An­gle­sey’s high­est point

Do me­tres make the moun­tain?

Trail (UK) - - Contents - WORDS HAN­NAH JAMES PHO­TO­GRAPHS TOM BAI­LEY

I’ve never ques­tioned what a moun­tain is be­fore; that is un­til I vis­ited Holy­head Moun­tain. I know what you’re think­ing. Some­thing along the lines of ‘‘An­gle­sey has a moun­tain?!”, right? This I know be­cause, tinged with sur­prise and doubt, the very same thought crossed my mind. The cliffs of Gog­a­rth, which lie on the coast nearby, are renowned among the climb­ing com­mu­nity; but the area is def­i­nitely not well-known by moun­tain walk­ers. Nev­er­the­less, marked there on the map is a dot la­belled Holy­head Moun­tain and so, in­trigued more than any­thing to see what Wales’s largest is­land would of­fer up, we set out to find it.

Sit­u­ated on the north-western tip of An­gle­sey, it’s the high­est point in the area at 220m, and no­tice­ably so as it’s sur­rounded by the sea on three sides. Walk­ing to­wards it, it seems like a pim­ple on the sky­line; but the closer we got the more de­fined its edges be­came and the paths be­came ever so slightly wilder. It pro­trudes straight up from the ground and, like a minia­ture Ay­ers Rock, there is noth­ing all around and then, sud­denly, cliffs. It cer­tainly packs a large dose of drama into a small area of land.

Spy­ing a gully high up in the cliff as a po­ten­tial route to the top, we stopped to sur­vey the area in more de­tail. Boul­ders scat­tered the lower slopes, guard­ing the cliffs from those seek­ing a way up. It wouldn’t be im­pos­si­ble, but it was a pretty good de­ter­rent. Be­sides, although it would’ve been a short and steep route to the top, I wanted to be able to walk across its back.

Cut­ting around to the south, we wound our way through thorny un­der­growth to come face to face with a beau­ti­ful lit­tle scram­ble up onto the moun­tain it­self. Con­scious that any slip would land me in the many spiky bushes be­low – a slightly ter­ri­fy­ing prospect – I clung on to the rock. Made out of white quartzite, it had an al­lur­ing white-grey hue that seemed to glow in the late af­ter­noon sun. Dif­fer­ent kinds of lichen car­peted the rock in yel­lows and blues, mak­ing it slip­pery; but at least we knew the air was clean. Lichen grows where the at­mos­phere is un­pol­luted and, with a sea breeze drift­ing in­land, the fresh air was in­vig­o­rat­ing.

Once up, ex­cite­ment filled me. The paths may have been man-made down there, but up here they were sheep trails lit­tered with boul­ders and slabs and cov­ered by a soft but hardy heather. It was wilder up here and, fac­ing the climb in front of us, it would be im­pos­si­ble to guess we were so close to civil­i­sa­tion.

The path wound left and right around boul­ders and up the slope, but there were much more ex­cit­ing ways to reach the top. The rock al­lowed for sim­ple lines up and over, easy enough for some­body want­ing to start scram­bling. There were tougher routes up too, but as I only ever

...it’s tiny – but it’s also burst­ing with per­son­al­ity, rich in his­tory and rife with wildlife.

oc­ca­sion­ally try my hand at scram­bling, I took the eas­ier lines, grow­ing my con­fi­dence first with se­cur­ing my footand hand-holds, learn­ing to trust my strength again. It wasn’t a long climb – but what a place. Hav­ing ex­pected it to be a bland lit­tle lump with no defin­ing qual­i­ties, I could not have been proved more wrong. Here stood a fun and in­trigu­ing out­crop of rock un­like any I’d seen be­fore.

The sum­mit was wide with a raised trig, bear­ing a plaque point­ing out the dis­tant moun­tains of Snow­do­nia and the Lleyn Penin­sula. The views reach far and wide; it’s said on a clear day you can see all the way out to Ire­land and the Isle of Man. You don’t need the ru­ined foun­da­tions of an old Ro­man watch­tower to know this would’ve been a prime de­fence spot in times gone by.

It was used by peo­ple from many ages, not just by the Ro­mans. Fort re­mains found near the moun­tain date from the Iron Age, although it’s be­lieved peo­ple have in­hab­ited this spot from as far back as the Stone and Ne­olithic Ages. You can stand there, imaging what it must have been like all those years ago, re­al­is­ing how fraught a job it must have been to stand watch. Although our day was rel­a­tively clear, clouds lurked danger­ously on the hori­zon. Ships would’ve been able to sneak up to shore in that cloud with no prob­lem. Shud­der­ing at the thought, and glad that is no longer a day-to-day is­sue I turned away, over­whelmed by the his­tory this place has seen.

It’s ev­i­dent Holy­head Moun­tain played an im­por­tant part in his­tory for many peo­ple, and it made me think about what it is that makes a moun­tain a moun­tain. It’s gen­er­ally ac­cepted that a moun­tain stands at over 1,000ft high. Yet, some­thing about this sim­ply does not sit well with me. What about char­ac­ter? Rock? Tech­ni­cal­ity? The ex­pe­ri­ence? The views? Those are the char­ac­ter­is­tics that of­ten sum up a good day out for most walk­ers, so surely these things should count, too.

I had never con­sid­ered this be­fore be­ing con­fronted by this small but mighty pile of rock. In the scheme of things, it’s tiny – but it’s also burst­ing with per­son­al­ity, rich in his­tory and rife with wildlife. In fact, I don’t think it’s about height at all – not for me any­way.

It's well worth tack­ling the craggy sheep trails to reach this of­ten mist-shrouded moun­tain top, where you'll be re­warded with a glo­ri­ous sea view on a clear day.

Han­nah – some­what chuffed – takes Holy­head Moun­tain's sum­mit.

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