Britain’s Busiest Mountain
BBC | 1 x 60 minutes
Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is a mountain that people keep coming back to. It’s the most popular mountain in Britain, and it’s getting busier each year.
People are prepared to queue for up to 45 minutes at peak times to climb the final few steps to the summit, to take that all-important picture. Yr Wyddfa already attracts around 750,000 people a year. As the summit’s visitor centre prepares to re-open, and the famous train carries passengers to the very top for the first time since October 2019, a record number of visitors are expected in 2023. It looks like being their busiest summer yet.
With the mountain standing at 1,085 metres above sea level, maintaining the five-mile-long railway track and visitor centre is a huge challenge. Thousands of litres of water are transported by train each day to supply the toilets, and all waste has to be carried down again. The shop and cafe are re-stocked daily, including plenty of supplies of the famous sausage rolls, of which over 50,000 are sold every year.
The Snowdon Mountain Railway is Britain’s only rack-and-pinion railway, and its Swiss-built steam locomotives have been making the ten-mile return journey from Llanberis since 1896. Over 1,000 passengers travel on the train daily to enjoy the stunning views, and the company employs dozens of local people throughout the year.
It is estimated that Yr Wyddfa is worth around £20 million pounds annually to the local economy, but it comes at a price. Eryri National Park wardens patrol the mountain to try and ensure the safety of walkers, while volunteers spend their weekends collecting tons of discarded rubbish from the slopes. The constant tramping of hundreds of thousands of feet causes damage to the footpaths, which need to be repaired, while transport and parking is always a bone of contention. Illegally parked cars being towed away are a constant feature during busy times, as are the constant stream of buses and taxis carrying eager walkers to the foot of the mountain.
Yr Wyddfa is owned by 26 private landowners, most of whom are involved in farming their land. Sheep and cattle roam the slopes as they have done for hundreds of years, mingling with hikers and ignoring the trains. It can be an uneasy relationship between tourists and those who have to make a living off the land. Both parties have to learn to respect and live with each other.