THE SUNDAY WALK: Where to find the highest dog in Wales

It may be the highest point in England and Wales, but most routes to the top of the mountain are like strolls - even for softy city-types.
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The Independent Travel
Rising from the crags of the Snowdonia National Park, and about one hour's drive from the high-duned, white-sanded beaches which dominate the western coastline of Cardigan Bay, Yr Wyddfa (the Welsh name for the 3,650ft summit of Snowdon) positively demands to be walked on. Perhaps an American should have been warned. As we were plodding our way to the top, we heard him loudly exclaim: "Gosh, it's so nice, you wouldn't think we're in England!"

Luckily for him, the locals were nowhere to be seen. There was only us, four breathless weekenders from London - just a minute speck when considering the 1,500 summertime hikers who plod daily to the summit.

There are six footpaths to the summit of Snowdon and all, with the exception of the Llanberis path which is a bit longer, are within the four-mile range - walks, rather than hikes. We were following the Snowdon Ranger track, which meant parking on the shore of Lake Llyncwellyn and following a zig-zag route above the youth hostel.

And, while the beginning of the walk followed a narrow, stony path lined with fox gloves and boulders, we shortly arrived at an area where we could gasp down at the lake, half-shrouded in shadow, and the wooded hill awash with birch and oak rising from its opposite bank. This was inspiring enough but it was the sounds which grabbed the attention - larks sang, bees hummed, sheep baa-ed, the train high on the ridge (occasionally) chattered, seagulls called and crows hollered.

Later, after gradually gaining more height, we were still in a debate as to where Snowdon actually was. A high layer of cloud was protecting the obvious for it slowly rose before us like one half of an enormous, grey crater. And, with this refreshing sight to aim for, the sun burst through the cloud and the path flattened out. A grassy plane, cut in half by a gurgling stream, rose to our left while, to our right, lay the distant sight of mountains, woods and lakes. Not a bad place for a bit of chocolate.

It took us 90 minutes (from the car) to arrive at the base of the mountain proper, dotted with boulders and a small lake to the right. High above we could see the tiny, blackened outline of the train riding the ridge while people dotted the crest like matchsticks.

From that point, the path got steeper and more cornered. Behind us a hill, patched with greens and browns, merged into an enormous, grey, boulder- strewn valley. A stream snaked its way along the base while the railway line snaked high along its crest. A few hikers could just be seen following its route - the one known as the Llanberis Path.

After another half-hour's walking, it was quite easy to see the sea far to our right. On a good day you can see all the way over to Ireland. This was not one of those: although it was quite humid and warm, the ridge leading to the summit was still half-covered in hazy cloud. Then, as we arrived into that haze, the summit appeared like a gantry a few hundred yards further on. Fellow hikers converged from our left along the Llanberis path, as well as packing the tiny train with the driver standing at the back.

A sheer face of rippling, rocky crag rose to the summit, making it appear almost like a point of rock. We took the easier route - a path, lined with moss-covered boulders on either side. Far to our left, a panorama of lakes and mountains, greenery, forest and meandering stone walls stretched away before us. And then, as we walked further up the path, the flat- roofed restaurant burst into sight. It was there that you could purchase the highest pint of beer in the British Isles.

But before a drop of anything alcoholic, it was probably better to reach the absolute summit. This was a stone tor rising from a cemented mound of rocks. Seagulls hovered through the thin band of mist. A light wind blew and the lakes looked an iceberg-blue below. Perhaps it was up to an Englishman to put it more in perspective. On reaching the very pinnacle he lifted his panting collie high into the air and announced: "Look, you're now the highest dog in Wales!"

FACT FILE

The best train station for Snowdon is Bangor, about four hours from Euston.

The six routes up Snowdon:

1/ Snowdon Ranger Track - 31/4 miles - easy path, delightful view.

2/ Beddgelert Path - 31/4 miles - easy, climbs gradually, steeper nearer top.

3/ Watkin Track - 31/4 miles - most interesting but hardest.

4/ Miners Track - 31/4 miles - Good for introduction to the mountain if you do not wish to go to the top.

5/ PYG (Pen-y-Gwryd) 31/4 miles recommended favourite route.

6/ Llanberis Path - 5 miles - easy but long, not the most interesting route.

Wales Tourist Board: 01222-499909

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