Page last updated at 06:09 GMT, Friday, 12 June 2009 07:09 UK

Uphill battles to build peak cafe

Wena Alun Owen
BBC news

View from Hafod Eryri
Clouds break to reveal the view from the visitor centre

The highest building site in Wales is about to become the highest visitor centre, but to say workers have faced a mountain to climb over the last three years is only half the story.

Friday's official opening of the Snowdon summit building and cafe, Hafod Eryri, completes an epic building project.

Working 3,488ft (1,085m) above sea level presented the builders with many challenges - and the opening is nearly a year late.

The granite is from Blaenau Ffestiniog and Portugal
The train cannot run if the wind is above 42mph at Clogwyn (half way)
In April 2008 many days were spent hand digging snow off the railway
All building materials were carried to to the top by a 100-year-old steam engine
All drinking water and food is taken up by train
Source: Snowdonia National Park Authority

Problems ranged from being pelted with "frozen pea-like" hailstones, coping with insect bites and a plague of mice.

Workers also faced spending up to two hours walking down the mountain after a day's shift, if the weather conditions were too rough for the train to run.

It must be said that arriving at Hafod Eryri on the train, in misty conditions, the building is not immediately impressive.

The granite building looks quite dark and imposing and there are not many windows to break the expanse of stone.

But blending in with the landscape has meant the architect has had to give careful consideration to its design, as well as building it to stand up to as extreme conditions a mountain cafe in Britain can be expected to face.

At the beginning of the project the building was not without its critics, and there was a lot of pressure to make sure the building was "acceptable" within a national park setting.

Gareth Griffiths (left) and Jason Yorke raised money for Wings of Hope
Seeing the building really lifts you
Gareth Griffiths, walker

Walking through the door, up a few steps, visitors enter the main area, which includes a cafe, shop and exhibition space.

After a bracing climb on the mountain railway, the first thing you notice is the warmth.

There has been a care to use local materials, with the walls clad in Welsh oak.

Nearly all the surfaces have also been used to impart information of some sort. This ranges from specially commissioned poetry to the myths and legends surrounding the mountain.

There is also information about the geology, weather, and flora and fauna.

The building's most eye-catching and variable feature, is the view from the top, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows.

Even the floors have facts and figures

If the notoriously fast-changing weather allows it, you may be treated to a breathtaking sight, with views as far away as Ireland and the Isle of Man. Even on a semi-clear day, for my visit, you can easily see for miles.


Working at the new cafe might not suit everyone but Lynn Hughes, from Caernarfon, said she was really looking forward to it.

"I'm hoping a few stars might come in," she said.

Peter Roberts will certainly get to see stars, but more the type in the sky, as he is one of the three people who will live-in at the summit building, while on shift.

As the supervisor his job includes everything from making sure all supplies come up on the train, to making sure all the rubbish and litter produced is taken back down again.

Snowdon summit scene in 1850 Photo: Snowdon Mountain Railway
The Snowdon summit, as it was enjoyed by Victorian tourists in 1850

Gareth Griffiths and Jason Yorke from Lancaster are typical of the type of visitor to the centre.

They had just completed the three peaks (Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis) to raise money for a children's education charity.

Mr Griffiths was enthusiastic: "It's fantastic, we came up to the summit and seeing the building really lifts you - but I'm disappointed it's not open for a bacon sandwich," he said.

Currently around half a million people make the journey, either on foot or on the train, to the summit each year, and the new building might attract even more.

The Snowdon Railway's general manager, Alan Kendall, said there was a limit to how many people the train could carry.

There are eight locomotives and eight carriages.

But as it is a single railway line, with only four passing points, there is a limit of about 25 trips to the summit a day.

He believes though that more customers will "help us, and help all of north Wales" in terms of bringing money in.

At the end of the day however a trip up the mountain will mean different things to different people.

As a message carved in stone says "Copa'r Wyddfa, Yr ydych chwi yma, Y nes at y nefoedd" - "The summit of Snowdon, Here you are nearer, To heaven".

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