The Rhyd Ddu and Snowdon Ranger Paths snake up Snowdon’s western slope. These are routes less taken but are rewarding ways up. The paths are both three and a half miles long, and reckoned at 3 hours’ walking, if you are fit: always allow for more.
Rhyd Ddu, the starting point for this eponymous path, is just south of Snowdon Ranger and like it is a tiny hamlet in the valley beneath the western slope of Snowdon. Its name means “Black Ford”, and like its twin it is clustered about a station on the exquisite Welsh Highland Railway (about which separately). The railway then provides an access. (You can just pay to park in the station car park and walk, but it is a good excuse for a ride on a beautiful steam-hauled, narrow-gauge line.)
What I most remember about Rhyd Ddu is the torrential rain, and being barely able to expose a map or any paper to the open without its dissolving. The path is signposted at least, and the destination clear above – except that it was not that day as I could not see more than a hundred yards ahead.
There is more to Rhyd Ddu than a station and the way up Snowdon, not much more in terms of the village itself, but it can be used as a spot to visit other heights and sites. Rhyd Ddu stands at the head of the pass, the Colwyn flowing south and the Gwyrfai north. Westward is the Nantlle Ridge, marking the end of Snowdonia, and the Nantlle Valley, to the north Llyn Cwellyn, and to the east the towering presence of Snowdon.
To Snowdon then. The Rhyd Ddu path is a straightforward route at the start, ascending across fields and wood, on a good track through the Cwm Caregog and up to the crags. The promise of a sudden incline looms ahead. The path becomes less one of meadow and bog and more rock and slate.
The path heads up Bwlch Main (‘Narrow Pass’), which is a strenuous section, and as it grows steeper those strong calf muscles will be needed. It climbs to the edge of the cliffs which form a corrie dropping away northwards, then round the cliffs up the bwlch straight to the summit.
This last section makes the Rhyd Ddu path, which begins so gently, one of the toughest of the main Snowdon routes.
The best maps for Snowdon are of course the Ordnance Survey maps; the ‘Explorer’ at 1:25 000 and the ‘Landranger’ at 1:50 000: