1: Holyhead Mountain, Anglesey

Holyhead Mountain
Walkers on Holyhead Mountain, highest point of Anglesey

Date: 22nd June 2019.

Weather conditions: Marvellous. A beautiful morning of perfect temperatures. May all my walks on this project be the same (it won’t happen).

County Top bagged: Holyhead Mountain, a.k.a., in Welsh, Mynydd Twr (Tower Mountain, after the old Roman lookout post built on the subsidiary summit). The summit is 722ft/220m above sea level at grid reference SH218829.

Rankings by altitude:

This is the lowest of all the historic Welsh county tops by altitude, although there is a lower modern Top (that of the Vale of Glamorgan). It is one of the ten that are not on the mainland of Great Britain. In fact, it’s not even on the main island of Anglesey, being instead on Holy Island, which is separated from its parent — the rest of the historic county of Anglesey — by a narrow tidal channel.

Holyhead Mountain becomes number 1 of my personal list of county tops. [ (2) Inverness-shire/Highland – Ben Nevis >> ]

Breakwater Country Park
The Breakwater Country Park from above, nestling in its former quarry

Start and end point of walk: The Breakwater Country Park, Holyhead at SH228834. This has been created within a former quarry, from which were removed huge chunks of the mountain in order to build the breakwater that shelters Holyhead harbour, hence its name. (The breakwater is visible in the background of the picture at the top of the page). Reclamation seems to have been carried out in an exemplary fashion.

Pub at end: The country park has a cafe where you can get refreshments, but it is not licensed. Holyhead itself has lost many pubs in recent years if the boarded up remnants are anything to go by (see “The Area” below). But the Stanley Arms in the town centre remains open and served up a decent lunch and a friendly welcome, although no real ale.

Distance walked: From the Breakwater Country Park entrance and back, via the route I took, was 3 miles approximately. This point is about 1.6 miles from the railway station, so to do the top and back from the station would be about 6.2 miles/10km.

View to South Stack
View from between the main and subsidiary summits. South Stack lighthouse in background.

Extending the walk to the South Stack lighthouse (see picture) would be quite feasible if you wanted to make a full day of it. As described here, the walk took me about 80 minutes from the visitor centre and a total of about 2:15 to and from my B & B in town.

Feet of ascent: 800 feet/245m approximately.

Difficulty: ★★. Holyhead Mountain might be low in altitude, but it is not misnamed, as it looks like, and is built like, a mountain. There are some steep and rocky bits on this walk. You need sturdy footwear, and some points on the descent needed care.

Ease of access: ★★★★. Within walking distance of Holyhead train station, which sees plenty of trains, although it’s not in the centre of the country or anything. Although I didn’t do this, having stayed over in Holyhead the night before, the walk would have been feasible as a day trip from home in Yorkshire.

Horses and quarries
Below the eastern, quarried slopes of the Mountain

Scenic qualities: ★★★★. Can’t complain here. Lovers of the British coastline will be in their element. As befits a County Top you are manifestly on the highest point for some miles in any direction, and can see Snowdonia in the distance, viewed over the whole of Anglesey. Reputedly, on a clear day, Ireland can be seen from the summit. The immediate vicinity is also good-looking with the pale limestone rocks of the mountain smothered in heather; this is going to make a spectacular purple carpet in August, a fine contrast against the blue of the Irish Sea directly below.

The area: The town of Holyhead isn’t going to win any ‘Best of Britain’ awards. A lot of people still pass through it on their way on and off the ferries going to Ireland, but — thanks to the rise in budget airlines — rather fewer than will have done so in the past, and I guess that explains the fact that about half of the town centre seems to be boarded up these days, including at least four former pubs. If you’re not on the way to Ireland then I imagine the A55 seems like a very long cul-de-sac.

On the other hand, I spent 24 hours here across two gloriously sunny days, and Holyhead did absolutely nothing to offend. In its own way it was kind of peaceful. This was my first ever visit to the county of Anglesey and I have no idea what the rest of the place is like, but as first impressions go, this was a pretty good one.

Map: Explorer 262, Anglesey West covers the walk but you won’t really need it, unless perhaps you head for South Stack.

Holyhead Marina
View over Holyhead Marina, passed on the way in from the station

Route: To get to the Breakwater park from the railway station, come out on the western (town centre) side and walk along the coast road, to the marina (about 2/3 mile from the station). Here follow the sign to the park, turning left along a road that has clearly been built on an old railway, presumably the one that once ferried all the stone away from the quarried mountain.

