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The Snowdon Sherpa

Friday 17th September 2021

The Snowdon Sherpa network of bus routes provides a great way to explore the Snowdonia National Park. It links the six walking paths which give access to the mountains and removes the tediousness for walkers needing to retrace their outward route if parking in one of the designated parking areas across the area. Many walkers take the bus back to their starting point, and indeed, one bus route (the S1) specifically provides a shuttle service from Llanberis and Pen-y-Pass to a designated Park and Ride car park at Nant Peris.

I’m not sure when the network was first christened with the Snowdon Sherpa branding; it’s certainly been around for decades. At one time it was operated by Express Motors but after that operator’s demise in 2017 it was awarded by Gwynedd Council to Anglesey based Gwynfor Coaches who are now one of the major operators in this part of north west Wales along with Arriva.

Snowdon Sherpa is a great brand for a bus network serving this spectacular part of Wales but sadly the prominence of the name and what it stands for is now looking rather tired and stale. It could do with a good revitalisation to increase awareness among the thousands of visitors to Snowdonia.

There’s a long standing logo which some buses show on the front windscreen …

… but on others it’s harder to find, and appears in colour on an offside window, but not particularly prominently.

There’s also a poster in the front windscreen advising the bus serves Pen-y-Pass with details of some bargain fares to that point.

On a previous visit I noticed a logo plate had been added above bus stop flags, but I didn’t even notice whether they’re still on display this time.

There’s also a useful network map dated March 2021 available on Gwenydd Council’s website although it hasn’t been updated with this year’s two new TrawsCymru routes (T10 and T19).

As well as the aforementioned route S1 (coloured green on the map) which connects Llanberis and Pen-y-Pass via the Nant Peris car park every hour on Mondays to Fridays (more frequently on Sundays) with double deck buses for added scenic views and capacity, the main route is the S2 (coloured red on the map) which links Betws-y-Coed with Pen-y-Pass and Llanberis every hour with a ninety minute break at lunch time.

The S2 also provides a morning and afternoon school journey to a school north of Betws-y-Coed in Llanwrst as I found out when I caught the 15:12 departure from Betws-y-Coed on Monday afternoon which arrived from the school with 16 children on board going home.

Most of them got off as we headed out of Betws-y-Coed towards Capel Curig but two stayed on the bus until we reached Pen-y-Gwryd where they walked towards some parked cars for I assume a lift down to Beddgelert.

What a lovely scenic ride to and from school they enjoy every day.

After Pen-y-Gwryd there was just me left on the bus as it climbed the A4086 and the short distance to Pen-y-Pass.

There’s a Youth Hostel hotel, coffee shop, toilets and information shop at Pen-y-Pass together with a small only-bookable-in-advance car park, but the most prominent part is the bus turning area at the front.

and very popular it is too with four of the five Snowdon Sherpa routes passing through or terminating here.

It was good to see a timetable showing departures on display but was somewhat discoloured rather reinforcing the tired, worn out and uncared for image of the brand.

Although my S2 arrived with just me on board we picked up eight walkers going home, four of whom got off at the car park at Nant Peris and four continued on to Llanberis with me.

Llanberis is a popular tourist destination in Snowdonia as from here you can catch the Snowdon Mountain Railway right up to the top of the mountain …

… as well as the Llanberis Lake Railway…

It’s a very scenic place to wait for a bus …

… and it wasn’t long before my connection on to route 85 which links Llanberis with Bangor arrived and we left with eight on board.

Route 85 provides six journeys a day from Bangor to Llanberis and eight back from Llanberis, with four return journeys on Sundays. It takes quite a circuitous route calling into a number of villages along the way with a total journey time of 55 minutes for the 12 mile journey. It does give good access by bus into Snowdonia, but it’s a shame it can’t run more frequently, although route S6 runs (albeit via a different route) hourly at weekends in the summer.

Bangor and Caernarfon are linked by Arriva’s route 5C; it’s the final part of a long chain of routes that run along the north Wales coast from Chester via Rhyl and Llandudno to Bangor. With the railway heading off over the Menai Strait to Holyhead at Bangor, it’s the only public transport link into the town of Caernarfon.

At one time route 5 and it’s associated sister routes was branded ‘Coastliner’ but now, it’s rare you see the brand still in use, although the bus I caught was still ‘on brand’, with another I saw in Sapphire colours. Route 5C is currently running every 20 minutes and takes half an hour between the two towns.

From Caernarfon Snowdon Sherpa route S4 (coloured blue on the map) provides access into the National Park along the A4085 via Waunfaur to Beddgelert with five of the seven journeys a day continuing on to Pen-y-Pass although in the other direction only two of the seven journeys run through from Pen-y-Pass back to Caernarfon via Beddgelert, other journeys just shuttle to Beddlegert. Sundays sees two return journeys on the route but with a more frequent shuttle running between Beddgelert and Pen-y-Pass.

I caught the 09:05 journey from Caernarfon to Pen-y-Pass last Tuesday morning and was encouraged to see ten passengers board with me including a family of four. Five alighted after a ten minute ride in Warnfawr and wearing high-viz jackets were clearly off to do some physical work and another passenger boarded there and alighted with another from Caernarfon in Beddgelert again obviously going to work.

Beddlegert is another delightful spot in the National Park and well worth a visit in itself.

The family and I continued on to Pen-y-Pass up the spectacular climb on the A498 where we stopped to pick up three walkers getting ready for their day’s exercise.

The family of four and those three alighted with me at Pen-y-Pass arriving soon after 10:00.

The scenery along route S4 is quite stunning.

