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I'm very lucky living in North Wales that I have the Snowdonia National Park within easy driving distance for a nice walk on a pleasant weekend day, but also a range of coastal resorts and beaches to choose from should a trip to the seaside take my fancy. However there is one resort on the North Wales coast that sort of allows you to combine both of those things in one. I am of course talking about the very popular Llandudno, and in particular, the Great Orme.
Now for those of you who are not familiar with Llandudno, you are probably thinking that's a very grand title, just what exactly is "The Great Orme" and what's so great about it? Llandudno is located on a headland with beaches on each coast of the little peninsular, however at the end of the headland is a 207m (679ft) high mountain which dominates the skyline along the coast. It's quite a remarkable feature really, and has been declared a nature reserve, managed by Conwy County Council and it is well worth taking time out of your holiday if you are visiting Llandudno to explore all that it has to offer. Llandudno is very easy to reach being well served by buses and trains, with the resort located just a few miles off the main A55 North Wales coast road.
So what could a bizarre little mountain right on the coast possibly offer the tourists? Well the answer is quite a bit to be honest and there are several top tourist attractions located in and around the mountain to be explored. I'm not going to go into too much detail about the attractions individually, as they are separate topics in themselves, but I will give a brief overview before telling you what I really like about the mountain, and what I think should be done whilst visiting it.
Firstly as with any mountain the summit garners a lot of interest, and can be reached by several means. Firstly and most boringly, by car via a toll road which will set you back a couple of quid, but this also covers your parking at the top. I really wouldn't advise taking the car up there however as this is not only a bit dull, you miss out on all the scenery, the bracing gale that is inevitably blowing off the Irish Sea, and the rugged limestone dominated scenery on the way up. You can walk up the road and several different paths of differing steepness and difficulty to the summit, although no path is more than a moderate challenge for a reasonably fit person. There is also a tramway to take you up the mountain, which has been in operation since 1902, and is a good option for those who don't wish to walk up, and an infinitely more rewarding trip than taking the car. The tram drops you off right next to the visitor centre and café, which are waiting for you at the summit. On a nice clear day (rare I know in North Wales!) you can see across to the Isle of Mann in one direction and up to the highlands of the Lake District in another. The views are well worth the effort to get to the top.
The Great Orme is more than just a mountain with a café on the top, with several other high profile attractions dotted around, with the next one being a copper mine. Copper has been mined here in Llandudno since the Bronze Age, and again at varying times through history. The Bronze Age workings are some of the most important discoveries of the era on the British Isles, and are now accessible for a fee, which will get you a guided tour and a chance to go down into the Orme itself. I've not been down there myself since I was a kid, but it is still as popular as ever, and is situated not far from the summit.
Next up is a ski slope. Well actually an artificial ski slope, its only around 200m high to be fair! The ski slope is a very popular tourist attraction in the summer months, and also has one of the longest toboggan runs onsite, and is popular with visitors of all ages. I've never personally tried, as I'm not really into skiing, but its well worth checking out if that's your thing.
Finally there is a cable car ride from one little rise to another. Again this is very popular at the height of the season, but is only in operation in the peak season, and even then only when weather conditions allow, and the wind is low enough. The ride isn't particularly long or high, but is probably best avoided by people who are slightly nervous or don't like heights. It does on the other hand provide a different prospective to Llandudno and the views are really good from it.
So that's all of the major tourist attractions dealt with, so what do I like about the Great Orme, and why should you visit it? Simply put it is a fantastic place for a walk. OK so maybe I'm showing how boring I am, don't go to the ski slope, no to the cable cars etc, but honestly for those who enjoy walking, the coastal road around is a classic. The best way to walk in my opinion is along the toll road known as Marina Drive. Very few cars actually drive down it, with the turning to the summit shortly after the start, and only a small bed and breakfast located in an old disused lighthouse and a café along the road.
