Thursday, 24 January 2013

Riding The Snowdon Sherpa

It may be the bleak mid-winter, but it won't be long before Spring is here! One of my favourite places to banish the winter blues is North Wales - and there's no better way to blow the cobwebs away than having a ride on the "Snowdon Sherpa" between Betws-y-Coed and Llanberis. The route covers some of the most rural parts of North Wales and provides a link for walkers and tourists. By offering incredibly cheap fares (£1 for any single journey) it also encourages you to leave your car away from the area (if you have one!) and so is contributing to environmental action to curb car use in the Snowdonia National Park. It is part of a group of route that connect across the area.
Here's a brief description of what's on offer to hopefully whet your appetite!

The Snowdon Sherpa departs from “platform 2” at Betws-y-coed – an otherwise normal-looking bus shelter that gains its name from association with the adjacent railway station, which carries trains from the seaside town of Llandudno to the slate-surrounded Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Passing the array of tourist shops in this busy North Wales hub, a right-hand turn takes us meandering out of the town and towards Swallow Falls. Since Victorian times, artists have flocked here to depict the dramatic scenery as the River Llugwy tumbles into multiple waterfalls.
During the Edwardian era, the composer Edward Elgar stayed in the area and is reputed to have composed part of “The Dream of Gerontius” around this time.
Crossing the river, “The Ugly House” appears (“Ty Hyll”), which is now an Information Centre and tea rooms. Legend has it that the Ugly House was built in the 15th Century. Under ancient law, anyone who could build a house between sunset and sunrise with walls, a roof and a chimney that smoked could claim the freehold!
The beautiful scenery is starting to unfold now and after a few more minutes, we’re in the village of Capel Curig. A restored stagecoach is on display, and it is in this village that Lord Penrhyn built an Inn to provide refreshment and accommodation for coach travellers.
A few moments further the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel appears, which has been the choice of generations of mountain climbers. The successful Mount Everest expedition team of 1953 stayed here whilst practising to conquer the highest mountain in the World. The Victorian poet and novelist Charles Kingsley was also a visitor to the area, bringing with him his friend Thomas Hughes, author of “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”. A tiny postbox connects the area with the outside world.
A right-hand turn takes the Snowdon Sherpa higher into the rugged Welsh hillside and even on days with inclement weather, mist and cloud hanging over the mountains makes for a dramatic scene.
Having passed tiny churches and the odd grazing sheep, the bus labours up towards Pen-y-pass with spectacular views of the valley below, punctuated only by centuries-old farm buildings and the odd hiker.
Sheep form an orderly queue to negotiate a tiny stream and numerous mini waterfalls tumble down the steep hillsides. We pass into the county of Gwynedd.
At Pen-y-pass, signs of life! A youth hostel is located here and it is a focal point for walkers to start or end their journeys. A car park is also located here as well as a small bus interchange where other Snowdon Sherpa routes converge. There are bus links to the popular village of Beddgelert and Porthmadog for the Welsh Highland and Ffestiniog Railways from here. After a few moments wait here, our journey continues as we plunge down into the Llanberis pass.
The road twists and turns like a tangled piece of string. Perfectly crafted stone walls, built over hundreds of years punctuate the scene, as more streams, walkways, sheep and humans share the countryside.
To our left, thousands of feet above us, the domineering Snowdon. Its sheer presence and beauty breathtaking. For those adventurous to tackle it on foot, it is “breath-taking” in another sense!
Nant Peris is another focal point for hikers, and some journeys deviate into the small car park here to collect and drop off passengers.
It is now only a short journey into the town of Llanberis.
Passing the Royal Victoria Hotel, the huge Dinorwig Power Station, on the banks of Llyn Peris make for an impressive man-made view. Opened in 1984, it was then described as “the biggest civil engineering contract ever awarded in British industrial history”. It is one of the top tourist attractions in North Wales and boasts visitor centre and cafe.
Slate quarrying was at one time a large-scale industry in Llanberis. In 1860, a quarryman’s hospital was established on the slopes around Llyn Padarn. A “shilling club” was organised, and this amount was deducted from the men’s wages each week, and in the event on an accident he could receive medical care without further cost. It is believed to be the first occupational health scheme in Britain, and only ceased in 1948 upon the foundation of the NHS.
The adjacent Lake Padarn hosts the narrow-gauge Llanberis Lake Railway, whilst opposite lies the gateway to Snowdon via the historic Mountain Railway.
Opened in 1896, the famous railway climbs 3943 feet to the summit for the most spectacular views of all!
The S2 Snowdon Sherpa terminates here. During summer months, the service sometimes operates with open top vehicles. Single journeys are £1 anywhere on the route and Red Rover tickets are valid, which cover a wider area of North Wales. At the Betws-y-coed end of the route, some journeys extend to and from Llanrwst.

Route S2 Snowdon Sherpa, operated by Padarn Bus.
Betws-y-coed – Llanberis.
Journey takes 45 mins-1 hour (depending on some route variants). Frequency approximately hourly during summer months (less during winter).

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