Anglesey’s highest point
Do metres make the mountain?
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.