Snowdon roads and railways

Index to all Snowdon pages

Contents:

  • Map with notes
  • Introduction
  • The new road to Holyhead
  • Other road improvements
  • Steam boats
  • Inns and hotels
  • The arrival of the railway
  • Railways to the base of Snowdon
  • The Snowdon Railway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Map of Snowdon published with Ward, Lock and Co’s Pictorial and Descriptive Guide to North Wales, (1897)
The roads (in orange); the inns and hotels (in purple); paths to Snowdon (in green)
The three railways (in red). Details below.

The roads (in orange)
(1) The road to Llanberis and onto the original settlement with church at Nantperis.
(2) The road from Pen-y-gwryd inn southwards to Beddgelert. It also ran north to Capel Curig inn where it joined the Irish road, between Shrewsbury and Holyhead.
(3) The road from Beddgelert to Caernarfon which also ran southwards to Tremadoc
(4) The road along Llanberis pass from Nantperis (where the original Llanberis church is) to Pen-y-Gwryd. This road was not accessible to wheeled vehicles until it was fully improved in 1831.

The inns and hotels (in purple)
There were inns in Nantperis, Pen-y-gwryd, Beddgelert and Snowdon Ranger by Llyn Cwellyn by the end of the 18th century. Hotels were built at Llanberis, Capel Curig (off the map) and Beddgelert around Snowdon and others were built at Caernarfon and Bangor during the early 19th century.

Paths to Snowdon (in green)
(1) From Llanberis
(2) The Miners’ track from Gorphysfa (Pen-y-Pass) around Llyn Llydaw
(3) The Rhyd Ddu path (from Beddgelert by road to Ffridd-uchaf, opposite Pitt’s Head)
(4) The Snowdon Ranger path (from the Snowdon Ranger Inn, now a Youth Hostel)
A 5th path, known as the Pyg track was a more direct route then the Miners’ track
The Watkin track, from between Llyn Dinas and Llyn Gwynant was opened by William Gladstone on the 13th September, 1892.

The three railways (in red)
(1) The London and North-Western line ran along the side of Llyn Padarn to the station at Llanberis, opened 1869
(2) North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways  known as the ‘Toy Railway’, (now the Welsh Highland Railway) was opened from Dinas (3 miles south of Caernarfon on the L&NW line)  to the Snowdon Ranger station (opened in 1878) and extended to South Snowdon station in 1881 (renamed Snowdon Station in 1894; now known as Rhyd Ddu station). The line was closed to passengers in 1916, re-opened 1922 subsequently but closed in 1936 due to competition with buses.
(3) The Snowdon Mountain Railway from Llanberis to the summit opened in 1896 (briefly) and re-opened on Easter Monday, 19th April 1897.

INTRODUCTION
Before the arrival of the railways in Wales in the late 1840s, visitors to Snowdon were dependent on travelling by foot, on horse-back or in a horse-drawn carriage. The last of these, in particular, depended on the availability of good roads and bridges, post-horses (for hire) and inns at regular intervals.

It was possible to travel 20 to 40 miles a day comfortably at the end of the 18th century and as the roads improved, this increased to 50 miles or more. Roads were improved by the gentry and entrepreneurs to serve the needs of local industries such as slate and copper (although slate in particular was transported by early narrow-gauge tramways).

These improvements benefited the tourists. The main roads in north Wales were those which led to Holyhead port where boats called on their trips to and from Ireland. Initially, this ran along the north coast, through Conway (and across the dangerous estuary there) and thence to Bangor and the dangers and delays of the ferry across the Menai Straits.

Those who wanted to visit Snowdon could travel from the south to Beddgelert and from the north coast to Llanberis. Travelling from the east was difficult until the roads were improved.

 

Snowdon (on the right) from the north end of Llanberis Lake with Dolbadarn castle near the centre. Before the road along the side of the lake was improved the easiest way to travel from Caernarfon to Nantperis (beyond Dolbadarn) was to take a boat from the north end of the lake to the south end.

THE NEW ROAD TO HOLYHEAD
With the passing of the acts of union with Ireland in 1801, there was a greater need for communication between the British government and Ireland, so it was decided to improve the road to Holyhead. Thomas Telford was commissioned to build the new road and innovative bridges at Conwy (1822–1826) and across the Menai (1818-1826).
Between 1815 and 1826 a new road from London via Shrewsbury to Holyhead was built (now the A5) by Telford, avoiding the north coast, especially the perilous section between Penmaenmawr and the sea. This was not only and excellent road (some tourists said that its surface was as smooth as a billiard table), with superb views, but it reduced the journey time to and from Ireland considerably and brought travellers very close to Snowdon.

Llanberis Pass from Black’s guide, 1852

 

 

 

OTHER ROAD IMPROVEMENTS
1795 Road from Tremadoc to Beddgelert and Capel Curig begun
1805 Road from Capel Curig to Bangor built
1808 Plans for road from Capel Curig to Porthdinllaen (for new route to Ireland), resulted in new turnpike from Capel Curig to Beddgelert.
1808 The Post Office adopted the Capel Curig to Holyhead route.
1826 Road from Shrewsbury to Holyhead completed (A5)
1828 Carriage road from Caernarfon to Dolbadarn (new Llanberis)
1831 Road along Llanberis Pass (Nantperis to Pen y Gwryd) made suitable for wheeled vehicles

Steam boats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the 1840s, steam boats took tourists from Liverpool to resorts along the north coast of Wales as far as Bangor, Beaumaris and Caernarfon.

