Sunday, 17 September 2017

Snowdon via the Watkin Path

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Route: Bethania, Nantgwynant, Plascwmllan, Gladstone Rock, Bwlch Ciliau, Bwlch y Caethau, Snowdon, Bwlch Main, Clogwyn Du, Allt Maenderyn, Bwlch Cwm Llan, Cwm Llan, Bethania

Date: 17/09/2017
From: Bethania

Parking: Bethania
Start Point: Bethania
Region: Snowdonia - Snowdon

Route length: 8.3 miles (13.35 km)
Time taken: 04:18
Average speed: 1.9 mph
Ascent: 1,096m
Descent: 1,098m

Summits: Yr Wydffa (1,085m)

Other points of interest: Cwm Llan, Plascwmllan, Gladstone Rock

The Watkin Path is the said to be the toughest route to the summit of Snowdon with a challenging final ascent. That said, it's also regarded as having some of the best views of any of the ‘classic’ routes to the summit. Starting just a few metres above sea level, the route offers the biggest vertical ascent gain, as well as sections of steep and loose scree making the final approach demanding.

The Watkin Path was first opened in 1892 by Prime Minister William Gladstone in front of 2,000 people. This was the first official footpath in Great Britain, hence the importance of the ‘Gladstone Rock’, which resides along the route. Sir Edward Watkin created this path from the existing quarry path to the summit of Snowdon to allow walkers to climb to the peak, though it was never truly finished, as you'll see later.

