bell heather, Great Orme, heather, Llandudno, September, trails with views, western gorse, Zig Zag Trail
I hope everyone’s enjoyed this amazing summer as much as we have here in North Wales. It’s been glorious, but I seem to lose my blogging mojo when it’s hot and dry and tend to stray away from my local patch whilst it’s busy with tourists and holidaymakers. But the cooler days we’ve had recently have rekindled my enthusiasm for getting back out there and I’m planning to add a few more of our local trails to my repertoire.
September 7th-Great Orme
The Great Orme headland attracts a great many visitors throughout the year, particularly over the summer and in school holidays. Most are drawn to the Summit, which offers fantastic views, a visitor centre and other amenities, and choose to get there on the historic tram; via the dramatic option of the cable car, on the bus or by car. The more energetic, and those wanting to experience the wilder sides of this unique Country Park prefer to get there under their own steam and walk. There are a good few route options for doing that, including specific mapped and marked Trails leading you up, down and around the headland, including the one I followed today, the Zig Zag Trail or in Welsh, Igam Ogam.
The Zig Zag Trail ascends, or descends the Great Orme between Llandudno’s West Shore and its Summit, or vice-versa of course. I hadn’t walked this trail in its entirety before, so decided to do it going upwards then consider my options for getting back down again based on how I felt when I got to the top. The official Trail Guide informs that ‘this historic trail gives easy access up the steep West Shore escarpment. It promises breathtaking views across the Conwy Estuary to Snowdonia’ and also warns that the route is on steep ground.
This morning was damp and showery, so having waited for it to clear up, I set off later than I’d hoped.
14.30 I parked on the road alongside West Shore. The strength and coolness of the wind blowing in across the sea caught me a little off-guard as I left my car; so I was thankful I’d worn a fleece and even more so that my lightweight shower/windproof jacket was on the front seat where I’d left it a couple of days ago. I guessed it would be even windier higher up on the exposed sides of the headland, so anticipated arriving at the summit with hair looking like I’d been dragged through a bush backwards, but probably not hot and sweaty. I walked up to where Marine Drive ends and where its old Toll House, now a private dwelling is located. A lovely spot to live, but the clatter of cars driving over the cattle grid not far from your living space and the metallic clunk of the gate closing behind people passing through to and from the pathway might get a tad irritating.
14:34 The view across the bay and the Conwy Estuary is always amazing, but today’s weather has made it spectacular. Low clouds shaded from dark steel grey to bright white hang low over the summits of the mountains, partially obscuring them and the Anglesey coastline beyond. The tide was low, and shallow water and exposed sand reflected back the light passing through the ever-changing cloud pattern above. It’s a cliché I know, but it really does look like molten metals, silver, mercury, steel, pewter all blending together and ruffled by the wind.
14:35 Looking towards where I am heading, I spot three goats lying down just below what I think of as the Butterfly Track. Contentedly chewing cud they’ve doubtless found the warmest spot catching any available sunshine.
A Herring gull momentarily hangs motionless over the edge of the clifftop, supported only by air.
14:36 Just before the Toll House I turn right, go through the metal gate and am now on the path that will lead to the beginning of the Zig Zag Trail. The path begins as it will soon continue, with a series of zig-zagging steps. The views from up here are even better and people and cars are already tiny.
Turning to look down I spot a Kestrel hovering very close by and almost at eye-level. It’s flapping wildly trying to maintain a position, but quickly flies off over the headland. (I was disappointed that my one image of it was blurred, but no time to focus properly!)
At the top of the steps the path levels out and is edged along one side with a line of seats; all bear plaques commemorating people that once loved the views from here.
And who wouldn’t admire the views there are from here?
If you were to carry on along this path, you would arrive at the Haulfre Gardens, but before you get to there you find the beginning of the Zig Zag Trail, tucked close to the side of the second little shelter building you come to. There’s an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Trail marker on the ground here too, pointing back the way I’ve come.
