also played a part in the development of geological science and continue to provide a focus for educational visits. Visiting Cwm Idwal in 1841 Charles Darwin realised that the landscape was the product of glaciation. The bedrock dates largely from the Cambrian and Ordovician periods with intrusions of Ordovician and Silurian age associated with the Caledonian Orogeny. There are smaller areas of Silurian age sedimentary rocks in the south and northeast and of Cenozoic era strata on the Cardigan Bay coast though the latter are concealed by more recent deposits. Low grade metamorphism of Cambrian and Ordovician mudstones has resulted in the slates, the extraction of which once formed the mainstay of the area's economy.
The principal ranges of the traditional Snowdonia are the Snowdon massif itself, the Glyderau, the Carneddau, the Moelwynion and the Moel Hebog range. All of Wales' 3000ft mountains are to be found within the first three of these massifs and are most popular with visitors. To their south within the wider national park are the Rhinogydd and the Cadair Idris and Aran Fawddwy ranges. Besides these well-defined areas are a host of mountains which are less readily grouped though various guidebook writers have assigned them into groups such as the 'Arenigs', the 'Tarrens' and the 'Dovey Hills'.
Snowdon's summit at 1085 m is the highest in Wales and the highest in Britain south of the Scottish Highlands. At 905m Aran Fawddwy is the highest in Wales outside of northern Snowdonia and Cader Idris at 893m, next in line.
Rivers (Welsh: afon, plural afonydd) draining the area empty directly into Cardigan Bay are typically short and steep. From north to south they include the Glaslyn and Dwyryd which share a common estuary, the Mawddach and its tributaries the Wnion and the Eden, the smaller Dysynni and on the park's southern margin the Dovey. A series of rivers drain to the north coast. Largest of these is the Conwy on the park's eastern margin which along with the Ogwen drains into Conwy Bay. Further west the Seiont and Gwyrfai empty into the western end of the Menai Strait. A part of the east of the national park is within the upper Dee (Dyfrydwy) catchment and includes Bala Lake or Llyn Tegid, the largest natural waterbody in Wales. A fuller list of the rivers and tributaries within the area is found at List of rivers of Wales.
There are few natural waterbodies of any size in Wales; Snowdonia is home to most. Besides Llyn Tegid, a few lakes (Welsh: llyn, plural llynnoedd) occupy glacial troughs including Llyn Padarn and Llyn Peris at Llanberis and Tal-y-llyn Lake south of Cadair Idris. Llyn Dinas and Llyn Gwynant and Llyn Cwellyn to the south and west of Snowdon feature in this category as do Llyn Cowlyd and Llyn Ogwen on the margins of the Carneddau. There are numerous small lakes occupying glacial cirques owing to the former intensity of glacial action in Snowdonia. Known generically as tarns, examples include Llyn Llydaw, Glaslyn and Llyn Du'r Arddu on Snowdon, Llyn Idwal within the Glyderau and Llyn Cau on Cader Idris. There are two large wholly man-made bodies of water in the area, Llyn Celyn and Llyn Trawsfynydd whilst numerous of the natural lakes have had their levels artificially raised to different degrees. Marchlyn Mawr reservoir and Llyn Stwlan are two cases where natural tarns have been dammed as part of pumped storage hydro-electric schemes. A fuller list of the lakes within the area is found at List of lakes of Wales.
The national park meets the Irish Sea coast within Cardigan Bay between the Dovey estuary in the south and the Dwyryd estuary. The larger part of that frontage is characterised by dune systems, the largest of which are Morfa Dyffryn and Morfa Harlech. These two locations sport two of the largest sand/shingle spits in Wales. The major indentations of the Dovey, Mawddach and Dwyryd estuaries are characterised by large expanses of intertidal sands and coastal marsh which are especially important for wildlife (- see natural history section). The northern tip of the national park extends to the north coast of Wales at Penmaen-bach Point, west of Conwy where precipitous cliffs have led to the road and railway negotiating the spot in tunnel.
