At just 206 metres (680 feet) above sea level, the Great Orme (below) might be thought of as rather a slight hill. But it looks as imposing as a far greater eminence, as it overlooks the seaside resort of Llandudno, on the north Welsh coast about a 4½-hour drive or train ride from London and just over an hour's drive and two hours by rail from Liverpool. It’s a limestone headland about two miles long and a mile wide where, back in the Bronze Age, copper was mined (but they only discovered the old mine workings in 1987). Nowadays it’s the Great Orme Country Park, and ever since Victorian times, people - especially visitors - have liked to climb up, amble around, and take in the views of Snowdonia peak, the sea and the nearby isle of Anglesey.
There are several ways to get up there. You can of course walk or even drive. As of more recent times, you can use a cable car. But since 1902 there’s been a method unique in the British Isles: the Great Orme Tramway.
This is a unique, cable-hauled funicular railway to the very top, using the original cars dating from the line's inauguration. Other seaside resorts operate funicular railways, sometimes called "cliff railways", but this one’s different. There are two stages; you change cars at the midpoint. The cars are driven by external winches, but there’s an attendant - not, they said, a "driver" - on board, who can communicate with the winch operator, who can stop the winch if the tram needs to stop for traffic lights, or if there’s an obstruction on the line
The brochure told us it works on the same principle as the San Francisco cable cars, but that’s not quite correct. There the attendants operate a lever which clamps on to the cable when the car is moving, and releases it when they want to stop.
The blue cars are original - of a quaint open-sided Edwardian design - from which you can enjoy the extensive views on the way up. The views from the summit are also panoramic. We didn't stay long though, for the wind was an icy, wintry blast from the north. But, it was worth it for the ride up alone.
And of course there are plenty of other interesting things to see and do in the charming town of Llanludno with its well preserved Victorian architecture, including of course its beaches and golf courses, as well as interesting shops and galleries; the Victorian pier; the Llandudno Museum; the Llandudno Chocolate Experience; the Bronze-Age Great Orme Mines; the Bodafon Farm Park; the Happy Valley Botanical Gardens; the Iron-Age Pen-y-Dina Hillfort; and the Elephant Cave. So come and have a look this summer!