21/05/2008
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Motorhome trips - exploring the North Wales coast

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WE find ourselves on a promontory. Views of a deep curving bay to the west, ocean to the east – and there‘s a car park with plenty of room for motorhomes.

It’s an easy dual carriageway drive from the M6, via the M56, to find the A5, the North Wales Highway. And the summit of the Great Orme is one of the best reasons to make the journey to North Wales.

You drive the short distance from the quiet and quality resort of Llandudno, along single track roads populated more by sheep than humans. Cable cars string across the valleys. There’s evidence of an incredible steep tramtrack – of which more later… this place is as quaint as it is fascinating.

We turn towards the coast. Sheep dot the hillside. We also know there are wild goats here. Beyond: blue sea.

We walk across the limestone outcrop headland. The soil is shallow here and the bedrock protrudes. A remote farm nestles on the slope than runs down to the sea far beneath us.

clifftop view
Follow a zig zag road up the cliff
Look down as you walk and you begin to get a clue as to why we’re here. The limestone gleams with crystals, for it’s rich in minerals.

We’re 145 metres, or 670 feet, above sea level. This little coastal gem hides evidence of 12,000 years of continual human habitation. There are standing stones, burial mounds – and a massive 4,000-year-old stone circle that was unknown until a gorse fire revealed it only a few years ago.

Some of Britain’s most beautiful coastline is here – jagged rocks , remote beaches, sandy bays, shingle shores, fishing, walking, nature-watching, photography… all the great outdoor appetites are satisfied here.

But there is something else. Something even more special. Something utterly compelling here on the Great Orme.

Here is the largest Bronze Age copper mine in the world.

That’s why we’re here. And that’s why we think it’s a place you ought to mark out as a must-visit destination as you plan your tour-year.

Here’s what we found…

The Great Orme’s Bronze Age Copper Mines are a comparatively new tourist attraction. Before 1977 the mines lay buried beneath thousands of tonnes of mine waste. The mine workings are now recognised as the world’s most important Bronze Age mining site.

The copper mines opened as a tourist attraction in 1991 offering just a short underground tour.

Each winter since then, from the end of October to the re-opening around April, the labyrinth of fascinating tunnels has increased.

What the team who work are  discovering is veins of copper – and also the stone hammers used 4,000 years ago to hack out this valuable commodity.

The more you’ll discover about this mine the more incredible the history becomes. It was abandoned 2,600 years ago, when the workings were 70 metres from the surface. All of the tunnels had been dug out by people, none of it is water-erosion-created.

Bone scraper marks are clearly visible in places. And the workers? Many were children as young as five or six years old; at that size they were small enough to scrape out the tiniest of caverns to reveal yet more copper.

What exactly were they looking for? The answer, here under the Great Limestone baulk of the Orme, is malachite. Shades of green in the limestone. There‘s also, to a lesser extent, azurite (which has a blue hue) and chalcopyrite, in even smaller quantities.

This place has a gripping sense of eerie mystery, of timeless, priceless history. Little wonder it attracts 35,000 visitors a year.

Wild goats and stone circles...

The Great Orme’s secrets aren’t all under ground. It’s a place of stone circles, wild goats and some utterly amazing coastline.

We explored the coastline, the beaches, the cliffs, the farming way of life that seems at a glance unchanged through centuries; at least the scenery hasn’t changed and the sheep farming on the Great Orme, while employing modern methods, grazes the same topography as many centuries ago.

Wild goats? Local legend has it that these goats are pure Persian, descendants of a herd that was a gift to Queen Victoria. She generously handed them over to North Wales landowner Lord Mostyn – and when the goats angered him by eating more than their fair share of vegetation on his estate, he set them free to fend for themselves on the Great Orme.

It’s important that you can take a cable car ride from the summit down the deep valley, to enjoy the breathtaking views of coast and grazing land and Llandudno resort far beneath. Gorgeous and quiet and simply a treat.

orme tramway
The Great Orme Tramway
There’s another curio form of transport up here – a Victorian-style tram that runs from near the summit down the steep descent to and from Llandudno itself.

Near to the cable car journey start-point is a steel information roundel that tells you that the Great Orme is 679 feet above sea level and gives distances to places in your vista on a clear day.

The Isle of Man is 57 miles, Beaumaris and the Menai Bridge that leads to the island of Anglesey is visible, as is, clearly, Penmaenmawr Breach, where the miners of prehistory collected their granite beach-pounded and rounded axed for use in the Great Orme mines.

The Great Orme is, for sure, a great viewpoint, but it’s much more. Its habitats for butterflies merit it Special Area of Conservation designation; it’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest and it’s an important location for birdwatching.

Look out for cormorants, wheat ears in summer, nesting skylarks, for example.

And if your fascination extends to very ancient churches, the Great Orme has one of those, too. St Tudno’s Church, a tiny building surrounded by gravestones, hugs a slope down to the sea.

The Great Orme is best explored on foot. As ever, time prevented that luxury so we had to tour part of the island by car – in so doing we found out that you can park a motorhome here, you can follow a single track road almost right round this limestone promontory – and you can park at a number of places to start your walks.

•    Planning to visit Wales? Find a nearby site for your caravan, tent or motorhome by using our Campsite Finder facility. Click here.

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