There are only three towns within the park boundary though several more immediately beyond it. Dolgellau is the most populous followed by Bala on the eastern boundary and then Harlech overlooking Tremadog Bay. More populous than these is the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog which is within an exclave, that is to say it is surrounded by the national park but excluded from it whilst the towns of Tywyn and Barmouth on the Cardigan Bay coast are within coastal exclaves. Llanrwst in the east, Machynlleth in the south and Porthmadog and Penrhyndeudraeth in the west are immediately beyond the boundary but still identified with the park,[clarification needed] indeed the last of these hosts the headquarters of the Snowdonia National Park Authority. Similarly the local economies of towns of Conwy, Bethesda, and Llanberis in the north are inseparably linked to the national park as they provide multiple visitor services. The lower terminus of the Snowdon Mountain Railway is at Llanberis. Though adjacent to it, Llanfairfechan and Penmaenmawr are less obviously linked to the park. There are numerous smaller settlements within the national park, prominent amongst which are the eastern 'gateway' village of Betws-y-Coed, Aberdovey on the Dovey estuary and the small village of Beddgelert each of which attract large numbers of visitors. Other sizeable villages are Llanuwchllyn at the southwest end of Bala Lake/Llyn Tegid, Dyffryn Ardudwy, Corris, Trawsfynydd, Llanbedr, Trefriw and Dolwyddelan.
Six primary routes serve Snowdonia, the busiest of which is the A55, a dual carriageway which runs along the north coast and provides strategic road access to the northern part of the national park. The most important north–south route within the park is the A470 running from the A55 south past Betws-y-Coed to Blaenau Ffestiniog to Dolgellau. It exits the park a few miles to the southeast near Mallwyd. From Dolgellau, the A494 runs to Bala whilst the A487 connects with Machynlleth. The A487 loops around the northwest of the park from Bangor via Caernarfon to Porthmadog before turning in land to meet the A470 east of Maentwrog. The A5 was built as a mail coach road by Thomas Telford between London and Holyhead; it enters the park near Pentrefoelas and leaves it near Bethesda. Other A class roads provide more local links; the A493 down the Dovey valley from Machynlleth and up the coast to Tywyn then back up the Mawddach valley to Dolgellau, the A496 from Dolgellau down the north side of the Mawddach to Barmouth then north up the coast via Harlech to Maentwrog. The A4212 connecting Bala with Trawsfynydd is relatively modern having been laid out in the 1960s in connection with the construction of Llyn Celyn. Three further roads thread their often twisting and narrow way through the northern mountains; A4085 links Penrhyndeudraeth with Caernarfon, the A4086 links Capel Curig with Caernarfon via Llanberis and the A498 links Tremadog with the A4086 at Pen-y-Gwryd. Other roads of note include that from Llanuwchllyn up Cwm Cynllwyd to Dinas Mawddwy via the 545m high pass of Bwlch y Groes, the second highest tarmacked public road in Wales and the minor road running northwest and west from Llanuwchllyn towards Bronaber via the 531m high pass of Bwlch Pen-feidiog.
The double track North Wales Coast Line passes along the northern boundary of the park between Conwy and Bangor briefly entering it at Penmaen-bach Point where it is in tunnel. Stations serve the communities of Conwy, Penmaenmawr, Llanfairfechan and Bangor. The single-track Conwy Valley Line runs south from Llandudno Junction, entering the park north of Betws-y-coed which is served by a station then west up the Lledr valley by way of further stations at Pont-y-pant, Dolwyddelan and Roman Bridge. After passing through a tunnel the passenger line now terminates at Blaenau Ffestiniog railway station. Prior to 1961 the route continued as the Bala and Ffestiniog Railway via Trawsfynydd to Bala joining another former route along the Dee valley which ran southwest via Dolgellau to join the still extant coastal Cambrian Line south of Barmouth. The Pwllheli branch of the Cambrian Line splits from the Aberystwyth branch at Dovey Junction and continues via stations at Aberdovey, Tywyn, Tonfanau, Llwyngwril, Fairbourne and Morfa Mawddach to Barmouth where it crosses the Mawddach estuary by the GradeII* listed wooden Barmouth Bridge, a structure which also provides for walkers and cyclists. Further stations serve Llanaber, Tal-y-bont, Dyffryn Ardudwy, Llanbedr, Pensarn and Llandanwg before reaching Harlech. Tygwyn, Talsarnau and Llandecwyn stations are the last before the line exits the park as it crosses the Dwyryd estuary via Pont Briwet and turns westwards bound for Pwllheli via Penrhyndeudraeth, Porthmadog and Criccieth.
Many sections of dismantled railway are now used by walking and cycling routes and are described elsewhere. The Bala Lake Railway is a heritage railway which has been established along a section of the former mainline route between Bala and Llanuwchllyn. Other heritage railways occupy sections of former mineral lines, often narrow gauge and are described in a separate section.
Snowdonia is one of the wettest parts of the United Kingdom; Crib Goch in Snowdonia is the wettest spot in the United Kingdom, with an average rainfall of 4,473 millimetres (176.1 in) a year over the 30-year period prior to the mid-2000s. (There is a rainfall gauge at 713m on the slopes below Crib Goch.)