14:46 I’ve been dawdling as usual, so have taken almost 20 minutes to get this far. It would likely have taken 10 minutes at the most walking at a normal pace. I think I’d better get a wiggle on when I read on the post that the Trail is 2 miles long and estimates two hours to reach the summit from here. But then the Trail Guide says the Trail is about 1 mile long and should take about 1½ hours. We’ll see.
14:48 The Trail immediately begins to climb, in the promised Zig Zag style, via a series of stone steps that vary in their length and incline. There are plenty of opportunities to stop and pause for breath if you need to and in places there are benches to have a sit down on.
14:53 It’s not long before I stop to look at that view again. The sky is darker now so it looks even more magical.
In places the track is dry with loose gravel making it slippery and other eroded areas where exposed rocks could trip you up. I’m glad to have my walking pole and that I’m walking up, not down. I don’t want to exaggerate though, mostly it’s in a perfectly safe condition, you just need to pay heed to where you are and take plenty of breaks to take in views and notice the wildlife.
15:01 Late August and early September is when patchworks of golden western gorse and purple heather light up some of the higher reaches of this headland, and seeing them before they are finished flowering was part of the reason for walking this trail today. There is some of the coarser common gorse in flower too.
Western gorse is a much neater, more compact plant than its common cousin.
There’s not much in the way of wildflowers in bloom along the trail now, a sprinkling of rockroses and the occasional dot of scabious linger, and there are a few later bloomers, goldenrod and black horehound amongst the grass and gorse of the trackside.
15:03 Still climbing steadily
There’s a bench at the top of this flight of steps, the second one I’ve passed.
I check out the views from here; they are becoming increasingly extensive. The Trail’s less steep from here and a way-marker post directs you to the left. The way-marker posts for this Trail all have a narrow black band around them.
15:07 You can see from this view that the Trail is still going up and has begun to curve around to the left.
15:09 My first spot of Heather
15:13 A short distance to the right of the Trail there’s a stone wall that from a distance looks like a building. Making a short diversion to investigate, I see it’s just a wall supporting or holding back ground that is at a higher level, and is probably part of the farm wall noted in the Trail guide. I hadn’t expected to get this stunning view over Llandudno town and Bay to the Little Orme from there. I’d be really bad at orienteering.
15:14 Back on track, it’s beginning to feel a bit ‘wilder’. The next section is narrower, edged with bracken and long grass and seeming to lead to a solid cliff-face.
Hawthorn trees, stunted and leaning over show this area is frequently exposed to strong prevailing winds.
A few sneaky invasive Cotoneaster plants are laden with bright shiny red berries, so tempting to hungry birds that will doubtless ensure its spread…
15:19 The Trail cuts up through the cliff and now the landscape opens up and the well-worn track wends around a rounded hilltop between domed bushes of gorse.
Near the cliff edge now, the path straightens for a while and there are views across the sea. The low land on the horizon is Anglesey with the tiny Puffin Island off its tip.
Sheep graze up on the ridge above; there’s plenty of fresh new grass to keep them busy.
15:22 Continuing along the cliff the landscape changes again. There’s a long stone wall that looks like it bounds the long edge of small fields and what could be a hedge along the far side, maybe of gorse.
I spot a patch of paler purple amongst the golden gorse; this is heather, or if you prefer, ling. Looking closer I see the a little of the darker purple bell heather too, which is more prolific here on the dry heathland.
The Trail continues along the side of the hill and I see more wall going up and along the ridge. Is this the farm wall the Trail guide says is ‘above you and to the right’, I wonder?
You can also see the back of houses which I guess are on Tyn y Coed Road. As I said, even with a map and in a confined space I don’t necessarily know where I am!
It’s easy walking along here and really pleasant despite the continuing side wind.
15:24 Down below me I spot a little flock of sheep that are tucking in to a patch of what seems to be long green grass. Seeing them this close to the cliff edge with their heads down makes me feel a little bit nervous, but I’m sure they know what they’re doing.
15:25 As I’d stopped to look at the sheep I turned around to look back at where I’d come from. The view just keeps getting better. The patterns of sand and water are fascinating. I can clearly see the Conwy Estuary and can just make out Conwy Castle on the far bank of the river. The sun is shining on Deganwy.
