The Great Orme Coast


The Great Orme

Geographer Nicholas Crane presents a journey around the coast of the UK. The team visit the limestone headland of the Great Orme in Llandudno, north Wales.


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Sunny Llandudno and its magnificent limestone headland - the Great Orme.

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The white pimple on the summit used to be the optical telegraph station.

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Then it became a pub, a hotel, a golf club, radar station,

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then a hotel again.

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And now it's a welcome cafe.

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You see nothing on the Orme is exactly what you think it is.

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I've been told there's a real secret here on the Orme.

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It's an extraordinary story about a mysterious cave

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that has electrified the imagination of everyone who's seen it.

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That's my kind of story.

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Now all I've been told is that the cave is called Ogof Llech - the hiding cave -

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and that it's several hundred feet below the Orme's summit.

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My guide is local cave and mine expert Nick Jowett.

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There's no chance of our getting there by sea. I know, we tried.

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There was too big a swell for us to land.

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Plus we had to make our attempt today because the sea birds are already coming in to nest

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and there's no way we can disturb them.

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Oh, yes and that isn't a path down the slope above - it's subsidence in progress.

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Nothing for it but to enlist the help of two professional climbers and get down by rope.

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Try and keep your body over right, Neil.

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-Yeah. You coming?

-I'll wait till you're on the next rope, Neil.

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It's as every bit as unpleasant as I'd imagined!

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-You OK there?

-Yep.

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This is a heck of an afternoon's stroll, Nick!

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Slimy rocks, 100 foot above the sea - it's just dreamy.

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-Right.

-We're nearly there, Neil.

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Just scramble up into the cave.

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Oh, that's unbelievable!

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That's the last thing I was expecting!

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-It's like a little bit of Yorkminster's been picked up and stuck in this cave!

-Absolutely.

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Look at it, it's like, what, half of an eight-sided sort of...

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One, two, three, four, five sides.

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And then there's a semi-circular seat and this is like it's the upright column

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with a circular base of a stone-carved table.

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There would be, you know, a top here.

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So you could come in here and sit around, sit around a stone table!

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A round stone table, yeah.

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The interesting thing, of course, is that this is sandstone and the Great Orme's made of limestone.

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So they haven't just brought it from just outside the cave entrance,

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they've had to have been brought in from elsewhere.

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At the moment we've got no idea where the stone came from.

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Look at this as well - 1853.

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How old is it?

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-Some of the earliest graffiti is on this back wall here.

-Uh-huh.

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It looks to me like 1718.

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-What a view as well.

-Lovely view out to sea.

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-If you carry on round this, there's a lovely feature I'd like you to have a look at.

-Right.

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Lots of the old guide books tell us that there's the face of a man

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-and an owl and a swan.

-Carved faces?

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Carved into the stone here.

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I've looked on many occasions. I've certainly never seen an owl and a swan.

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But if you look up here...

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-Yes!

-I think you can make that out.

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Yes, you can the see the face. Two eyes. You can see where a nose has been.

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Some people say it's a bishop because it has a mitre.

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Other people say it's a knight with a knight's helmet.

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Other people say it's an angel, so lots of different theories

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and then people draw their own conclusions from what they think that face is.

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It's so dramatic. To me it looks like the head of a cobra.

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You wonder what's going on here. It's obviously meant so much to the person or people that did it.

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-And yet they haven't left anything behind to show why they did it.

-No.

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So it all remains a mystery.

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So who built Ogof Llech and when and why?

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The place is a complete conundrum so here's what I'm doing,

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I've sent a small sample of the sandstone away for analysis

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to see if I can find out exactly where it's from.

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One thing I can be fairly certain of, if that graffiti is reliable

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whoever built the cave's interior did so over 300 years ago.

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There must be documents or estate papers or something that can help us.

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So I've started contacting local historians and libraries

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and some interesting names are cropping up in connection with the cave.

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Charles Darwin?

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And there's also talk of an ancient Welsh poem written about the cave that has to be worth a look.

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It just looks like a little church.

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This is frustrating.

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I seem to be getting nowhere fast.

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Is there any news on the stone sample?

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Now that IS interesting.

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But at long last I DO have something positive to report.

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Do you remember this?

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Oh, that's the piece of stone that we picked from the cave.

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Well that surface there, that's where the sample has been taken.

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I sent it off to the British Geological Survey in Nottingham

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and they've got detailed records of all the known sources of stone

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and they cross-referenced it and have come back with this.

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It says the sandstone sample from Ogof Llech compares closely with sandstones from the Gwespyr Quarries

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at Talacre.

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Oh, right. OK. That's just down the coast.

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Probably about 30 miles away.

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Another interesting point from our point of view is the Talacre Quarry

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-was part of the Mostyn family estates.

-Oh, OK.

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It says the Mostyn family controlled that quarry as early as the 16th century.

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That gives us now the first hard evidence here

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which is brilliant news.

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So the sandstone sample has given us a specific connection with a family called the Mostyns.

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Who were they and what was their connection with Llandudno?

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Well, they built it - lock, stock and promenade.

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And they owned the Great Orme where the cave Ogof Llech is.

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And there's more.

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On this map of 1849, there's a clearly defined zigzagging path

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all the way to the cave.

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So for a long time, presumably, there was access to getting down there but not any more,

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hence the ropes and all the rest of the stuff that enabled Nick and I to get round there.

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Now there was that poem to Ogof Llech, and very conveniently for me...

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..on page three of the photocopy, we reveal the nicely copperplate date - 1683.

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Now allow me to translate some of this for you.

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"The cave was furnished with skill and taste for Mostyn's heir.

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"A house of rest for the bright Welshman of new walls hewn in stone."

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Get that, new walls of stone.

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"Also, when he goes to sea, he takes his boat.

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"He passes Llandudno and to fishing devotes himself."

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"Thence to the shore to his abode, the cheerful cave daintily equipped

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"Stones and curious engravings on the walls and stones serving as tables and seats

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"and a round table of hewn stone in the grotto is also preened."

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So what are we dealing with?

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What we have is a cave fitted out as some kind of fishing lodge.

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And it's something to do with the heir of the Mostyn estate

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and we've got a date -

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this is happening around 1683.

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So who was this guy, Mostyn heir?

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Well, in 1683 the lord of the manor, if you will was Roger Mostyn

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and his heir was Thomas.

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This book is a history of the Mostyns.

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And sure enough...

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Sir Thomas Mostyn.

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This is Mostyn's heir.

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For centuries Ogof Llech has excited and puzzled off who have seen it or have heard about it.

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Have we, at long last, solved the riddle of who built it and why?

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I certainly think we've uncovered a snapshot of one period in the history of this mysterious cave.

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But is there more to unravel here?

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You bet there is. Nothing in the Orme is quite what it seems.

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Subtitles by Shoma Mazumder Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

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Geographer Nicholas Crane presents a journey around the coast of the United Kingdom, uncovering stories that have made the island nation of today.

The team visit the limestone headland of the Great Orme in Llandudno, north Wales.


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