The earliest evidence for human occupation of the area dates from around 4000 - 3000 BCE with extensive traces of prehistoric field systems evident in the landscape. Within these are traces of irregular enclosures and hut circles. There are burial chambers of Neolithic and Bronze Age such as Bryn Cader Faner and Iron Age hillforts such as Bryn y Castell near Ffestiniog.
The region was finally conquered by the Romans by AD 77–78. Remains of Roman marching camps and practice camps are evident. There was a Roman fort and amphitheatre at Tomen y Mur. Roads are known to have connected with Segontium (Caernarfon) and Deva Victrix (Chester) and include the northern reaches of Sarn Helen.
There are numerous memorial stones of Early Christian affinity dating from the post-Roman period. The post-Roman hillfort of Dinas Emrys also dates to this time. Churches were introduced to the region in the 5th and 6th centuries. Llywelyn the Great and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd had various stone castles constructed to protect their borders and trade routes. Edward I built several castles around the margins including those at Harlech and Conwy for military and administrative reasons. Most are now protected within a world heritage site. Some of Snowdonia's many stone walls date back to this period too.
The 18th century saw the start of industrial exploitation of the area's resources, assisted by the appearance in the late part of the century of turnpike trusts making it more accessible. The engineer Thomas Telford left a legacy of road and railway construction in and around Snowdonia. A new harbour at Porthmadog linked to slate quarries at Ffestiniog via a narrow gauge railway. At its peak in the 19th century the slate industry employed around 12,000 men. A further 1000 were employed in stone quarrying at Graiglwyd and Penmaenmawr. Mining for copper, iron and gold was undertaken during the 18th and 19th centuries, leaving a legacy of mine and mill ruins today.
The park's natural forests are of the mixed deciduous type, the commonest tree being the Welsh oak. Birch, ash, mountain-ash and hazel are also common. The park also contains some large (planted) coniferous forested areas such as Gwydir Forest near Betws-y-Coed, although some areas, once harvested, are now increasingly being allowed to regrow naturally.
Northern Snowdonia is the only place in Britain where the Snowdon lily (Gagea serotina), an arctic–alpine plant, is found and the only place in the world where the Snowdonia hawkweed Hieracium snowdoniense grows.
One of the major problems facing the park in recent years has been the growth of Rhododendron ponticum. This fast-growing invasive species has a tendency to take over and stifle native species. It can form massive towering growths and has a companion fungus that grows on its roots producing toxins that are poisonous to any local flora and fauna for a seven-year period after the Rhododendron infestations have been eradicated. As a result, there are a number of desolate landscapes.
Mammals in the park include otters, polecats, and the feral goat, although the pine marten has not been seen for many years. Birds include raven, red-billed chough, peregrine, osprey, merlin and the red kite. The rainbow-coloured Snowdon beetle (Chrysolina cerealis) is only found in northern Snowdonia.
Snowdonia has a particularly high number of protected sites in respect of its diverse ecology; nearly 20% of its total area is protected by UK and European law. Half of that area was set aside by the government under the European Habitats Directive as a Special Area of Conservation. There are a large number of Sites of special scientific interest (or 'SSSIs'), designated both for fauna and flora but also in some cases for geology. Nineteen of these sites are managed as national nature reserves by Natural Resources Wales. The park also contains twelve Special Areas of Conservation (or 'SACs'), three Special Protection Areas (or 'SPAs') and three Ramsar sites. Some are wholly within the park boundaries, others straddle it to various degrees.
Sites of Special Scientific Interest
There are numerous SSSIs within the park, the most extensive of which are Eryri, Migneint-Arenig-Dduallt, Morfa Harlech, Rhinog, Berwyn, Cadair Idris, Llyn Tegid, Aber Mawddach / Mawddach Estuary, Dyfi, Morfa Dyffryn, Moel Hebog, Coedydd Dyffryn Ffestiniog and Coedydd Nanmor.