Map of north Wales showing roads and the steam ship route.

By 1852, it was possible to travel from Liverpool to Bangor by steamer in 5 hours.
Trafton, Mark, Rambles in Europe: in a series of familiar letters (Boston, 1852), p. 27

THE ARRIVAL OF THE RAILWAY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The railway system by 1881, from  a map supplied with The Gossiping Guide to Wales

The new road to Holyhead, completed in 1826 was soon made redundant by the construction of a railway along the north coast, crossing the Conway on a new bridge and the Menai on the Britannia Bridge (built by Robert Stephenson, 1846-1850). By the 1850s travellers could reach Bangor within a few hours travel from towns such as Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham and within a day from London. As early as 1852, local papers advertised rail trips from London to Bangor.
Some visitors arrived by train from England via Shrewsbury to Llangollen Road station (opened October 1848), and took a horse drawn vehicle or walked, from there.

Until the railway reached the base of Snowdon, it was necessary to travel by horse-drawn carriage to the mountains. An American was impressed by the style in which this was provided:
Posting.—As we were now out of the track of railroads, and were about to make a circuitous ride among the mountains of North Wales, we found it necessary to travel post, and Mrs. Roberts promptly arranged our equipment, which was a coach and four horses, with two postilions—one for each pair of horses. The carriage was good, the horses active and well trained, and the postilions vigilant and civil. They were dressed in blue short jackets, white corduroy breeches, and white top boots, with spurs.
Silliman, Benjamin, A visit to Europe in 1851, (New York, 1853), pp. 43-44

In 1885, a guide book stated that it was possible to travel by train from London to Caernarfon in 7½ hours.

RAILWAY TO THE BASE OF SNOWDON
By the late 1860s, the railway had arrived at Llanberis, enabling passengers from many parts of Britain to travel entirely by train the base of Snowdon.  During the 1870s, a line from Caernarfon was extended southwards, with stations at the base of Snowdon on the west side. It was soon possible to leave Caernarfon in the morning along either line, climb Snowdon and return to Caernarfon in the evening. This attracted weekend visits to Snowdon by people living in the English midlands, and also enabled people living on the north coast, and even Liverpool, to travel to the base of Snowdon in the evening, to make a night-time assent and return home the following day.

RAILWAYS
date

1.5.1848 Chester to Holyhead railway opened to Bangor
1.9.1851 Bangor to Caernarfon line opened
2.9.1867 Caernarfon to Afon Wen opened
1.7.1869 Caernarfon to Llanberis line (LNWR) opened (closed 1962)
15.8.1877 North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway  (NWNGR) Line from Dinas Station, (3 miles south of Caernarfon)
to Llyn Cwellyn opened
1.6.1878 NWNGR Line extended from Llyn Cwellyn to Snowdon Ranger
14.5.1881 NWNGR Line extended from Snowdon Ranger station to South Snowdon  (later named Snowdon station,
then Rhyd Ddu)
1916 NWNGR Line closed to passengers
31.7.1922 NWNGR Line reopened to passengers
1.1.1922 The Welsh Highland Railway Company took over the lines of the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway and the
Porthmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway.
A connecting railway from South Snowdon to Croesor was opened 1.6.1923.
From the 1930s, competition with buses was partly the cause of the closure of the line in 1936.
It reopened in the early 21st century.

Advert for the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway (the Toy Railway) from The shortest and most picturesque route to Snowdon is via the North Wales Narrow Gauge (2 ft) or “Toy” Railway, [1894], p. 2

and

Ward, Lock and Co.’s Pictorial and Descriptive Guide to North Wales, (1897) and in other regional editions of their publications.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE SNOWDON RAILWAY

A great deal has been written about the planning, construction and development of this railway and since it was not fully opened until 1897, it is almost outside the scope of this web-site. There had been proposals and some detailed plans for its construction several decades earlier.
1871, November              First bill presented in parliament but it was withdrawn because Assheton Smith would not allow a railway on his land
1894, June                        Letter in Yr Herald Cymraeg complaining about lack of investment in Llanberis – a committee was established
1894, November             The Snowdon Mountain Tramroad and Hotels Co. Ltd formed
1894, December              First sod for the Snowdon railway was cut by Assheston Smith and his daughter, Enid

1895                                New ‘hotel’ replaced one of the huts on the summit.
1896, January                  First complete train journey (for workers)
1896, 6 April                    Easter Monday. First public train journey – fatal accident on the way down. Railway closed for almost a year
1897, 19 April                  Railway re-opened to the public
1898                                Snowdon Summit Station built and ownership of huts transferred to the railway company.
1934                                New Snowdon Summit station and shelter built.

The railway has run every year except between 1943 and 1945 and carried an estimated 5.5 million people during its first century.