North West Wales

Llandudno's Great Orme Tramway's a 'trip back in time' 110 years after it was built

Tram coming into the station
Image caption The Great Orme Tramway carries around 150,000 passengers from March and October each year

It isn't the oldest, fastest, or steepest, but as Llandudno's Great Orme Tramway approaches its 110th birthday, its popularity is greater than ever.

Each year about 150,000 people make the 207 metre climb to Britain's highest coastal outcrop.

It is now Britain's only working funicular tramway - where trams are fixed to a cable which is hauled up the mountain

Part of it charm is that its a "trip back in time" said manager Neil Jones.

"It's unapologetically rough-and-ready, as it was built using the mining technology of the day.

"The trams themselves are 48-seater open-sided timber constructions, which have been restored to exactly how they would have looked and felt 110 years ago.

"And once you get out of Llandudno, the scenery through which you pass is almost identical to that which your grandparents and great-grandparents would have looked out on.

"But the flip-side of authenticity is that it can be a bit bumpy and exposed to the elements, and it's particularly grim in the weather which we've had for most of this summer."

Image caption A trip to the summit promises views - on a clear day - of the Isle of Man, Blackpool and the Lake District

Two enormous steam engines were originally employed to haul the trams up the Great Orme, These were replaced by electric motors in 1958.

The trams operate in pairs, with the gravity of the descending car helping to drag its partner up the one-in-three ascent.

"The driver - as in the man who actually winds the cable onto the drum and moves the tram - is actually at the station. Although each tram does have a spotter riding at the front, who can radio through to the station to warn of any obstructions." explained Mr Jones.

In its lower reaches The Great Orme Tramway twists through the streets of Llandudno, although at th Half-Way station, passengers need to change onto a second set of trams for the final climb to the summit.

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Media captionThe Great Orme Tram in Llandudno is the only cable-hauled street tramway in Britain

Today, the outstanding views and glimpses of rare wildlife - including feral Kashmir goats descended from a pair donated to Queen Victoria by the Shah of Persia - mainly attract tourists.

However, in 1902 it was envisaged its customers would be industrial workers travelling to the summit, in search of a cure to the tuberculosis.

"By the start of the 20th Century seaside holidays were just beginning to come into reach of working people, and Llandudno was looking for something to set it apart from the rest of the resorts," Mr Jones said.

"Some years before Queen Victoria had come to Llandudno to bathe in the waters, which she believed had healing properties, and the sea air on the headland was also thought to ward off sickness."

"So a Dr Nichole got together a group of local businessmen and decided to build a tramway marketed for its health benefits. There was even talk of a sanatorium at one time, although it was never built."

Perhaps its remote location and unconventional workings have been the saving of The Great Orme Tramway.

While other similar light railways fell by the wayside during the 20th Century's upheaval of nationalisation and privatisation of British railways, it managed to stand in splendid isolation, still run by Conwy Council.

And with the route more popular than ever, the people behind it say that there is no reason why it can not go on for another 110 years.

"Back in 1902, catching a tram would have been as routine as getting on the Tube is for Londoners today," Mr Jones said.

"But now it's a unique experience which you can't get anywhere else in the world."

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