The best place to start the walk is next to Llandudno Pier on the North Shore, which is well signposted from all around the town, and is approximately a 5 mile walk right the way around to finish on the West Shore, and you will need to allocate around 2 hours to complete it. As walks go its not the most challenging of routes, as the road literally hugs the edge of the headland, so although you do climb up to quite a height at the top highest point of the route, the gradient is generally quite gentle but you are climbing for quite some distance, making it a good walk to get your heart rate up, without causing your leg muscles too much distress! The route up is made all the more exhilarating by the prevailing wind coming off the Irish Sea, which hits you as you turn around a corner and stays with you right to the top. Even on a relatively calm day, this wind really packs a punch, so if the day were particularly windy, I wouldn't advise doing this walk. As you climb, you will inevitably come across the 200 strong feral herds of Kashmir goats, which have roamed freely around the Orme since Victorian days. The smell of goat is particularly strong around them, but they are used to visitors so will just look at you pass whilst continuing with their business. There are plenty of seabirds to view on your climb up, as well as on the way back down with Oyster Catchers a particular highlight when we went. If you're particularly interested in birds, then a pair of binoculars would be an advantage during your visit. At the top of the climb there is a small little café called Rest and be thankful where you can stop for a drink or light snack if you need to. The route back down is slightly steeper than the climb, which is why I prefer to do the walk this way around, to avoid climbing the steeper parts. You are treated to superb views across the Conwy estuary to the foothills of the Snowdonia range, as well as some of the smaller resorts further up the coast. You also get a good view of Conwy castle on a good day and quite often some form of water sport is taking place on the West Shore beach, with things like kite surfing particularly interesting to stop and view for a while.
It is well worth emphasising here that you do need to wrap up warm if attempting this walk, as even on the warmest summer days, the wind is still keen, and it does get its fair share of rain, which can move in very quickly and soak the unprepared walker. I would also not recommend this walk for the less mobile for obvious reasons, and I wouldn't like to push a wheelchair around here either. For the less mobile or disabled, a trip up on the tramway would be a much better option.
I will close by saying that the Great Orme is a fantastic place to explore, and apart from the attractions and walks that I have set out here, there are many other little paths that vary in steepness and difficulty, as well as little areas to discover and explore. There are plenty of maps around the Orme so you are unlikely to get lost at any point, and I would definitely encourage anyone who is planning on visiting Llandudno to consider giving the Great Orme a visit.
Thanks for reading this, and this review may also appear on Ciao under my same username.
Now I am happily living in Llandudno I thought that I would write an opinion about our famous Great Orme but where do I start? There is such a lot to tell and even though I intend to write seperate opinions about the Bronze Age Mines, which are situated on the Orme and the Tramway which takes you to the top, I think this might still turn out to be quite a long opinion!
Ok, get yourself settled with a cup of tea, coffee, glass of wine, whatever and I will take you on a virtual tour.
Just to give you a bit of background before we start The Great Orme is a headland 2 miles long, 1 mile wide and which rises to 207 metres above sea level at its highest point.
It was formed 300 million years ago on a tropical seabed and is made from Carboniferous Limestone, which was subject to later volcanic activity causing it to rise and crack forming the headland that we see today.
The Great Orme lies at the north end of Llandudno in North Wales with the North Shore and main part of the town to it's right and the quieter more residential West Shore to it's left, viewed looking from land out to sea.
We live on the West Shore side of the town in a house built from Great Orme rock and from our back garden and many of our windows we can see the Orme quite clearly. It never looks the same two days running. Sometimes it's silhouetted against a clear blue sky and you can see hang gliders catching the air currents that sweep up the side of the cliffs. Sometimes the cloud is so low that you can see the top of the Orme above it, and sometimes it's so misty that the Orme looks like a monster partly hidden waiting to pounce. It is easy to see why the name Orme is thought to be a derivation of the Norse word for worm or sea serpent.
Sorry, I'm getting carried away there aren't I? But if you know the area at all you will know that it is very beautiful and it is easy to wax lyrical about it.
The Great Orme has been designated a Special Area of Conservation, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Heritage Coast, and it is managed as a Country Park and Local Nature Reserve by Conwy Countryside Service. It now also flies the prestigious Green Flag.
The Orme is home to a herd of feral Kashmir goats, which are a pure breed dating back to the 1890's. Recently some of the goats have been moved to other carefully selected locations in order to protect the purity of the breed should disease ever destroy the herd on the Orme. I understand that there are about 400 of these goats currently living on the Orme, and they are breeding rapidly so the council have introduced a contraceptive programme for them! I do hope it involves injections, I can't see goats managing condoms somehow and they'd never remember to take the pill!
As you drive around the Orme you often see groups of these goats feeding or scrambling up the rocky outcrops. Incidentally the Great Orme Goat is also the mascot of the Welsh Fusiliers.
The Great Orme provides some wonderful walks for walkers of all ages and abilities. There are gardens on the landward facing slopes, the main one being Happy Valley, which is clearly visible from the beach and the pier, with its huge white LLANDUDNO etched out in the grass. It used to be written in flowers but now I understand it is in limestone.
Happy Valley is an area of grass ideal for picnics and as a play area for the children. Slightly further up the slope are gardens, which have recently been landscaped and as such need a while to settle and develop. The area is nice enough but when the new plants are better developed we hope to see the return of the small bird population, as the blue tits will come and feed from your hand.