Once at the park, head to the right, keeping the mountain on your left, and follow the main track up as it makes the first ascent of the day. There are plenty of paths up on the mountain, and plenty of scope for variation in the route I am about to describe, but the way I went round was as follows.

At the top of the first main pull, there is a path heading off on the left, which I took. This went across another path, then I swung to the left, which took me round to the side of the mountain that overlooked the town. A bit of confusion came when the path seemed to peter out near an old stone wall, but across this it recovered and I was up on the summit a few minutes later.

Holyhead Mountain summit
The trig point on the summit

For descent, I headed in the direction of the subsidiary summit, but at one point this did lead me down a very steep section that with hindsight I would have bypassed (I think this could be done to the right). The climb up to the subsidiary summit is straightforward. The ruins seen there are apparently Roman.

From here, keep going along the path, following the arrows. The path swings round almost to the corner of the mountain above the sea, and then descends, becoming the wide track you were climbing earlier, so follow it back to the visitor centre and have a cup of tea.

Main summit from subsidiary
View over to the main summit, from the subsidiary

Here We Go Again Commentary: With my double Wainwright round not yet finished — why am I starting on this one? Why do the County Tops at all?

The answer to the first question really lies with opportunism. The key motivation was — or will be — the fact that on 20th July this year I am committed to getting up (or, at least, trying to get up) Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the whole UK, and that’s something I don’t intend to do twice without a very good reason. As I was already looking at bagging the County Tops as a project, that was slated in advance to be the first on the list: quite obviously, it is a county top (of Inverness-shire, as it happens).

But then I found myself in Holyhead, nestled below another of the 91 (see the ‘About’ page for a justification for this figure). It seemed silly not to take the chance to bag it, for this is another place that — despite treating me well enough over the last couple of days — I’m not really intending to revisit. It’s a long way from anywhere else, in British terms. So seeing as I was here, why not start the round with this more esoteric choice? Everyone does Ben Nevis at some point, don’t they? Well, people like me do anyway. And it made for a very fine starting point, magnificent views, a fun place to explore for a couple of hours, and in such glorious weather too.

On the ascent
Walkers ascending, Holyhead below

But why the County Tops? The Wainwright round is going to come to an end soon, by some time in late 2021 if I keep the pace that I have been setting (and it has been a very consistent pace throughout all the 10 years of that project). As I keep saying, to the readers of that blog and to myself, I am definitely not embarking on a third full Wainwright round. I really do mean this. There are too many of the minor ones that just don’t appeal enough, and I’m fed up battling with certain public transport issues. Time for some variety.

And I’m getting older. I’m not writing myself off for some of the tougher hikes just yet, but inevitably there will come a time when some gentler, but still fulfilling, walking is called for. I want a bit more variety in my physical jerks. Britain isn’t that big a country in global terms but it’s quite big enough if you’re trying to cover it on foot, and there are many places — as today proved — where I’ve never been before but which, scenically, have a great deal to offer. Not just the more remote parts of Scotland, though these do appeal; this project will give me an excuse to go to Orkney, say, where I’ve been meaning to go for years but…. well, you just need a stimulus sometimes.

Mountain from football ground
The Mountain as seen from Holyhead Hotspur FC (evidence that the weekend combined more than one of my favoured leisure pursuits)

But it’s not just Orkney. How about north Norfolk (Beacon Hill, near West Runton), or the Clwydian Hills (Moel Farnau, the county top of Flintshire)…. and so on. I’ve never been to these places either. National pride may prompt this to some extent but I honestly do think Great Britain has one of the most beautiful, and certainly one of the most diverse, landscapes of anywhere in the world, and because it’s a crowded little place, most of it is quite accessible too, not requiring week-long treks to penetrate — although it must be said that some of the County Tops do look very tough (Carn Eige in Ross and Cromarty most of all, which appears to need a major wilderness expedition just to get a foothold on the mountain).

But I’m not throwing myself into this in full until I’ve finished the Wainwrights. I estimate I’ll pick up a few of the CTs over the next couple of years, but until that goal is achieved, the updates to this blog will be sporadic — at least after Ben Nevis becomes number 2, in four weeks’ time. However, it has begun, and probably it will take me until I’m 60, by which time I hope there is still life in these legs; by then, I think I will truly be able to say that I’ve explored the landscape of my country.


8 thoughts on “1: Holyhead Mountain, Anglesey

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