Not least on the climb up to Pen-y-Pass on the A498 where our driver pointed out the hydro electric plant built in 1908 and disguised as a chapel with its claim to fame being featured in the 1999 James Bond film ‘The Word Is Not Enough’ (pictured bottom right).

The S4 also parallels the wonderful Welsh Highland Railway for much of the route, including an interchange at Rhyd Ddu Halt where there’s a handy bus shelter to wait.

From Pen-y-Pass I caught the next S2 at 10:25 back to Betws-y-Coed. The bus arrived from Llanberis with a very impressive 20 or so passengers who all alighted for their mountain walk and it was just one other passenger boarding with me for the onward journey to Betws-y-Cord.

Snowdon Sherpa routes S2 and S4 parallel each other either side of Mount Snowdon on the A4085 (S4) and A 4086 S2) and provide a fantastic opportunity to visit the area.

They’re supplemented by routes S6 (black on the map) and S97 (orange on the map). The S6 is a weekend in school holidays only route providing a link from Bangor through Bethesda on the A5 with Pen-y-Pass every hour, while the S97 links Porthmadog with Beddgelert six times a day (twice on Sundays).

All in all it’s a tidy network and something some other National Parks would do well to emulate where their bus connections are lacking.

But as observed earlier, I do think it needs some TLC and improved promotion. How about a nice livery for the buses? A timetable leaflet and network map widely distributed through Visitor Centres? More prominent bus stop information? I noticed one of those electronic totem pole style displays in the car park at Nant Peris as we drove by which was displaying a full timetable for one of the routes on a scrolling display. It looked good but I didn’t get a close up sighting to comment further.

Gwynedd Council (and Conwy County Council for their involvement on the S2) are to be congratulated for supporting the Snowdon Sherpa but I reckon its potential is even greater if it was properly promoted and revitalised.

Roger French

BusAndTrainUser View All

I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.

13 thoughts on “The Snowdon Sherpa Leave a comment

  1. All bus routes anywhere need promotion, promotion promotion on way is by providing timetables in every location possible even far away from the actual bus routes so people see them and can make plans to visit and travel by public transport , information on the area too

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  2. Thank you once more for an informative piece.
    If I may offer one point:-
    TrawsCymru service T2 also provides a public transport link not shown on the Sherpa map between Bangor and Caernarfon. Using the Y Felinheli by-pass, it is slightly faster than the 5C, and provides 11 journeys per day. It is odd that Gwynedd’s map shows the Arriva 5C but not the T2.

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  3. When I was there in August there were plenty of people using the network – one morning even the double decker got full heading up to pen-y-pass and it had to return to Nant peris to pick up the remaining passengers! For me, the one improvement that could be made is surrounding the S4 and S97 it is often very unclear that a bus which serves the two routes is actually the same bus.

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  4. Some spectacular routes and scenery throughout the Snowdon area, thanks for posting and excellent pictures. I do wish they would continue to put the NAPTAN code on bus stops as I found out a few years back that Googling the NAPTAN often threw up the whole route timetable. Some of those North Wales services have remarkable integration as well, back in 2017 I was able to go from Portmadoc to Glossop via the Welsh Highland Railway, bus and train in one day. I really do need to revisit that area again and see what transport stunts I can pull off again!

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  5. The network has so much potential, but the disjointed network operated by a cabal of different companies makes it difficult for the casual public transport user to navigate.

    When you think of all the subsidy that is pumped into the network, some cash could be found to promote the ‘brand’ effectively and provide proper connections with the National Rail network and through ticketing, Admittedly the new 1BWS ticket for £5.70 allows unlimited travel on all buses in north Wales, howabout, this ticket being able to purchase in advance on rail ticketing systems, say for £5 on top of a rail ticket?

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  6. I think the Snowdon Sherpa brand has been around for in the region of 40 years – a tribute to a simple but brilliant name. Few other bus brands have existed for that long: only Coastliner 700 in Sussex comes to mind.

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    • Just over 40 years in fact as I spent a day back in the late 1970s photographing them in Llanberis while on a Crosville day excursion from Rhyl (classic CRG – ECW bodied Bristol RELH). Crosville operated the service with a mix of Bristol LH saloons and ex Southdown Daimler Fleetline double deckers. Marketing consisted of “Snowden Sherpa” white slipboards (remember them?) which stood out against standard NBC green. Perhaps some of the Fleetlines even appeared on both Coastliner and Sherpa services?

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  7. You could not run the Fleetlines on the Coastliner as they would not fit through the arch at Conwy. More likely that a Coastliner Olympian would be used on the Sherpa.

    Brand awareness for the Sherpa is difficult as people come from such a wide area. There is more that could be done though as it does feel like an elderly relative, a shadow of its former self.

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  8. Snowdon Sherpa is an excellent service for walkers and tourists, and the quality of vehicles does seem to have improved from when I was there some years ago. I would guess that the operators may be reluctant to put a special livery on buses for it if the network is seasonal and buses are used elsewhere for other times of the year, plus it may be that the contracts are not guaranteed for more than one year at a time?

    Yes, better promotion would be invaluable, particularly in terms of getting information out to the numerous youth hostels and other accommodation in the area. It doesn’t help that on the official website, some of the timetables are professionally designed but others have that typical “home-made in Excel” look to them and are not particularly clear.

    One suggestion I would make for anyone who wants to do an “up and over” route of Snowdon, going up one path and coming down another, and using the Sherpa to get around the base between the start and end points, is to park your car at the end of your walk, and get the bus to the start. I know too many people who have been caught up by taking longer on the mountain than they expected and missing the last bus back!

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