Monday, 19 June 2017

The Magnificent Great Orme

The Great Orme at Llandudno is one of my top 10 favourite places in the world, and June is one of the best months to visit. Not only does it have breathtaking views comparible with anywhere you might like to mention, it also has an array of flora and fauna to keep the naturalist happy for days on end.

Today we parked at the West Shore and walked clockwise around the Orme, taking the track up and over the limestone pavement from Llys Helig to the Rest & Be Thankful cafe, and then following marine drive back to Llandudno.

Almost immediately it was obvious that there had been a mass emergance of the butterfly silver-studded blue. They were everywhere, hundreds of them, on the roadside verges, in the gardens, even landing in hedges or on the road itself.  To see them at their best though you need to get onto the limestome grasslands where the perfect photo opportunity is to get them feeding on common rockrose, a limestome loving plant that flowers on the Orme in profusion at this time of the year. I've never seen silver-studded blue in such numbers anywhere before, and it was worth the walk just to experience this spectacle.

Male silver-studded blues on common rockrose.

A female silver-studded blue.

These grassy hillsides on the west side of the Orme are the best places to see silver-studded blue in my experience.

The views of the Conwy estuary ain't half bad from here either!

A little higher up we came across lots of the day flying moth, Cistus forester. This is quite a scarce species in the UK, and is usually found where it's favourite food plant common rockrose grows. Although there is plenty of common rockrose at lower levels, in my experience this moth is best seen on the Orme on the grasslands either side of the limestone pavement.

Common rockrose Helianthemum nummularium.

Superficially similar, but this is a much rarer plant. Hoary rockrose Helianthemum oelandicum is a speciality of the rocky Welsh coastline wherever there is limestone, but it is seen at its best on the Great Orme.

Hoary rockrose.

Hoary rockrose.

Another rarity of the  Great Orme limestone grasslands is Spiked speedwell Veronica spicatta.

The Rest & Be Thankful cafe is a good place to stop and refuel for a while, before continuing the journey down Marine drive and back to Llandudno. I like walking back down Marine Drive because offers a whole array of different plants growing on the limestone cliffs.

One of the most striking and beautiful of plants in June is bloody cranesbill Geranium sanguineum, a real limestone specialist which is common along Marine Drive.

Red valerian Centranthus ruber is an even commoner plant of the limestone cliffs.

Grayling butterfly on Red valerian.

The views on this side of the Orme aren't too bad either. The main seabird colonies are on this side of the Great Orme, and include many hundreds of guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, cormorants and fulmers. A more recent arrival is the chough, which now breeds on the Orme and today we saw about 10 during our walk along Marine Drive.

As you walk along Marine drive you can sometimes come across seepages in the limestone such as this. The solubility of limestone in naturally acidic rainwater over millions of years results in the caves, pot holes, underground rivers and grikes often found in limestone regions. Where water runs down or through limestone, organic acid from the soil above increases this action and in caves can form stalactites and stalagmites.  The rock in this photos looks like it is melting, and you can see what looks like a mini stalactite forming. The rock here is soft, almost like mud to touch, and virtually no plants can tolerate living in such a calcareous position, not even bryophytes. Yet if you look over to the left of the photo and you can see that there is a small plant growing and that it is almost covered in the limestone solution! How can this plant survive here when others cannot?

The answer is that it is a butterwort Pinguicula vulgaris, an insectiverous plant which derives most of its nutrients from small insects which stick to its leaves and are then digested. In an environment such as this the plants roots are pretty much used just to anchor it down.

The Orme always offers something unexpected, and today it was this pyramidal orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis growing next to the road on Marine Drive. I don't think I've ever seen this orchid on the Orme before.


  1. I'll be there for a day end of next week, thanks for an insight into the area. Dave

  2. Hi Colin,
    I was surprised to see 2 large skippers in the sunshine on the edge of a field east of Lymm. As I can't remember ever seeing any skippers before - are they on the northern edge of their range here?
    Dave O

    1. Hi Dave, no they go a lot further north than Cheshire, as far as Dumfries and Galloway. I see them regularly around Leigh and St Helens.

  3. Great write up! I may be visiting before the end of summer even if much of the wildlife will have left by then. Is it possible to drive some of the way up? I will be going with someone who isn't great on their feet.

    1. Thanks. Yes you can drive all of the way round and over the top. It's one way, so access from Llandudno pier and drive anti-clockwise (about £4 charge). You can park up in many places and look at the cliffs at the side of the road, I recommend especially those in the first half mile after the start of the drive. Ignore any roads off to the left until you come to the "Rest and be thankful" cafe on the right (shortly after the lighthouse B&B). 100m beyond the cafe there is a (two way!) road on the left which goes up to a car park. Park in the car park and the limestone pavement is in this area which is always worth a look You should have a good chance of autumn ladies tresses.

    2. Thanks Colin! There was a half hour programme on bbc2 last night about the Great Orme introduced by Lolo of springwatch fame and he said autumn is a good time to watch the Kashmir goat rut; maybe I could get decent pictures?


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