For many years the parking and transport situation for climbers and hill walkers in northern Snowdonia has become increasingly difficult as increasing numbers of people and cars compete for limited parking spaces. "Green Key" was supposed to be the scheme that solved these issues. Has it worked?
Snowdonia Transport and Parking – Unlocking The Green Key
Following numerous debates, consultations, public meetings and various reports it’s obvious to anyone who ventures to northern Snowdonia on any busy weekend (and there are very few weekends that can be described as anything but busy) that parking in the main areas has become a bit of a nightmare.
The basic problem is that of numbers – it’s a small area with limited parking and narrow roads that are also important transport routes that connect the towns and villages of the area. On a typical busy day over 5000 people will walk up Snowdon on the main paths alone, with a further 3000 people in the Ogwen Valley. Most will have travelled to the area in private cars, with many others in minibuses or similar, leading to a demand for over 3000 car parking spaces in the Llanberis, Nant Gwynant and Ogwen Valleys. The total available legal parking spaces around Snowdon, Llanberis, Ogwen Valley and Bethesda is a little over 1000 spaces, and this includes the car parks at Llanberis and Bethesda, where public transport might have to be taken to get to the start of your route. The result is inevitable gridlock and frustration on busy days.
Over 10 years ago under a proposal called the “Green Key Initiative”, a report was produced by a team of highly academic transport consultants, which suggested that the numbers using northern Snowdonia would continue to rise and that serious congestion, parking and transport problems were inevitable unless radical actions were taken. Their suggestions were to reduce (and in some cases remove) the number of available parking areas in the “core “ part of north Snowdonia and effectively force all visitors to the area to leave their cars at car parks at major gateways, such as Bethesda, Betws y Coed, and Llanberis, and use buses to travel to and from the mountains.
This caused a huge and vocal objection from many local businesses and users of the area, and in many instances was simply not a practical solution. Many of the gateway towns have pre-existing parking and congestion problems, and forcing another 3000+ cars to these towns on already busy days would cause havoc.There were also planning and environmental problems that would make the construction of huge new car parks at these locations very undesirable, especially as they would then be empty for most of the week and during the winter months. And this is without factoring in the cost of running a fleet of empty buses for much of the year! Originally this scheme was being sold as a green alternative but in reality parking up your car and taking a bus for the last five miles of a journey, when you’ve already driven over 200 miles to get to Snowdonia has very little impact on reducing your overall carbon footprint. The arguments over the pros and cons of the original scheme are well documented, and in the end the initiative was not carried forward in its original guise.
However the problem has not gone away and increasing numbers of visitors (one estimate suggests 700,000 people used the main paths up Snowdon last year alone!) continue to try to park as close to the mountain as possible. Some elements of the original scheme have been implemented, some new parking spaces provided, others reduced, and new arrangements introduced in many areas, leading to some confusion and frustration for locals and visitors alike. It is not helped by the fact that parking and transport arrangements are being managed by two separate local authorities, the National Assembly for Wales, and the National Park. In addition the Sherpa bus services have had most of their subsidy removed, and the authorities now state that the parking charges are essential to simply cover the costs and directly support these bus services.
So what is the situation today?
Where can you park and what are the alternatives?
Firstly, where can you not park?
All of the A4086 (Llanberis Pass) from Nant Peris to Pen y Gwryd Hotel and the A498 down the Nant Gwynant is a designated “clearway” where parking will lead to the Gwynedd Council Traffic Wardens issuing fixed penalty parking tickets. A short section of the A498 from Pen y Gwryd Hotel towards Capel Curig is also similarly restricted, until you reach the Conwy Council boundary.
Similarly, parking on any section of the A5 through Ogwen, where there are solid white lines down the centre of the carriageway, will also lead to prosecution, as will parking on any pavement or where there is a solid kerb. Any parking that is deemed to be a hazard (next to a bend, impairs visibility, prevents a large vehicle form passing, etc.) can also lead to a ticket, and in some cases even points on your licence.
Where can you park legally, and what is the price?
For free, any of the lay-bys in the Llanberis Pass, as long as your car is completely off the highway, but spaces are limited (probably spaces for less than 50 cars in total). The verges and lay-bys from Pen y Gwryd towards Capel Curig are also free, but only if you park beyond the Gwynedd Council/Conwy Council boundary sign. Most of the lay-bys and roadside parking in Ogwen is also free, but parking on the pavement at Ogwen Cottage will again lead to being ticketed. All of these areas fill up very quickly, and in particular in the Llanberis valley, where even further congestion is created as frustrated motorists drive up the and down the Pass with increasing desperation trying to find that elusive parking slot.