Sir Edward William Watkin was a British Member of Parliament and railway entrepreneur - an ambitious visionary and presided over large-scale railway engineering projects to fulfil his business aspirations before retiring to a chalet in the depths of Cwm Llan.
Portrait of Sir Edward Willam Watkin
The path begins in Bethania, close to the entrance to the National Trust farm at Hafod y Llan. A slate sign marks the 'Watkin Path’ and stone steps lead up into the woods.
No excuses missing the start of this one
The Watkin Path in thewoods of Parc Hafod-y-Llan
Walking is easy for a couple of miles as the track climbs gently through Cwm Llan, taking a big arc around the waterfalls of the Afon Cwm Llan. The path climbs and returns to the river where you will find sheep pens made of traditional slate fencing and then the ruins of Plas Cwm Llan – which used to be the home of the South Snowdon Slate Quarry manager. During the Second World War, soldiers used this building as a target when training for “D Day”.
Hafod-y-Llan and Nantgwynant
Gallt y Wenallt
Clogwyn Brith
Y Lliwedd over Afon Cwm Llan
The entrance to Cwm Llan
Incline on Clogwyn Brith
Looking into Nanygwynant
The Watkin Path entering Cwm Llan
The path at Plascwmllan
Hydropower on Afon Cwm Llan
Craig Ddu
Cwm Llan
Plas Cwm Llan
Keeping right after the path forks, the Watkin Path passes the Gladstone Rock from where Prime Minister William Gladstone addressed 2,000 people during the opening of the path.
Gladstone Rock
After the relatively gentle start, the Watkin Path begins the serious business of climbing towards Snowdon's summit. The first steep section climbs through the old quarry spoil at 350m, all the way up to Bwlch Ciliau at over 700m.
Yr Aran and Bwlch Cwm Llan
Spoil from the old quarries
Yr Aran
Clogwyn Du and Snowdon
Yr Aran and Snowdon over Cwm Llan and Cwm Tregalan
Clogwyn Du
Yr Aran and Bwlch Cwm Llan
The Watkin Path climbing towards Bwlch Ciliau
Panorama of Cwm Tregalan
Though steep, the path has numerous steps to climb and has magnificent views of Cwm Tregalan, the brooding cliffs of Clogwyn Du, the shapely Yr Aran and, of course, Snowdon itself. It was here, while I was admiring the view, where I walked straight into a jutting rock, bruising my leg just above the knee. While not an immediate problem, the moment of carelessness would cause me problems on a later walk in the Rhinogs, but that's a story for another time.
The Watkin Path can be clearly seen climbing the scree
Bwlch Ciliau has its own staggering views, this time into Llyn Llydaw and across to Crib Goch, framed by Y Lliwedd to east and Snowdon to the west. The Watkin Path only climbs a few more metres up to Bwlch y Saethau where I think Sir Edward Watkin ran out of ideas.
The incredible view from Bwlch Ciliau
Crib Goch
Walkers on Crib Goch
Bwlch Ciliau and Y Lliwedd
Looking towards Snowdon
From the Bwlch, the Watkin Path makes a severely steep climb up loose scree to reach the Rhyd-Ddu path. It's know to be a bit of an accident blackspot, especially if it's damp which makes it even looser than it already is. The climb doesn't follow one particular line either, so my advice is to pick your route carefully and don't rush. Eventually, the hard work is done.
The Watkin Path
The Watkin Path
Y Lliwedd
The Watkin Path
The Watkin Path
Clouds spill over Bwlch Main
The Watkin Path
Top of the scree
True to form, some clouds arrived as I made my way up to the summit. As I was on my own and had nothing better to do, I hung around for an hour or so to see if they would clear, which they did not. Still, it gave me a chance to grab a coffee in the café and maintain the remarkable luck that has allowed me to have the summit all to myself.
The final climb to the summit
Hafod Eryri
Bwlch Glas beneath the cloud
Snowdon's summit
Trig pillar
Made it!
Hafod Eryri
I had seen glimpses of sunshine when I was sat atop Snowdon, so I was hopeful that the cloud would be high enough not to be shrouding Bwlch Main, which I was very keen to see.
Follow the Rhyd-Ddu path to begin the descent
Looking down into Cwm Llan
Bwlch Main
Bwlch Main is the narrow ridge which joins the south ridge and the Rhyd-Ddu path to the summit of Snowdon. It has some Striding Edge proportions to it though, in reality, never actually feels that narrow. It's a magnificent place and I was glad that it sat below the clouds, enjoying some late afternoon sunshine.
Bwlch Main panorama
Bwlch Main
The cliffs of Llechog
Bwlch Main
The Moel Eilio range
Nant y Betws and the Moel Hebog range
Hills of the Lleyn Peninsula
After crossing Bwlch Main, my route took me down Snowdon's south ridge which runs across the top of the cliffs of Clogwyn Du to Allt Maenderyn. Aside from one or two rocky steps, it's a very easy route of descent at a nice gradient with a well-established path. It's also very quiet - I didn't see a soul after I had left Snowdon's summit.
Cwm Llan
The South Ridge and Yr Aran
Clogwyn Du
Cnicht and Moelwyn Mawr
Yr Aran from Allt Maenderyn
Cwm Llan and the Moelwyns
Looking up the South Ridge
Yr Aran
Cwm Llan from Bwlch Cwm Llan
The pass of Bwlch Cwm Llan leads you back into Cwm Llan though this time on the south side of the Afon Cwm Llan. Here, the path is quite wet and marshy, though huge efforts are afoot to bridge the worst areas with new stone slabs. They certainly make things a little drier and easier.
Cwm Llan
Y Lliwedd
Y Lliwedd and Craig Ddu
The old tramway
As things begin to dry out a bit, the path reaches an old quarry track that runs to a disused incline at Clogwyn Brith though there's no need to go that far and the incline is probably too steep anyway. Instead, a stepped path follows a small stream down to the Watkin Path at Plascwmllan. From here, its a case of retracing the route back to the car park.
Y Lliwedd
Craig Ddu over Plascwmllan
Y Lliwedd
Nant Gwynant
I thoroughly enjoyed the Watkin Path, despite the steep scree section at the end which shouldn't detract from an excellent route. Combining it with the south ridge makes for a great day out with sensational views throughout the day, especially from Bwlch Ciliau and Bwlch Main. Snowdon is usually guaranteed a good day out and this route is one of the best.

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