Photo © Kourosh Qaffari

The English name for Snowdon is derived from the Old English ‘snow dun’ meaning ‘snow hill’. There are references to this as far back as the 11th century.

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The origins of the Welsh name ‘Yr Wyddfa’ are somewhat more complex. Local linguist Dr Peredur Webb-Davies explains that ‘wyddfa’ comes from gwydd + ma where gwydd is a ‘sight or face’ which therefore likely signified a visible peak and ma (mutating to fa) is ‘place’ thefore ‘the (high and) visible place’.

He goes on to explain that gwydd also means a grave or cairn but this may be a later meaning retrospectively applied to Yr Wyddfa. There is a link with the legendary giant Rhita Gawr but it’s likely the mountain name predates this link.

Local Snowdon expert Tony Ellis goes with the more legendary link with ‘gwyddfa’ being abbreviated from its 13th century name ‘weedfa veer’ meaning the large burial mound. This referring to the stone cairn on the summit under which Rhita Gawr was buried.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever know the true answer of how a mountain that’s been around longer than mankind got its name but this seems to be the closest.


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