Wales

Should you take the Snowdon Mountain Railway?

I can’t believe I’m writing this travel entry, because the title is an admission of something I am not proud of, so let’s just get this out of the way quickly. Yes - I took a mountain train to the summit of Mount Snowdon, and yes - I claim to be a keen explorer, ruthless adventurer and semi-experienced hiker.

  • Written on 16th November 2017
  • Wales Category

Let me explain. During the summer of 2017, I drove 300 miles to indulge in the majestic bumpy hills, precipitous mountain peaks and predictably God-awful weather that only Snowdonia could summon. This was my third visit to the area to date, and I had yet to triumphantly claim the Mount Snowdon summit as my own.

I travelled with two close companions, neither of whom are particularly fond of cardiovascular expenditure (let’s just say). So if I wanted to physically touch the circular trig point some 1,000 metres above sea level on this trip, I had little choice but to opt for the supposedly famous Snowdon Mountain Railway.

So I shamefully exchanged muscle power for coal and steam, and if it’s any consolation, I had a miserable time. Don’t worry - I intend to spread my bitterness through the remainder of this entry. Share the love, right? Let’s sound the whistle on why you should avoid the mountain train in lieu of good old fashioned walking. Choo choo!

Before I begin however, this is nothing against the Snowdon Mountain Railway company, staff, or train itself, but simply a challenge put towards ‘convenience’ mountain travel.

If you’re an avid nature explorer, you’re missing out on the true journey

I know this, because I really felt it. Opting to take the easy way to ‘experience’ Mount Snowdon felt like cheating to me. By choosing to sit in a cooped-up carriage and chugging my way to the top, I felt like I was missing out on the true meaning of exploration, however cold it was or uncomfortable the hike may have been.

It’s like fighting to turn your small business enterprise into a sustainable source of income, to perhaps one day become a millionaire, and then suddenly winning the lottery. You achieved your wildest dream, but it lacks a hearty story to go with it.

The train journey was a brutal test of endurance

A narcissistic young girl taking a standing selfie every 10 minutes. A clearly confused middle-aged woman shooting likely-out-of-focus photos through the mucky glass with a DSLR. A balding man who insisted on drawing people’s attention to various objects outside and then spewing related and rubbish general trivia that the group didn’t want to hear.

These things to me are akin to poking a jaguar with a stick. I wanted to explode. I wanted to tell that image-obsessed girl to sit down, that confused woman that her photos will almost certainly look awful, and the balding man to keep his Christmas cracker trivia to himself.

If it looks a little packed in there... that's because it was.

This turned a little personal, I apologise. The point is, if you tend to get riled up over such common humanistic tendencies as these, best avoid being confined in a tin can for a 45 minute uphill journey.

When I reached the top, I rightfully felt unaccomplished

I did it. Through whatever means and despite how it was eating me on the inside, I laid my hand on that circular trig point that had evaded me for so many years. And yet… pure emptiness inside.

The trig point at the top of Mount Snowdon. Photo source: mountain-forecast.com.

I cheated to get here, in my mind. I wasn’t like the dozens of casual tourists surrounding me at the top, with their Kodak cameras and wellies, who probably don’t see the summit as a challenge but nothing more than an opportunity for a cool selfie.

Yes, I took a selfie too. Just one. Leave me alone, all right?

Accomplished or not, I had a mere 45 minutes at the top

You know what the awesome thing is about walking anywhere and not binding yourself to any form of public transport? You can take your time. You have no deadlines or worries about missing your journey. This is not the case when first setting foot on the summit having opted for the railway.

The mountaintop cafe, perhaps designed for the casual train-travelling tourist. Photo source: oddizzi.com.

You’re given 45 minutes to take in the views, take a thousand selfies, and take hold of that hot dog from the mountaintop cafe. After that, you either walk back down or catch the return train.

My entire life isn’t enough time to lay watery eyes upon the magical landscape of Snowdon from 1,000 metres high, let alone a 45 minute stop.

And lastly because, what’s the point?

Look, I understand that people can love the Earth in their own way. I also understand that not everybody shares my enthusiasm for ‘earning’ such victories as touching the trig point, yet they do want to soak in that incredible summit view.

But I hate and resist with all my might this notion that the Earth is a caged zoo animal, whose beauty and incredible wonder serve only to amuse people willing to spend £23 on a return train ticket. Otherwise, I almost guarantee they wouldn’t bother lacing up a pair of hiking boots and struggling to the top to win that same incredible view, because it just isn’t worth it to them - the Earth isn’t worth it.

The Snowdon Mountain Railway converts the area into nature’s version of Disneyland - a fun spectacle with a ride to the top for the whole family.

I intend to go back, do it properly and become whole.

So if I wish to go back (which I do) and tame the beast that is Mount Snowdon with no train tickets in sight (which I do) then what was the point of the train journey?

I’ve ruined that first time experience by not doing it properly and, when I do eventually return to make myself whole, the summit won’t be a surprise. My choice to opt for the juddery ride has, all things considered, spoiled it.

I can’t take that back, and there will be plenty of other opportunities ahead to conquer summits the right way, as an outdoors enthusiast and somebody encouraged to expend cardio effort to achieve a goal. But I sincerely hope fellow hikers, explorers and students of the Earth will not make the same mistake I did.

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