Free car parks and spaces also exist in Llanberis (but most of the parking in or near the village centre is now charged), Capel Curig and in Bethesda, but an alternative method then needs to be used to get to the start of you path or route.
At Pen y Pass the car park is managed by the National Park Authority, where the fee is now a whopping £10 a day.
There are spaces for 96 cars in formal lay-bys managed by Gwynedd Council at Pen y Gwryd, and and the fee there is £4 a day, with fixed penalties for not displaying a valid ticket. The other downside is the hugely risky and dangerous walk along a pavement- less road to Pen y Pass to get to the start of the path.
A large car park also exists at Nant Peris, managed by the National Park, and the fee here is also £4, but as with all Snowdon car parks, it does fill up very quickly.
All other National Park car parks including Nant Gwynant (start of the Watkin path), Rhyd Ddu, and at Idwal cottage are also £4 per day, and again spaces are limited. Similar fees apply for the public and private car parks in Llanberis.
Climbers in particular seem to struggle to find places to park in the Pass, as most spaces are taken, long before 9am by walkers going up Snowdon. There have been some discussions that the lay-bys in the Pass should be somehow protected for sole use by “proper” climbers and boulderers, but surely this would be elitism at its worst, as the walker on his or her first mountain walk up Snowdon (and who get up early) has equal rights to someone hoping to on-sight Lord of the Flies?
What is the alternative?
The bus service, despite criticism is actually quite good, and cheap! The cost of any single journey from Llanberis, Bethesda or Capel Curig is only a £1, and for walkers (or climbers) with a little imagination, really does open up some brilliant opportunities for using different paths and getting some great circuits completed. The timetable for 2010 is also much improved, especially in the Llanberis Pass, with the first buses starting at 8.00 am and the last bus leaving Pen y Pass at 7.45 pm, and during peak and busy times, there are at least 30 buses every day, with additional services according to demand.
The situation in Ogwen however is not so good, with only five services a day, and a much more limited service.
A good source of information is the booklet “Snowdonia Mountains & Coast - Sherpa bus timetables and walking routes”, available at the information centres and national park warden centres, and further information is on the Green Key website
What should the BMC be doing?
As climbers and hill walkers we often want to park as close as possible to the cliff or path, but with such numbers using northern Snowdonia, we have to accept this is not always going to be possible.There is an expectation that BMC should be campaigning to allow this, but is this realistic, or even acceptable, when the BMC is also trying to be a credible and environmentally aware organisation?
BMC Cymru has set up a small group to come with ideas and will feed these ideas back to the Green Key officers. There seems to be little co-ordination between the authorities, information is difficult to find and simple measures that could help to reduce the congestion seem to be ignored.For instance, why is the fact that all parking spaces in the Pass are full, not made clear for motorists at Llanberis, before they try to drive up and down the Pass in vain?
Many people are understandably cynical that the increase in parking charges and restrictions are simply a moneymaking exercise, and there is a possibility that this could be a case of killing the goose that lays the golden egg, as visitors become reluctant to return to the area having had a bad (and expensive!) experience.
There seems to be little movement or enthusiasm to provide a safe, sensible and useable pedestrian route from Pen y Gwryd or up the Pass, as an alternative to walking on the busy road, where accidents are sure to happen, as frustrated drivers are still searching for that elusive parking space rather than keeping an eye out for pedestrians! The bus service in winter is virtually unuseable for winter mountaineers, and the limited service while still subsidised, is woefully inadequate for someone who wants to park in Betws y Coed and walk up Snowdon.Last winter the timetable allowed you less than four hours from arrival at Pen y Pass to needing to be back to catch the last bus to Betws y Coed – suitable for super fast bus passengers only then!
The BMC understands that Snowdonia National Park would like to develop some of these proposals further, and are keen to listen to the user groups, and the BMC is looking forward to the opportunity to be consulted (and listened to) in the future.
It’s obvious that the issues are getting worse and a much more innovative way forward is required, and maybe, just maybe, we climbers and hill walkers should try to use the bus occasionally?