Travelers going from England to Ireland will find that one of the most popular gateways is North Wales, where a ferry from Holyhead sails to Dublin in less than four hours.
North Wales is known for its ring of castles built by Edward I, for Roman ruins, prehistoric stone circles, hillsides scarred by slate mining and a village with a 58-letter name that means "the Church of Mary in the hollow of the white hazel near the fierce whirlpool and the Church of Tysilio by the Red Cave." The village is commonly called Llanfair P.G.
In any case, the most popular draw to the area is majestic Mt. Snowdon.
Mt. Snowdon, the highest peak in England and Wales, has been a training area for many British climbers, and has also been host to famous foreign mountaineers including Sir Edmund Hillary, the first Westerner to conquer Mt. Everest, and the Swiss climber Edward Whymper, the first to ascend the Matterhorn 125 years ago.
The summit of Mt. Snowdon, however, is within reach of most fit hikers. More than 500,000 people choose one of five trails to the top each year.
The mountain is situated within Snowdonia National Park, which has been called the "grandest" of the 10 national parks within England and Wales.
The good news for travelers is that, of the 50 youth hostels in Wales, 14 are in the park and several are near the beginning of trails.
One of the best places to base yourself is the Snowdonia Ranger Youth Hostel. It's on Highway A4085, halfway along the shore of the milelong lake Llyn Cwellyn, eight miles from Caernarvon.
The hostel, managed by Dave and Kath Woods, is a cozy converted inn with a fireplace and dormitory accommodations for 68. Although the word youth appears in the name, there are no age restrictions.
Travelers stay in separate men's and women's rooms. Those with international youth hostel memberships are charged about $12.50 U.S. per night, which includes a full breakfast.
Visitors under 21 get a reduced rate of $11. You can call arrival and reserve a bunk.
If you don't have a youth hostel membership, an extra fee of $2.30 per night is charged. Although there are kitchen facilities available, cooked meals are served. Full dinners cost $5.
The hostel's big advantage is its location at the beginning of the Snowdon Ranger Path. This is considered one of the easiest trails to the top. The average climb takes three hours, with most down-trips about two hours.
Be sure to check with the hostel staff about safety conditions before starting. The weather in this area is notorious for its changeability.
Fortunately, the National Park Authority provides a 24-hour pre-recorded weather forecast that is designed especially for walkers.
It's not difficult to take one trail up and a different one down. The park has a special bus service that circles the base of the mountain and stops at villages, trailheads and several hostels in the area. The Sherpa bus costs about $1.75 and will stop when flagged down.
One of the popular descents is to a village called Llanberis, which is four miles from the Snowdonia youth hostels.
This is also where non-walkers can catch an electric train to the summit, taking an hour for the five-mile climb.
The hikers' hangout in the village is Pete's Eats on High Street, where hearty meals are served at attractive prices.
On the lake front is the Museum of the North ($5.25 admission), which offers an interesting multimedia presentation of the history and the people who have shaped this area, from the Celts, Druids, Romans and Norman Knights through this century's miners.
Edward I built his castles to protect this area. The gem is Caernarvon Castle. Begun in 1283, the castle gained international exposure as the setting for the Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales in 1969. It is now a world-heritage site.
At the castle you can watch a 20-minute audiovisual program, "Eagle and the Dragon," which also offers a history of the area.