Snowdon Summit #2

Snowdon Summit #2

Once upon a time, there was a grand summit building atop the summit of Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa.) It was built in the 1930s by the noted Welsh architect, Clough Williams-Ellis, whose Portmeirion village is famous the world over. By the 1990s had become something of a disreputable place and the then Prince Charles called it ‘the highest slum in Wales.’ Clough Williams-Ellis himself too agreed it wasn’t any sort of structure suited for the mountain’s summit. Today, the replacement premises – the Snowdon Hafod Eryri summit building which opened in 2009 – stands as a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of those who built it. It is a symbol of the beauty and majesty of the Welsh landscape.

The project for a new summit building was given the go ahead in 2004 despite concerns the funding for it would never be realised. A competition was held to attract designers who might want to draw up plans for a replacement building and this was won by Ray Hole Architects. The total cost of the project was £5.6 million.

‘Visitors are greeted with a new uninterrupted vantage point to view up towards the summit and out across the ancient landscape’. Source: Ray Hole Architects.

The notorious summit buildings, termed a ‘demi-paradise’ by the Independent, or alternatively ‘a monstrous carbuncle in any mountain lover’s view,’ as Grough put it, were set to be demolished with the wor beginning almost as soon as the cafe had completed its final summer stint. This was in early September 2006 and thus hopefully a new building, whose name would too be a result of a further competition, was to be known as Hafod Eryri. This would be completed in the summer of 2008 and thus available for part of that season. It would not just be a mountain top cafe, but also a visitor centre with information and displays about the mountain itself, and both its history and geology.

Some facts about Hafod Eryri. Source: SNPA.

Demolition of the old and construction of the new 2006 – 2009:

The cafe on 12 September 2006, after it had closed.

Work on the older building officially began on 12th September 2006 when Welsh Countryside minister Carwyn Jones used a hammer to begin the demolition process. The ceremony was almost dropped because of very high winds but it eventually went ahead.

Carwyn Jones signalling the official start of the demolition of the old building. Source: Internet Archive.

Ray Hole, the new building’s architect, with Carwyn Jones at the official demolition ceremony, Snowdon Summit 12 September 2006. Source: Internet Archive.

Bobcat operator Jack Owen demolishing the interior of the old summit cafe. 16 September 2006. Source: Internet Archive.

Demolition of the old building took just over a month. It wasnt just a case of demolishing walls. Being a steel framed structure it also needed acetylene cutting to take the framework apart. By 14th October 2006 the once infamous building had been completely reduced to a pile of rubbish.

The final remains of the old building 10 October 2006. The image is not available on the Internet Archive but came from my own archived pages of the summit blog.

Work on the foundations of the new building began in early November 2006. Despite the weather contractors managed to continue at least two or three days a week until 18th December 2006 when work stopped entirely until the following year. In terms of getting materials to the summit, generally most of the material was delivered by the railway, however a few items had to be brought to the summit by helicopter.

In December 2006 work moved from the summit to Shotton where Carillion began assembling the steel frame of the new building in a warehouse at Corus’ Steelworks to make sure it all fitted together. The following year, 2007, the new structure was transported to Llanberis and its new site via the Snowdon Mountain Railway.

The structure under test in the warehouse at Shotton, North Wales. Source: New Steel Construction

The stone walls themselves were first erected in a Llanberis yard to see how the different pieces fitted together. The walls have a special geometry included some inverted sections and this initial build was to ensure it all fitted together properly before being transported to the summit.

Work recommenced at the summit on 26th March to build the steel frame and eventually the walls. For a good part of the 2007 summer the weather was good enabling excellent progress. It wasn’t to last though! July soon proved things rather more difficult. It rained and rained. Many delays ensued. Hafod Eryri acquired a roof but not walls which had to wait until 2008. The work was very difficult because the weather threw its worst at progress. One would think with global warming the weather would be kinder but no, it was some of the worst conditions upon Snowdon for decades! There were oft times the railway just could not run and the workers had to climb for as much as an hour and thirty minutes from Clogwyn station.

Construction workers making their way to Hafod Eryri as the railway is stopped at Clogwyn. Source: Internet Archive.

December 2007 proved to be quite kinder in terms of the weather thus contractors continued until 21st December to try and get work back on track. The winter recess was much shorter too with workers re-starting at the summit on 25th February 2008.

Workmen helping the railway to clear some substantial snowdrifts! Source: Internet Archive.

