We visited the Great Orme at Llandudno, N. Wales in early September, eager to explore the ancient copper mine located halfway up the tramway route to the summit.
The Great Orme is a massive dolomite peninsula noted for its limestone pavements covering several headland areas. It is a site of geological interest and a country park hosting a rich wildlife. The Orme has seams of copper ore that were mined in the Bronze Age. These were abandoned around 600 BC and although the Romans reopened the mines little more was extracted until late Victorian times.
The mineworks had a narrow escape from developers who wanted to put landfill on the site and turn it into a car park.
The Bronze Age mine workings are now a fee-paying tourist attraction still being explored by archaeologists.
We used the vintage tram travelling up the steep road to reach Halfway Halt. We were the only passengers alighting to head towards the fenced off mine complex and we leaned over the fence to see the museum entrance below a ramp and flight of steps.
After paying our entrance fee we sat to watch an introductory film showing simulations of the crude methods used by the Neolithic people: many specimens of blunted bones and hard rocks showing wear and tear were excavated and the charcoal used for smelting was carbon dated as 1800 BC age.
Following the self guided tour of over 250 metres of labyrinthine tunnels and chambers we were glad of our obligatory hard hats in the confined spaces with some jagged roof projections. Only a small percent of the workings is open to the public and they are lit with atmospheric colours – in contrast to the tallow candles used historically.
In the Bronze Age the Great Orme Copper Mine was estimated to have produced enough copper to make about 2,000 tons of bronze. The ore was mainly malachite, a bright green ore that would be recognizable even in candlelight. The rocks were sorted inside the mine with discarded rock returned to block up empty tunnels. Copper made valuable axes and other implements some of which were on display in the museum.
Many natural wells are found on the Orme and were essential for copper washing as well as for agriculture and domestic use.
The caves and abandoned mine workings are home to large colonies of Horseshoe Bats. These spend daylight suspended from the roof of tunnels and caves and only emerge at dusk to feed on moths and beetles.
The Great Orme has a typical limestone flora being the only known site of the Wild Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster cambricus). Spring and early summer flowers include Bloody Cranesbill, Thrift and Sea Campion, Rockrose and wild Thyme. Spring Squill grows on the old copper workings. The dramatic cliffs of Great Orme shelter colonies of seabirds including guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills and fulmars and is a landmark for migrating land birds.