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The Great Orme ( or ) is a prominent limestone headland on the northmarker coast of Walesmarker situated in Llandudnomarker. It is referred to as Cyngreawdr Fynydd in a poem by the 12th century poet Gwalchmai ap Meilyr. It is echoed by the Little Ormemarker, a smaller but very similar limestone headland, which is on the other side of Llandudno Baymarker in the parish of Llanrhosmarker.

Geology and natural history

A view of the Great Orme cliffs from the former Lighthouse.
Saint Tudno's church, the original parish church of Llandudno


The Great Orme is run as a nature reserve by the Conwy County Borough Countryside Service, with a number of protective designations (including Special Area of Conservation, Heritage Coast, Country Park, and Site of Special Scientific Interest), being an area two miles (3.2 km) long by one mile (1.6 km) wide. It is home to a long-established herd of several hundred feral Kashmir goats (a present from Queen Victoria). There are numerous paths for walking on the summit, including a section of the North Wales Path, a long distance route. About half the Great Orme is in use as farmland, mostly for sheep grazing.

The geology of the Great Orme is limestone and the surface is particularly noted for the limestone pavements covering several headland areas. There are also rich seams of Dolomite-hosted copper ore.

The Great Orme has a very rich flora, including most notably the only known site of the critically endangered Wild Cotoneaster Cotoneaster cambricus, of which only six wild plants are known.

Many of the flowers growing in shallow lime-rich earth on the headland have developed from the alpine sub-arctic species that developed following the last ice-age.

Spring and early summer flowers include Bloody Cranesbill, Thrift and Sea Campion, clinging to the sheer rock face, while Pyramidal Orchid, Common Rockrose and Wild Thyme carpet the grassland. The old mines and quarries also provide suitable habitat for species of plants including Spring Squill growing on the old copper workings.

The White Horehound (Marrubium vulgare), which is found growing on the western-most slopes of the Orme is said to have been used, and perhaps cultivated, by fourteenth century monks, no doubt to make herbal remedies including cough mixtures. The rare Horehound Plume Moth (Pterophorus spilodactylus) lays her eggs amongst the silky leaves and its caterpillars rely for food solely upon this one plant.

The headland is the habitat of several endangered species of butterflies and moths, including the Silky Wave, the Silver-studded Blue (Plebejus argus subsp. caernesis) and the Grayling (Hipparchia semele thyone) These last two have adapted to the Great Orme by appearing earlier in the year to take advantage of the limestone flowers and grasses. Also they are smaller than in other parts of the country and are recognised as a definite subspecies.

The Great Orme is reported as the northernmost known habitat within Britain for several ‘southern’ species of spider notably: Segestria bavarica, Episinus truncatus, Micrargus laudatus, Drassyllus praeficus, Liocranum rupicola and Ozyptila scabricula.

The caves and abandoned mine workings are home to large colonies of the rare Horseshoe bat. This small flying mammal navigates the caves and tunnels by using echo location to obtain a mental picture of its surroundings. During the daytime, Horseshoe bats are found suspended from the roof of tunnels and caves, with their wings tightly wrapped around their bodies. Only at dusk do the bats leave the caves and mine shafts, to feed on beetles and moths.

The cliffs are host to colonies of seabirds (such as Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Razorbills and even Fulmars as well as Gulls). The Great Orme is also home to many resident and migrant land birds including Ravens, Little Owls and Peregrine Falcons.

Below the cliffs, the rock-pools around the headland are a rich and varied habitat for aquatic plants and animals including barnacles, red beadlet anemones and hermit crabs.

Gogarth Manor

The Great Orme Marine Drive
A tranquil garden in the Happy Valley near to the artificial ski slope
The medieval parish of Llandudno comprised three townships, each established on the lower slopes of the Great Orme. The township of Y Gogarth at the south-western 'corner' of the Great Orme was latterly the smallest but it contained the palace of the Bishop of Bangor. The Manor of Gogarth (which included all three townships) had been bestowed on Anian, Bishop of Bangor by King Edward I in 1284 in recognition of services rendered to the crown, notably the baptism of the first English Prince of Wales, newly born at Caernarfonmarker. The palace was burnt down by Owain Glyndŵr in 1400 and the ruins have mostly been washed away together with much of the township by coastal erosion in the Conwy Estuary.

The significant agricultural yet north facing township of Cyngreawdr includes the original parish church and rectory of St Tudno, a sixth or seventh century foundation. Following the Glyndŵr uprising, the villagers of the Creuddyn peninsular were harshly taxed and by 1507 they had nearly all fled their homes. Henceforth the cultivated land lay fallow and is now grazed by sheep and goats. Llandudno's Victorian cemetery, which is still in regular use, was laid out in 1859 adjacent to the 12th century church of Saint Tudno where open-air services are held every Sunday Morning in summer. Nearby are several large ancient stones that have become shrouded in folklore and also an unexplained stone lined avenue called Hwylfa'r Ceirw leading towards Cilfin Ceirw (Precipice of Deer).

The third township was Yn Wyddfid clustered below the Iron Age hill fort of Pen y Dinas at the north eastern "corner" of the Great Orme. With the reopening of the copper mines from the 18th century onwards, this township grew considerably in size with the streets and cottages of the mining village laid out on the largely abandoned agricultural holdings.

The Great Orme Wells

Natural wells were greatly prized in limestone districts and the Great Orme was no exception. Water was required for copper mining purposes as well as for domestic and agricultural use. The following Great Orme wells are known and most still supply running water:

Ffynnon Llygaid
Possibly one of the wells supplying the needs of the once populous Gogarth community before much of it was lost to coastal erosion.