In March 2008 some ferocious storms unfortunately did considerable damage to Hafod Eryri – and if that wasn’t enough some of the worst snow conditions experienced at the summit in decades followed.

The galvanised steel frame in place at the summit. Source: Galvanizers Association

Hafod Eryri in April 2008 after a heavy spell of snow and ice. Just part of its walls had been built. Source: New Steel Construction

The new cafe area taking shape June 6th 2008. Source: Internet Archive.

In June and early July 2008 things were looking good again weather-wise however when it came to holding a press day on the 18th July 2008 the elements as usual threw their worst. The press, having arrived by train, were at least able to see some of the atrocious conditions the workers had to deal with.

The interior looking towards the shop and toilet area July 2008. Source: Internet Archive.

The cafe counter taking shape in mid August 2008. Source: Internet Archive.

One of the floor interpretation tiles for the building’s interior. Source: Internet Archive.

Most of the images in this section are from the Internet Archive containing the Snowdon Summit Blog. Its quite incomplete and whilst there are a fair number of images still extant, it takes going back and forth through various archived pages to find pictures.Fortunately I had archived several pages of that blog at the time (around 2011) thus a couple of pictures in this post were retrieved that way.

The summit station area under construction. September 2008.

Hafod Eryri was largely finished at the end of September 2008. There was no point in opening the building so late in the season thus it was agreed work should finish for the year and recommence in 2009. The work was completed at the end of May 2009 and the building handed over to the mountain railway, who set about preparing the new premises for business as soon as it was possible. It was Saturday June 6th when Hafod Eryri opened to the public for the first time – and just six days later the official opening was conducted.

Aerial showing Hafod Eryri and the summit to good advantage. The styling makes the building look smaller than the old one but its actually bigger. Source: Twitter.

Besides the new building there’s also substantial space for water storage and electricity generators and facilities for the railway staff. In the first couple of years of the building and railway’s operation some staff resided at the summit however that has all changed now and a staff train is run about an hour before passenger services commence in order to prep the buildings for use.

Structural Anchor points were installed on the roof to enable workers to operate up there in safety. Source: NBS Enterprises.

To provide Structural Anchor posts for the UK’s highest fall protection system. The system which is installed upon the roof of Hafod Eryri – Snowdon Mountain Café,– designed by Architect Ray Hole sits atop Snowdon Mountain at 1085m (3560Ft) and is the highest fall protection system in Britain. Given the systems exposure to the elements only the best materials could be used. The customer required a structural anchor post designed with minimal visual impact to withstand both a fall arrest situation and the ravages of the Welsh mountain weather. Source: Safety Fabrications.

Originally the plans had been for a two storied building however the second storey was dropped. It seems even though this was a new building attempting to get away from the old design, one element of that 1930s design was the rear part of the building accommodated a second floor, and that too was part of the new plans. That aspect of Hafod Eryri was soon dropped.

June 2023 will be the first time Hafod Eryri has been open in more than three years. Its last operational period was in 2019, and it was kept shut at the start of the 2020 summer period because of COVID. As described elsewhere the need to replace practically the entire track between Clogwyn and Summit has seen the premises permanently closed in the summers of 2021 and 2022.

Accessibility lift to overcome the difference in elevation between the train platform and cafe. Pic by the author.

The cafe – always an extremely popular venue! Pic by the author.

Maintenance of the building has been proved to be somewhat problematic. Much like Clough Williams-Ellis’ 1934 structure, damage has in fact occurred almost as soon as opening had occurred. As has been recognised in terms of designing a new building, Snowdon summit is acknowledged as one of the most extreme weather locations in the world with climatic conditions that are more suited to higher elevations. The sloping roof is designed to reduce the building’s wind signature but nevertheless damage does still occur.

Hafod Eryri in October 2010 with scaffolding on its south western end – repair of major defects caused by the weather. The massive water tanks are needed to hold the scaffolding down otherwise the powerful hurricanes which come straight off the sea will blow it all away! Pic by the author.

Guys at work repairing the building in 2011. Pic by the author.

Just a couple of years after its opening the building shows evidence of substantial damage caused by the atrocious weather the mountain experiences. Pic by the author.

The above photographs were taken during visits to the summit in 2010 and 2011.

Part one – featuring the Victorian summit hotels and Clough Williams-Ellis’ 1930s summit building.

Originally published 2019. Updated May 2023.