As you drive along the A55 across North Wales it is impossible to miss the magnificent sight of The Great Orme, a huge carboniferous limestone headland jutting out into the Irish Sea. We had passed this countless times on our way to Snowdonia and Anglesey and had added it to our ‘to do’ list but never quite made it. We’d not been to the seaside town of Llandudno either, so a weekend plan began to form.
Determined to make it to the top of The Great Orme as a priority, we decided on The Great Orme Tramway as the way to go. The Tramway opened on July 31st 1902 and is Britain’s only cable-hauled public road tramway. It has been lovingly restored and maintained over the years with the help of Heritage Lottery and European Union funding and is now owned and operated by Conwy County Borough Council.
We headed for Llandudno, following the brown signs to a choice of two car parks neither of which seemed to be anywhere near the Tramway station! A map in the car park did confirm that these were the nearest car parks however, and we were in fact only a 5-10 minute walk away.
Our plan to ascend The Great Orme via the tramway turned out to be a good idea, as Plan B – the Cable Car, was closed due to high winds and Plan C – walking, seemed distinctly unattractive the closer we got to the very steep start of the climb! Tramcars run at regular intervals so, having bought our tickets and climbed aboard, we soon set off on the first leg of the trip which is scarily rather steep but does give wonderful views over Llandudno.
The tramcars are original and are open to the elements so you do need to dress accordingly. It is often colder and windier at the top of the Great Orme than people expect. Happily for us a quick advance look on Trip Adviser was all we needed to pack an extra layer!
The journey is divided into two sections and all passengers have to change trains at the new Halfway Station which opened in 2001. This houses both the winding gear (safely behind glass) and an exhibition on the history of the tramway. You can easily spend 20 mins or so reading the information boards whilst waiting for the next tramcar.
The Bronze Age Copper Mines are just a short walk away and can be visited separately.
The quarry apparently still contains ancient fossil remains, although visitors are asked not to remove them.
Once at the top there is a Visitor Centre, which contains exhibits and excellent films on the wildlife and history of The Great Orme, as well as information on walks in the area.
There is also a children’s playground and the Summit Complex with its bar, cafe/restaurant and mini golf. The cafe serves very nice tea and cake and has excellent views!
The Summit Complex itself has a fascinating history which can be explored in more detail at the Visitor Centre.
Above all, there are excellent views of Snowdonia, Anglesey and the Irish Sea…..
There is a car park at the top, should you wish to avoid the train and drive straight there. For us, however, letting the train (or in this case the tram) take the strain was most definitely part of the experience, as we felt privileged to follow in the tracks (if you’ll pardon the pun) of tourists from far and wide who have been visiting The Great Orme by train for the last 113 years – and the 160,000 who continue to do so annually.
We spent about 3 hours there altogether on a blustery day, but could easily have stayed longer on a warmer day. A highly recommended trip.