Further round the landward face of the Orme are Haulfre Gardens complete with tearooms and these gardens form the first part of Invalids Walk. This is so called because it is a gentle sloping path across the face the Orme from the gardens down to the West Shore and can easily be negotiated by almost anyone. There are also plenty of benches along the way where you can sit and look at the magnificent views of West Shore beach with Conwy Castle and Anglesey in the background.
For the more active walkers amongst you there are numerous paths, which lead right up to the summit of the Orme. The Summit Path starts from Happy Valley and goes in an arc past the 13th century church of St Tudno's, where there are open air services every Sunday during the summer, and the Zig Zag Summit Path starts from either Haulfre Gardens or from part way along the Invalids Walk and follows a zig zag path to the top - obviously this one would be a gentler climb but would be a longer walk.
There are numerous other paths including a nature trail, an historical trail and the Monk's Path, which it is said remains green and fertile even when the weather is very dry!
OK so you don't feel like walking up to the top, can you get there by any other means?
You can drive up to the top of the Great Orme by one of two routes; either directly from the town via a road next to the lower tram station or by taking the Marine Drive around the base of the Orme and bearing left about halfway round. This takes you a less direct route past St Tudno's Church.
I will just say that if you use the Marine Drive around the base, which is a one-way road from the North Shore all the way round to the West Shore it is a toll road and will cost you £2. The cost does however cover parking at the car park next to the Summit Complex. As locals we have been able to buy an annual pass for £10 and whenever we go out we always come back round the Orme and we never get fed up with the views!
Half way round the Marine Drive is the Rest and Be Thankful Café. I can assure you that when you walk the four and a half miles around Marine Drive you do 'rest and be thankful' when you get there!
Another place of interest along the Marine Drive is the Lighthouse Hotel. This used to be a working lighthouse and has been preserved in its original state and been converted into a hotel. It has three suites each of which has an en suite bedroom and a lounge and one of the lounges is the old lamp room affording 200-degree views. The lamp is now situated in the Visitor Centre at the top of the Orme and you can even switch it on to see how bright it is! Dave tried to book a night there as a treat for me but they were all booked up! If you want to take a look the website can be found at http://www.lighthouse-llandudno.co.uk
There is a local bus service, which runs from the town up to St Tudno's church and a scenic tour bus, which is an old single decked boneshaker doing tours around the Marine drive.
Another way to get to the top of the Orme is by using the Victorian Tramway, which travels from a stop in town up to the summit in two separate stretches - you change trams halfway up. These open sided trams provide an amazing ride at an incredibly steep angle, and are well worth an opinion in their own right so I won't go into great detail here.
The final way to reach the top of the Great Orme is by catching the cable car in Happy Valley, which takes you to a point next to the Summit Complex at the top. The cars carry four people at a time and are the open sided sort so they do only run when the weather is appropriate, but they are well worth a try. I am scared of heights, but decided to be brave for my Goddaughter when she visited us and I was so glad that I did, the views are truly amazing and it is so quiet up there too!
At the top of the Orme there is a pay and display car park and a Summit Complex, which consists of a visitor centre, café/restaurant where you can get all sorts of snacks and meals, a small shop, a pub and a small amusement arcade. There is also a Crazy Golf course and a good play area for the children with climbing frames, slides, swings etc., all set in a fenced off area to keep the children safe.
From the summit you can see the Hill of Names, which is a slope on the Orme where people over the years have used stones to spell out their names around a huge cross also made using white stones.
Apart from the goats that I have already mentioned The Great Orme is home to wide range of wildlife including guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills, ravens and little owls, as well as butterflies by the 'cloud' and numerous rare species of plants.
The other main attraction on the Great Orme is the Bronze Age Copper Mines, which are located next to the Halfway Tram station. You can purchase an inclusive ticket, which will give you the tram ride up to the mines together with your admission. I won't go into great detail about the mines here as I intned to write a full opinion about them and this opinion is rapidly becoming a rival to War and Peace in size!
All over the Orme there are relics of the past inhabitants from stone circles to fossils and hill forts to previously inhabited caves, all ready to explore providing you take care both with the countryside itself and your own safety on the paths and climbs.
Well, I hope that I have given you some insight into the main attraction of my new hometown and I can only say that words cannot express the beauty, splendour and majesty of the Great Orme so you'll have to come and see this wonderful example of God's work for yourself.
One final comment, if you are visiting, do remember that being a seaside town all things are seasonal and the attractions on the Orme are mainly open from Easter until October each year.