While I lived back home in Snowdonia, I'd climb Snowdon very often, I'd say I've done it at least 25 times and overlooked the demolition of the old building as well as the building of the new one during my many visits to the summit.
The building is named Hafod Eryri (meaning summer house) and houses a visitor centre, shop, cafe and toilets. It was built to replace the old building which was Clough Williams Ellis designed and was basicly a concrete block, once famously described by Prince Charles as 'the highest slum in Wales'. It cost £8.4million to build but was delayed in opening due to heavy snowfall over 2 winters which limited the amount of work the builders could do. It was eventually opened by the First Minister of Wales, Rhodri Morgan in June 2009. It's opening times depend on the weather because the train acts as a shuttle for the workers and is only ever open when the railway is open, which operates during the tourist seasons.
The cafe, visitor centre and shop are all devised into one big room. It is designed to be walker and tourist friendly, with the latter taken up on the Snowdon Mountain Railway from the nearby town of Llanberis. It's spacious and easy to maneuver around it unlike the old building which was crammy. The new building makes a lot of use of natural light with large windows facing the sun unlike the old building which was always dark and cold. The food and drink as you'd expect in such a place is very expensive so if you always walk up like me then I suggest take your own food and drink! The cafe is licenced which is always nice to have a celebratory nice cold pint on a hot summer's day at the summit! I've had sandwiches from there before and they were what you'd get from a supermarket but with an inflated price. To be fair though they do let you eat your own food inside the building at the cafe tables. The shop is more of a little gift shop with a few souveneirs etc. and is basicly aimed more towards the tourists who come up on the train.
I'm quite pleased with Hafod Eryri, it's a very green building and is much more aesthetic than the old one. I always pop in after I've got to the summit for a sit down and shelter if the weather isn't so good outside. I think it's compulsary for anyone to visit Hafod Eryri when they're at the summit as apart from the views there's not much else available on the summit. I'd definitely recommend going if you're venturing up Snowdon.
Recently Dave's mom has been staying with us here in Llandudno and we decided to take her up to the summit of Mount Snowdon as it is something she has always wanted to do. There are two ways to get there - you can either catch a train or you can walk - the summit is only about 3,560 feet above sea level! Needless to say we took the train! We had to book in advance as the journey was so popular, even though the weather wasn't good, and we took a chance on a specific day booking about a week in advance. Wouldn't you know it? It was the worst day of that week with low cloud and heavy rain - oh well, such is life!
The train starts in Llanberis at the foot of the mountain (I bet you wouldn't have guessed that!) and terminates at the summit station where the passengers have half an hour in which to do some sightseeing (if there are any sights of course!), a short walk right to the very top or a drink and a snack in the new visitor centre.
The original visitor centre, which looked like a large concrete bunker, was designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis and was built way back in 1935. This building remained adequate rather than luxurious for many years, although in the mid 1990's Prince Charles did actually call it 'the highest slum in Wales' and to be fair it was an extremely ugly building.
In the 2001 the decision to replace the building was made and The Snowdonia Park Authority began the work to raise the funding. They were originally looking to raise £5m from sources such as the Welsh Tourist Board and The National Assembly and the fundraising itself took quite a while with many disappointments along the way and of course the usual increase in costs!
In February 2004 it was agreed to proceed with the project and tenders were invited with a company called Ray Hole Architects winning the contract and the privilege of building the new visitors centre. In December 2006 an appeal was launched by the BBC to name the new building and the name Hafod Eryri was chosen from over 500 entries. Hafod means summer residence in Welsh and Eryri means Snowdonia.
In September 2006 demolition of the old building began with the intention of having the new one open for business in early summer 2008. As it happened bad weather including snow and high winds delayed the construction and the new centre was finally opened by our First Minister Rhodri Morgan on 12th June 2009. All the materials had to be taken to the summit using the train and during the winter the workers had to begin by digging the snow off the track each day. There were also days lost when the train could not reach the summit due to high winds - the train cannot proceed past the halfway station if the wind speed is more than 42mph at Clogwyn and on many days the men actually walked to the top to compete their days work.