National nature reserves
The following NNRs are either wholly or partly within the park: Allt y Benglog, Y Berwyn (in multiple parts), Cader Idris, Ceunant Llennyrch, Coed Camlyn, Coed Cymerau, Coed Dolgarrog, Coed Ganllwyd, Coed Gorswen, Coed Tremadog, Coedydd Aber, Coedydd Maentwrog (in 2 parts), Coed y Rhygen, Cwm Glas Crafnant, Cwm Idwal, Hafod Garregog, Morfa Harlech, Rhinog, Yr Wyddfa
Special Areas of Conservation
The twelve SACs are as follows: Eryri / Snowdonia SAC which covers much of the Carneddau, Glyderau and the Snowdon massif, Afon Gwyrfai a Llyn Cwellyn, Corsydd Eifionydd / Eifionydd Fens (north of Garndolbenmaen), the Coedydd Derw a Safleoedd Ystlumod Meirion / Meirionydd Oakwoods and Bat Sites - a series of sites between Tremadog, Trawsfynydd and Ffestiniog and Beddgelert and extending up the Gwynant. It also includes many of the oakwoods of the Mawddach and its tributaries. Afon Eden – Cors Goch Trawsfynydd, Rhinog, Cadair Idris (in 2 parts), Migneint-Arenig-Dduallt, River Dee and Bala Lake / Afon Dyfrdwy a Llyn Tegid (Wales), Mwyngloddiau Fforest Gwydir / Gwydyr Forest Mines (north of Betws-y-Coed) and a part of the Berwyn a Mynyddoedd De Clwyd / Berwyn and South Clwyd Mountains SAC. The Pen Llyn a'r Sarnau / Lleyn Peninsula and the Sarnau SAC covers the entire Cardigan Bay coastline of the park and the sea area and extends above the high water mark at Morfa Harlech, Mochras and around the Dovey and Mawddach estuaries.
Special Protection Areas
The three SPAs are Dyfi Estuary / Aber Dyfi (of which a part is within the park), Berwyn (of which a part is within the park) and Migneint-Arenig-Dduallt.
The area's economy was traditionally centred upon farming and from the early 19th century increasingly on mining and quarrying. Tourism has become an increasingly significant part of Snowdonia's economy during the 20th and 21st centuries.
The extensive farming of sheep remains central to Snowdonia's farming economy.
Significant sections of the park were afforested during the 20th century for timber production. Major conifer plantations include Dyfi Forest, Coed y Brenin Forest between Dolgellau and Trawsfynydd, Penllyn Forest south of Bala, Beddgelert Forest and Gwydyr (or Gwydir) Forest near Betws-y-Coed which is managed as a forest park by Natural Resources Wales.
The region was once the most important producer of slate in the world. Some production continues but at a much reduced level from its peak. The park boundaries are drawn such that much of the landscape affected by slate quarrying and mining lies immediately outside of the designated area.
Construction of a nuclear power station beside Llyn Trawsfynydd began in 1959 with the first power produced in 1965. The site was operational until 1991 though it continues as an employer during its decommissioning phase. Pumped storage hydroelectric schemes are in operation at Llanberis and Ffestiniog.
Research indicates that there were 3.67 million visitors to Snowdonia National Park in 2013, with approximately 9.74 million tourist days spent in the park during that year. Total tourist expenditure was £433.6 million in 2013.
Many of the hikers in the area concentrate on Snowdon itself. It is regarded as a fine mountain, but at times gets very crowded; in addition the Snowdon Mountain Railway runs to the summit.
The other high mountains with their boulder-strewn summits—as well as Tryfan, one of the few mountains in the UK south of Scotland whose ascent needs hands as well as feet—are also very popular. However, there are also some spectacular walks in Snowdonia on the lower mountains, and they tend to be relatively unfrequented. Among hikers' favourites are Y Garn (east of Llanberis) along the ridge to Elidir Fawr; Mynydd Tal-y-Mignedd (west of Snowdon) along the Nantlle Ridge to Mynydd Drws-y-Coed; Moelwyn Mawr (west of Blaenau Ffestiniog); and Pen Llithrig y Wrach north of Capel Curig. Further south are Y Llethr in the Rhinogydd, and Cadair Idris near Dolgellau.
The park has 1,479 miles (2,380 km) of public footpaths, 164 miles (264 km) of public bridleways, and 46 miles (74 km) of other public rights of way. A large part of the park is also covered by right to roam laws.
The Wales Coast Path runs within the park between Machynlleth and Penrhyndeudraeth, save for short sections of coast in the vicinity of Tywyn and Barmouth which are excluded from the park. It touches the park boundary again at Penmaen-bach Point on the north coast. An inland alternative exists between Llanfairfechan and Conwy, wholly within the park. The North Wales Path which predates the WCP, enters the park north of Bethesda and follows a route broadly parallel to the north coast visiting Aber Falls and the Sychnant Pass before exiting the park on the descent from Conwy Mountain. The Cambrian Way is a long-distance trail between Cardiff and Conwy which passes through the national park, though is not depicted on Ordnance Survey maps.
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