15:26 The track continues wriggling along the clifftop, now curving through an expanse of western gorse, some in flower and interspersed with the dark purple of bell heather.
Such a beautiful combination.
15:28 A bunny out nibbling the grass pricks up his ears and turns slightly to watch me. He obviously doesn’t see me as a threat and stays put until I’ve passed by.
Another moody view of the clouded Snowdonian mountains across the Bay.
15:31 Towards the end of this flattish section of track along the cliff, it starts to rise again. I can see where it’s headed as there are two people up on the rise that I assume are walking down. I realise that they are, or will be the first and only people I’ve encountered since I got onto the Trail. What a privilege having all this wonderful space and scenery to myself.
15:32 A rocky bit.
Down below I see that the flock of sheep I’d photographed grazing on the cliff edge a short while ago are on the move. Behind a leader they’re walking in an orderly line along a defined narrow track on the way up the side of the cliff, which must mean this is a well-used route. I am charmed by the sight and also can’t help but notice that they add another element into a pleasing intricate pattern of sand, water, groynes and rock.
Above me are more sheep. I focus on a ewe that has been given an interesting layered haircut and her well-grown chubby woolly lamb intent on grazing at her side.
Another view of the Bay with its ever-changing patterns of light and shade. The sun is still shining on Deganwy.
It’s also chosen a big green field to light up.
15:37 In front the far tip of the headland is just visible.
Looking back you could imagine you were on a wild and windy moor with views of far distant mountains. Perspective is a baffling thing.
A little further on more of the far end of the headland is revealed and I can make out the line of Marine Drive, the Toll Road, curving around it.
I’m a little confused here: there’s a sharp turn to the right, but is that narrow gravelly track cutting steeply to the top of the cliff the way I should be going, or is it just a sheep track? The post has a black band, so it must be right…
I take the track and stop half-way up for another look at the view. Although it’s all a bit hazy, I can see even further along the Estuary from here to Conwy Castle and just beyond.
Fascinating sky and sea.
15:43 I’m glad to see this I’m going the right way.
I’m on heathland now and see more of the glorious golden gorse and purple heather I was hoping to see.
Sheep are pretty much everywhere, but I spot the first black-fleeced lamb I’ve seen today. I recognise it as a Herdwick, only because I know the lambs are born with black fleeces and they’re about a year old before the wool on their heads grows out revealing the white hair beneath. As they age their fleeces turn to a dark brown and then to their characteristic grey, but their heads stay white.
15:45 A nice view of the Little Orme and the distant Clwydian Mountains.
15:46 The track seems to disappear here and I hesitated before carrying on.
There’s another track to the right that leads to a wall with a stile, should I go that way?
I head that way and pass what must once have been a small enclosure, surrounded by now tumbled-down walls. They make an interesting foreground for a view.
I climb over the stile and walk down a narrow track that looks like it might lead to a farm or something.
15:54 Round the corner there’s a man with a dachshund dog standing looking at two goats in an enclosure. He told me this is indeed a right of way, but not the one I want. I need to go back and head for the cliff. I find the path!
15:56 Ahead is another view looking down over Llandudno Bay with the Little Orme on the left, Penrhyn Hill and the Clwydian Mountains again beyond Colwyn Bay.
15:57 High up, not quite at the top yet, but I spot the aerial planted on the Summit on the horizon.
16:01 The end of the Trail is in sight!
The gorse-and-heather mix is beautiful here.
A look back at the way I’ve just come
Just look at that sky!
So now I’ve almost reached the road that leads to the Summit.
The end, or beginning of the Trail is here, a little to the side of Bishop’s Quarry.
16:15 I walk up towards the Tram’s Summit station and cut across the track to the refreshment kiosk. Sitting at a bench with a cup of tea it’s time to consider how to get back to the car. The sun has disappeared now, it’s windy and quite chilly. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my walk but am not inspired to retrace my steps. I look at the Tram that will be leaving any minute now. I buy a ticket to go down on it.