You may have heard of Snowdon, or maybe even Yr Wyddfa in Welsh, Britain’s tallest mountain. You may have even conquered it’s towering snowy peak, but what do you really know of this iconic national landmark?
Discover our 5 secrets of Snowdon and impress your friends with your knowledge of North Wales.
- 1. There were, not one, but two hotels at the summit
By 1847, the Roberts Hotel, then owned by the Royal Victoria Hotel, and the Cold Club owned by the Dolbadarn Hotel, could be found at Snowdon’s summit. Originally the only shelter at the summit was a rickety shed but as the peak grew in popularity so too did the demand for decent accommodation.
Fierce competition between the two businesses combined with high visitor numbers meant that both hotels were in poor condition and, more often than not, housed more visitors than beds!
The Snowdon Mountain Tram-road & Hotels Company eventually took over the hotels but the buildings were in such terrible condition it was decided to build a new multi-purpose building in their place.
The new building was designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis (of Portmeirion fame) and featured huge windows on the front and side for visitors to enjoy the breathtaking views.
Unfortunately, the huge windows shattered in a storm just six months after completion so smaller windows were installed in their place.
In 2008, schoolchildren from Beddgelert and Llanberis buried a time capsule near the Hafod Eryri summit complex, containing items including a chocolate bar and a list of house prices. It won’t be opened until 2058.
- 2. Snowdon was the home of the giant Rhitta Gawr
According to legend, a giant by the name of Rhitta Gawr once lived on the slopes of Snowdon. A tyrant and a menace to all who lived nearby, the giant was especially fond of killing kings and wearing their beards as a cloak!
This gruesome tradition began when Rhitta killed two warring rulers, Nynio and Peibio, and took their beards as a prize. Seeking revenge, many more kings attempted to vanquish Rhitta but all met the same fate – and their beards ended up trimming his cloak too.
However, Rhitta met his match when he encountered the most illustrious king of all. One day King Arthur was out riding with his knights when came across Rhitta. Arthur remarked upon the giant’s most unusual cloak.
Rhitta replied he would be honoured to have the King of Britain’s beard on his cloak but Arthur, naturally reluctant to part with it, refused. In the battle that followed, Arthur struck a mighty blow with his sword that cut the giant in two!
Arthur’s knights constructed a cairn, or burial chamber, over the giant that became known as Yr Wyddfa Fawr or ‘the Great Tomb’. Eventually it became just Yr Wyddfa which, as you may know, is the Welsh name for Snowdon.
3. Snowdon is the site of King Arthur’s last battle
Arthur’s association with Snowdon did not end with the death of Rhitta Gawr; it is said that his final battle also took place on the mountain.
In a monumental battle against evil son Mordred, Arthur and his knights were brought down by a hail of enemy arrows at a place that became known as Bwlch y Saethau or the Pass of the Arrows.
As Arthur lay mortally wounded he issued a final command to his most loyal knight, Sir Bedwyr (Sir Bedivere). He said: “Take my sword Caledfwlch to the lake that lies over there and to throw it into the water and to come back and tell me what you saw.”
Bedwyr tried three times to cast the sword into the lake but could not muster the courage or the strength to cast the magical sword Caledfwlch (Excalibur) into the murky depths of the lake. It seemed wrong that such a mighty weapon be lost forever.
When he returned to the king, sword in hand, Arthur angrily ordered him to do his bidding and, after much hesitation, Bedwyr flung Caledfwlch into the lake.
Before the sword could hit the water a woman’s arm, clad in white silk, rose out of the lake and caught Caledfwlch by the hilt. Hefting it three times in silent salute, the hand and the sword then slipped silently back into the lake.
Sir Bedwyr returned to his king’s side, told him what he had witnessed and shortly after Arthur died peacefully in the knowledge that the sword had returned to its rightful owner – the mysterious Lady of the Lake who had gifted Caledfwlch to a then-young King Arthur many years before.
Following his death, Arthur’s knights interred his body in a cairn then sealed themselves in a cave on nearby mountain, Y Lliwedd, where it is said they lie slumbering until Arthur awakens them to fight once again.
Today walkers on the Watkin Path pass the spot of Arthur’s death just before they join with the Rhyd Ddu path nearing the summit. Llyn Lydaw, a popular stopping point on the Miner’s Track, is said to be the final resting place of Caledfwlch/Excalibur.
- 4. Snowdon was once part of the seabed
Geologists believe that five hundred million years ago Snowdon was part of the seabed. During the Palaeozoic Era the land that eventually became Wales was part of a micro-continent called Avalonia.
Avalonia was engulfed by the sea during the Cambrian Era and this is when our landscape began to form, moulded by the ebb and flow of primeval tides and the sediments, minerals and fossils left behind.
Fragments of seashell fossils found on the summit have provided significant evidence to suggest that the mountain was once part of a relatively flat seabed, known as the Welsh Basin.
So, contrary to the myths and legends surrounding Snowdon’s formation, the valleys of Snowdonia were actually etched out over millions of years. Timeless and enduring – it’s a fitting description of our beautiful landscape.
5. Snowdon is home to a rare species of flower and insect
Snowdon is home to a rare species of Alplily, Lloydia serontia. In Welsh, it is called brwynddail y mynydd or ‘rush-leaves of the mountain’ because of its slender, grass-like stems. Alplilies are widespread across areas of North America, Asia and Europe but Lloydia serontia is a unique strain only found in Snowdonia.
Another unique inhabitant of the mountain is the Rainbow Leaf Beetle (Chrysolina cerealis). These colourful little creatures reside solely on Snowdon where, it is speculated, there are less than 1,000 in existence. More prevalent in other parts of the world, the beetle is so rare in Britain it has been nicknamed the Snowdon Beetle.
Both species are protected but there are fears that either could become the very first living things to face extinction due to global warming.
Images: Snowdon Summit c. 1880 courtesy of the National Media Museum. Llyn Llydaw from Bwlch y Saethau by © Copyright Peter and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence. Snowdon Alplily by Stemonitis via Wikimedia Commons. Rainbow Leaf Beetle by Nickola Rahme via Flickr