Ffynnon Gogarth
The main water source for Gogarth and in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the power source to operate the famous Tom and Gerry engine that though a long series of Brammock rods powered the mine water pumps at the Higher shaft near the summit above Pyllau.

Ffynnon Powel
One of the water supplies together with ffynnon Tudno and ffynnon Rufeinig serving the medieval farming community of Cyngreawdr.

Ffynnon Galchog
This well, near Mynydd Isaf, to the north of Pen Dinas, is a source of lime-rich water known for its petrifying qualities, it is one of two wells known to have been used in the washing of copper ores.

Ffynnon Tudno
Situated beyond the road, near the north-east corner of St Tudno's Church, ffynnon Tudno was, together with ffynnon Rufeinig, a principal source of water for the community settled round the church.

Ffynnon Rufeinig
Translated Roman Well it takes its name from the tradition that Roman copper miners used its waters to wash the copper ores mined nearby.

Ffynnon Llech
A spring of water located in Ogof Llech, a cave on the headland very difficult of access, and claimed to have been used as a hermitage by Saint Tudno a sixth century monk of Bangor-is-y-Coedmarker who established the first church here.

Ffynnon Gaseg
Literally "Mare's well" this spring was revealed, at the side of the road, about half way round and near the highest point (and where it can still be seen), during the construction of the Marine Drive in the nineteenth century. It was thus ideally situated to refresh the horses on that five mile carriage drive round the base of the Great Orme.

The Copper Mines

Plaque on the Llandudno lighthouse.
The Great Orme Mines are possibly the most important copper mines of the Bronze Age yet discovered and excavated. Apparently abandoned around 600 BC, but with some evidence of Roman patronage, the mines were reopened in 1692 and continued to be worked until the end of the 19th century. It is possible that some of the copper from the mine was exported to Continental Europe, even in the Bronze Age. In addition to the three main mining areas, there are many opencast bell pit mines along the lines of the main geological faults.

In the 20th century the mines have been once again reopened, and the Bronze Age mine workings are now a fee-paying attraction for the public to experience.

Tourism

A cabin-lift (built 1969) and the Great Orme Tramwaymarker, a vintage tram system (built 1902), convey visitors to the summit of the Great Orme, past one of only two artificial ski slopes in North Wales, complete with one of the longest toboggan runs in the UKmarker.

Around the lower slopes of the Orme are landscaped gardens in the Happy Valley and terraces in the Haulfre Garden on the landward facing steeply sloping southern side. Invalid walks link the Haulfre Gardens with the western end of the Marine Drive.

The 'Marine Drive' toll road runs around the coastal perimeter of the Orme and leads to St. Tudno's Church, the award-winning Bronze Age Copper Mine and to the Great Orme Summit complex with car park. The toll road ticket also pays for the parking at the Summit Complex.

Among the summit complex attractions are a tourist shop, cafeteria, visitors' centre, a play area for young children a licensed hotel, cable car terminal and funicular railway/tram terminal.

On the northernmost point of the Orme there is the decommissioned Llandudno lighthouse which has been converted to a small bed & breakfast guest house with accommodation for eight guests. Nearby, on the Marine Drive, is the old established "Rest and be thankful" café with a large car park.

Military occupation

The Royal Artillery coastal gunnery school was transferred from Shoeburynessmarker to the Great Orme in 1940 (and additionally to the Little Orme in 1941) during the Second World War. Target practice was undertaken from the headland to anchored boats. The foundations of some of the buildings and installations remain and can be seen from the western end of the Marine Drive. There was also a Chain Home Low radar station operated by the Royal Air Force at the hotel during World War II.

Origin of the word 'Orme'

Both the Great and Little Ormes have been etymologised to the Old Norse word for sea serpent (transliterated to urm (or orm). Marauding Vikings are thus said to have believed that the Ormes (and the wider Creuddyn peninsulamarker) resembled a sea serpent - with the Great Orme being the serpent's head - as their boats came in. But it is very difficult to substantiate this belief because the Vikings left us no written texts, and although they certainly raided the area they do not appear to have colonised it. There are other Norse names in the kingdom of Gwynedd (such as Point of Ayr), but etymology is an imprecise tool.

Until the coming of tourism in the 19th century (and the first tourists and developers came by sea), the name used for the wider peninsula as a whole was usually Creuddyn (the name of the medieval cwmwd in the area) but Y Gogarth or Pen y Gogarth for the Orme itself, and the name Orme appears to have been used for the headland as seen from the sea. This is the case in the "Plan of the Bay & Harbour of Conway in Caernarvon Shire" by Lewis Morris and published in 1748, which map boldly shows the name "CREUDDYN" in the body of the peninsula and applies the name "Orme's Head" beyond the Great Orme headland at its north-westerly seaward point.

References

  1. J. E. Caerwyn Williams (ed.), Gwaith Meilyr Brydydd a'i ddisgynyddion (University of Wales Press, 1994). 9.153n.
  2. Species Action Plan: Wild Cotoneaster (pdf file)
  3. Mary Aris, Historic Landscapes of the Great Orme page 32
  • Ivor Wynne Jones. Llandudno Queen of Welsh Resorts Landmark, Ashbourne Derbyshire 2002 ISBN 1-84306-048-5 .
  • Mary Aris. Historic Landscapes of the Great Orme. Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst Wales, 1996 ISBN 0-86381-357-7 .
  • Jim Roberts. Llandudno Past & Present, Sutton Publishing Ltd, Stroud, Gloucestershire 1992 ISBN 0-7509-2903-0 .


Saxon's 1578 Map of Anglesey and Caernarvonshire labels the head of the peninsula Ormeshead Point.

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