The Great Orme is a prominent limestone headland on the north coast of Wales situated in Llandudno and its oldest Welsh name is Creuddyn. It is echoed by the Little Orme, a smaller but very similar limestone headland, which is on the other side of Llandudno Bay in the parish of Llanrhos.
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 Norman Prince of Wales, newly born at Caernarfon. 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 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:
Possibly one of the wells supplying the needs of the once populous Gogarth community before much of it was lost to coastal erosion.
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.
One of the water supplies together with ffynnon Tudno and ffynnon Rufeinig serving the medieval farming community of Cyngreawdr.
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.
Situated beyond the road, near the north-east corner of St Tudno's Church, Ffynnon Tudno was, together with Ffynon Rufeinig, a principal source of water for the community settled round the church.
Translated Roman Well it takes its name from the tradition that Roman copper miners used its waters to wash the copper ores mined nearby.
A spring of water located in Ogof Llech, a cave on the headland very difficult of excess and claimed to have been used as a hermitage by Saint Tudno a sixth century monk of Bangor-is-y-Coed who established the first church here.
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
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 open-cast 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.
A cable-car (reopened 2006) and the Great Orme Tramway, 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 UK.
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 around the coastal perimeter of the Orme leads also to St. Tudno's Church, the Bronze Age Mine and to the Great Orme Summit with car park. Among the Summit attractions are a licensed hotel and cafeteria, a visitors' centre, a tourist shop, and a play area for young children.
The Country Park
The Great Orme is run as a nature reserve, 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.
The Royal Artillery coastal gunnery school was transferred from Shoeburyness 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.
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 the Ormes (and the wider Creuddyn Peninsula) looked like 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, because it seems unlikely that the Vikings ever colonised the area (there are no other Norse names in Gwynedd), and because etymology is a notoriously 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 peninsula was usually Creuddyn but sometimes Y Gogarth, 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 headland at its north-westerly seaward point.