Going up Pen Y Gogarth – The Great Orme


hen I think of “going up a hill”, I picture us slogging up in our fleeces, backpack groaning under the weight of  many litres of water, and feet snug inside thick socks and Vibram-soled boots or, on a sunny day and easy slopes, perhaps trail-runners.

So the other day, when my parents offered to show us the summit of the Great Orme, a fabulous limestone headland in North Wales, we got our hill-walking gear together and all lined up in front of their house.

My kids and I looked like we were hitting Everest. My parents looked like they were going to a church coffee morning.

It turns out, you get up the Great Orme by car. And it’s tiny.

It was all a bit of a shock to the system. 

So anyway, Pen Y Gogarth overlooks Llandudno on the northern coastline of North Wales, and it’s 207 metres high. You can walk up – there are lovely, soft, heathland paths – but you can just as easily drive up to the top, park in the car park, and order a cup of tea from the café. It’s a brilliant place for someone with limited mobility to enjoy a beautiful hill summit and gorgeous views, and lovely for young families.


We decided to park at the summit, walk around the surrounding headlands to enjoy the view, and return to the café for a hot drink. The kids and I opted for trail-runners and fleeces, with a mini backpack containing a litre of mineral water and some sweets.  Meanwhile, my parents pulled on their light waterproofs and took off at a brisk hiking pace, skipping their way up to the northwest to look out over the sea.

After two minutes, it burst out, “What are you wearing on your FEET?”

Turns out, my parents don’t give up their court shoes and brogues just for some hill. Their attitude is “these are my shoes and they go on my feet; the world can cope” and, after many decades of this attitude, they’re now so tough and knotty, they’re used to it.

If stomping along beside a gentleman in his neat golf sweater, perfectly creased trousers, and shiny brogues makes hiking gear look ridiculous, then my mother in her little skirt, pop socks and courts makes me look like I’ve landed on the wrong planet.

This is not an infrequent occurrence. She’s been a long way in those pop socks.

She’s brilliant.

We ended up walking about 4.5 km, following little sheep trails over the moorland to the east and watching the cable cars pass overhead, before doubling back to a rocky outcrop to the south of the summit, overlooking Llandudno town. This provided a series of rock ledges on which to sit and enjoy spectacular views.

The headland is a conservation area, and overlooks a tiny hamlet (Gogarth?) that nestles between the cliffs and the edge of the sea. It’s the kind of place that reminds me of Kirsty Logan’s books.

Who wouldn’t want to live here?

The rocky outcrop also allowed for a delve into my mother’s tiny little bag, which produced more food than my eldest took on an entire DofE expedition. The kids watched as she brandished a pack of 40 sausage rolls, then another, and a third, with two large bags of apples, chocolates, sweets, and bottles of water. Her bag is bigger than Hermione Granger’s.

We circled the summit before returning to the summit café for a cup of tea, but not before peering over to Snowdonia to the southwest, a sight that makes me ache just to see it. My heart; it mends me.

Pen y Gogarth is a beautiful place on the border between what we call civilisation and the relative wilderness of the mountains. It offers views, sea birds, little clusters of sheep, fresh air, and a clean, wild landscape that is available for people of most ages and levels of mobility, with a sweet café for post-walk comfort. It’s accessible.

It’s the edge of wilderness: not wild, but close enough to feel it. It’s where hiking boots and court shoes meet.

Would we go again? Yes.

(Would I be able to come back again, without first vanishing into Snowdonia in the south? Not a chance.)


Fabulous. Fun. Funny. Beautiful. Easy. Gorgeous. Love.


Looking south from the Great Orme (big love)


  1. Pam Lazos says:

    Your parents are awesome! And think about it — years ago there was no Gore-tex and people hiked Mt. Rainier in wool, for gosh sakes, so your parents are probably closer to the truth of it then the rest of us all geared up. :0) What a great family excursion.

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