A special case

Let’s be honest – Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is not an ordinary mountain.

It is, without doubt, a special case, presenting unique challenges, and as such cannot be treated in the way that most would wish to see other mountains treated.

Most people walk in national parks and in the hills and mountains to enjoy the scenery and landscape, but many come to Yr Wyddfa primarily as a consequence of its status. The mountain attracts many first timers, and the bustle and congestion encourages the perception of it being a playground. Many people consequently don’t see Yr Wyddfa as a serious mountain; it’s regarded more as a tourist attraction, and though challenging, it is perfectly safe, surely? After all, a train goes up it!

Most mountains carry little in the way of man’s footprint; from its earliest days, however, Yr Wyddfa has carried the marks of human activity: its walls, its paths, its mines; and buildings have crowned its summit for the best part of two centuries. Today the idea of building a cafe at the top of a mountain in the national park would be immediately dismissed, but Snowdon has its history. Turning the clock back to create an unspoilt mountain is simply not an option.

Whilst most walkers would agree that, for instance, signage in mountain areas is not appropriate (if you walk in the mountains you should know what you’re doing) Yr Wyddfa has an uncanny ability of attracting the inexperienced and the unaware. Of the hundreds of thousands of walkers who visit Snowdon annually, for many it is not just the first time on this mountain, it is also their first time on any mountain; indeed, for some it will be the only strenuous walk they do all year, and for some the only mountain they will climb in their lives.

The BMC (which has 76,000 members in England and Wales) is largely against way-markers on mountains (as are the landowners), believing that people become dependent on them rather than developing the necessary navigation skills. This is a fair point, and certainly way-markers do take away the wildness and remoteness, but as we’ve just said, many walkers on Snowdon are not normally hill or mountain walkers and have no interest in developing map skills.

In 2013 some 13 small waymarker stones, with simply names and arrows on them, were erected at strategic points on Yr Wyddfa’s paths, aimed at reducing accidents involving ill-prepared, lost or unwary walkers on Yr Wyddfa, and instigated by observations from the Mountain Rescue Team. However, whilst common enough in Europe, they have not been easily accepted here by some, who, despite their relative unobtrusiveness, see them as an urbanisation of the mountains, a fop to self-reliance in the mountains, and possibly the thin end of the wedge. But those who do see it as the thin end of the wedge fail to appreciate Yr Wyddfa’s ‘special case’ status; moreover, requests for signage on other mountains in Snowdonia have been promptly turned down by the Park Authority.

And at the foot of Yr Wyddfa, on all the main paths, are signs for the benefit of the many inexperienced hillwalkers who are not always aware of the requirements of the Country Code, especially what is appropriate behaviour regarding litter, noise and dogs. It can be summed up in the phrase ‘Leave no trace‘, and essentially it’s an issue of respect, which, it seems, doesn’t come naturally to all.

What goes on on Yr Wyddfa doesn’t happen on other mountains; we sometimes need to remember that it’s a special case.

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