The new building had to be built to withstand some very extreme weather conditions including winds of over 150mph which is twice hurricane force, over 5 metres of rain per year and temperatures of -20 degrees centigrade excluding wind chill.
The eventual cost was £8.3 million and funding included £3m from the Welsh Assembly Government, £300,000 from the Wales Tourist Board, £270,000 from the Snowdonia National Park Authority, £217,000 from the Snowdon Mountain Railway and £96,500 from a Public Appeal together with money from Objective 1 European Funding.
Anyway that gives you some of the history behind the building so now let's go and take a look at it.
The first thing that I noticed about the outside of the new Visitors Centre is that it blends into the landscape so much better than the old building did. Its curved structure is made almost entirely from granite (from Blaenau Ffestiniog and Portugal) and the front wall is made up of huge windows through which to see the amazing views beyond.
We got off the train into the cloud which was sitting on top of Snowdon at the time and headed indoors into the highest building in England and Wales. The visitor centre is made up of one big room - plus an extra small section housing the toilets.
The room has a granite floor and angled walls lined with Welsh Oak. We turned to look out of the wonderful wall of windows - so that's what the inside of a cloud looks like then! Sadly the view was just grey on the day that we were there but I can imagine that the view from those windows would be superb on a clear day. I understand that you can even see the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland if it is really clear!
The visitor centre houses a small gift shop and a cafe selling tea, coffee, sandwiches, pies, soup etc. It is at this point that I must stress that this cafe is not for sitting in your Sunday best with real china cups and saucers! This place is here to provide sustenance for the weary walker who has just finished their climb to the top. The people there on the day we went were mainly in very wet walking gear and hiking boots, carrying backpacks and walking sticks.
The tables are varying sizes and heights so that you can sit or stand depending on your preference and the taller ones have a shelf underneath so you can put your rucksack out of the way whilst you enjoy the refreshments. The other thing that I noticed was that there was plenty of room between the tables to accommodate people bundled up in thick clothing with rucksacks on their backs. The slate floor would be easy to clean after a day of muddy walking boots so that is practical too.
All round this room - on the floor, on the tables, on the walls and even on the windows - are facts about the building, the mountain and the surrounding area. There is a time capsule set into the floor containing items brought together by school children from Beddgelert and Llanberis and the note on the floor tells us that it is to be reopened in 2058. There are also lines of poetry written by the former National Poet of Wales, Gwyn Thomas etched onto the windows, but done in such a way as not to interfere with your enjoyment of the view.
The gift shop is small but has the usual stock of pens, pencils, caps, t shirts, postcards etc.
We initially walked straight through the cafe area and out of the door on the far side which brought us into a small room off which were the gents, ladies and disabled toilets all of which were clean and well maintained. No, I didn't go into them all! Dave went into the gents, mom in law the disabled and I went into the ladies - so there!
Carrying on, the door opposite leads out onto a walkway from which there must again be wonderful views when the weather is good. A flight of stone steps leads from this up to the trig point which marks the very top of Snowdon. Since the wind was strong and the steps were wet we decided that this was not a good idea and headed back indoors for our cup of tea!
I know that opinion was divided as to whether we should have a new visitor centre or whether to return the mountain back to nature. Some walkers said that cafes should not be built on the top of mountains as it spoils what should be a natural experience but I must admit that I think this building fits into the landscape so well it provides shelter and refreshment for the visitor without taking anything away from the beauty of the mountain.
If you want to take a look at some pictures and find out a bit more about the place the web site address is http://www.snowdonrailway.co.uk/hafod_eryri.php
I know the train journey is expensive at £25 return for an adult but we all enjoyed our day out even though the weather was awful and the visitor centre is a great building brilliantly designed for its purpose.
Incidentally I did write a review about the train journey when we first did it a few years ago.