The stunning seaside resort of Llandudno lies between two famous headlands, the Great Orme and the Little Orme.
The Great Orme is the largest as this spectacular limestone promontory rises 679 feet above sea level. It’s a nature reserve and Country Park and because of its fascinating geology, archaeology, wildlife and history it also has a number of protective designations including Special Area of Conservation, Heritage Coast and Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Being 350 million years old it also qualifies as the oldest tourist attraction in town, and offers visitors a myriad of things to see and do. So we’ve put together this guide to help you get the most out of your trip up to the summit and exploring its many delights.
Hop on some British Records
Two of the Great Orme’s major attractions hold British records, and they both offer a unique mode of transport up to the summit.
Llandudno Cable Car is Britain’s longest cable car lift taking you on a journey over a mile long. Enjoy breath-taking views as you glide through the air in its 20 brightly coloured four-seater cabins which rise 651ft above sea level.
The other British record is the Great Orme Tramway, which is the country’s only cable-hauled street Tramway and allows you to travel in style in original Victorian Tramcars. Make sure you stop off at the Halfway Station exhibition to discover more about the funicular system that operates the trams and witness the Winchmen controlling the powerful electric motors and cables which run the ascending and descending trams.
Stretch those legs
The Great Orme has an abundance of superb walks that take you up and around the headland, including walks along part of the 800 mile long Wales Coastal Path.
There’s also a Summit Trail, Nature Trail and Historic Trail, and at the Summit’s Visitor Centre you’ll find 3-D maps and interactive exhibits that tell you everything about the headland’s nature, wildlife and history. There’s also a free walking audio trail about the wildlife and shipwrecks, geology and wartime memories with 14 waymarked audio points along the 5½ mile circular route.
For a more sedate walk we recommend Haulfre Gardens which has a network of paths that lead from Llandudno’s North Shore into the well paved “invalid walk” public footpath to West Shore. Happy Valley Gardens is also on the side of the Great Orme and its paths cross between the small pools, shrubs, flowers and trees of the more formal gardens which are surrounded by the woods and grassland of the headland.
But if you really want some exhilarating exercise for your legs, we suggest visiting Llandudno Snowsports Centre. Take the chairlift to the top of the scenic PermaSnow slope and you have the choice to ski or snowboard down or even spin around on the crazy Sno-tubes. There’s also a Cresta Toboggan Run, which is the longest in Britain, which will have you embarking on a mid-air toboggan ride as you corkscrew through twists, turns and tunnels all the way down. It promises fantastic fun for young and old.
Or why not “Storm the Orme” by bike. Don’t worry if you haven’t brought yours as you can hire one nearby. Choose from a range of non-electric hybrid bikes, easy-to-ride town bikes and electric bikes for those that want a bit of extra pedal power to help them on their way to the Summit. They’re usually available to hire on a half day or full day basis, while the electric bikes are also available for a 2 hour hire (read about our exploits up to the Summit on an electric bike).
One of the most astounding archaeological discoveries of recent times can be seen at the Great Orme Bronze Age Copper Mines. Thought to be the largest prehistoric mine discovered in the world, the self-guided tours take you on an underground discovery to learn how the ancient people of Britain lived before the Roman invasion. Walking through tunnels mined out over 3,500 years ago gives visitors a feel for the harsh conditions our prehistoric ancestors faced in their search for copper. You can also tour the opencast mine, mined over 4,000 years ago, to see how our ancestors turned rock into metal at the smelting shelter.
There are many other ancient monuments across the headland including a Neolithic burial chamber, a Roman Well, a ruined abbey which was home to Monks over 500 years ago and Pen Dinas Iron Age hill fort where you’ll find the Rocking Stone which legend says the Druids used for testing people accused of misdeeds. If the accused was able to stand on it and make it rock, they were believed to be innocent, but if the rock didn’t move they were guilty and ceremoniously thrown off the cliff!
Flora and Wildlife
The diverse habitat of the Great Orme makes it a home to native and rare flora, over 400 different types, as well as copious wildlife which is why it’s a popular filming spot for TV programmes like BBC Countryfile.
Horticulturists need to keep an eye out for the wild Cotoneaster, a flowering plant in the rose family of which only six wild plants are known. Bloody Crane’s-bill geranium, the perennial Thrift and Sea Campion can be found on the rock faces, and in the grassland look out for Pyramidal Orchid, Common Rock-rose and Wild Thyme. The Copper Mines are home to Spring Squill and White Horehound is found on the western slopes of the headland.
It will be hard to miss the shaggy white coats and horns of the Kashmiri goats who have roamed the headland for over 200 years. They’re descended from a pair of goats presented by the Shah of Persia to Queen Victoria shortly after her coronation in 1837. They’re also the source of the regimental goat of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers who were first presented with one by Queen Victoria in 1844. The current regimental goat is Fusilier Llywelyn who was selected from the Great Orme herd in 2015 and can be seen in his full regalia on parades and other ceremonial duties. While goats are known to be sociable, the Great Orme’s aren’t so look out for them on the narrow ledges or limestone cliffs as they climb with amazing agility.
As one would expect there are also plenty of seabirds including Common Guillemots, Razorbills, Gulls, Common Scoters and Fulmars, but Twitchers will also find Linnets, Meadow and Rock Pipits, Choughs, Fieldfares, Redwings and Snow Buntings during winter. If you’re lucky you might also spot Little Owls, Peregrine Falcons and Kestrels.
The Great Orme is also renowned for native and rare butterflies and moths including the Silver-Studded Blue Butterfly, the Grayling and the rare Horehound Plume Moth.
Whether you’ve walked, cycled, driven or reached the summit by tram or cable car your trip up will have been worth it for the views alone. On a clear day you can see Anglesey, the Isle of Man and the Lake District, as well as the majestic rising of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales at 3,560ft.
You’ll also be glad to know there’s a café, gift shop, children’s playground and mini golf.