Sunday 20 September 2015

Yr Eifl

Garn Ganol, the highest of Yr Eifl's three summits
If you travel along the northern side of the Llyn Peninsula in Wales, the three peaks of Yr Eifl soon become a dominant feature ahead of you. In English it is known as The Rivals and the fact that one of the summits of this large hill contains a well-preserved Iron Age hill fort might lead one to think that its English moniker draws upon the history of the site; in fact, the truth is rather more prosaic - the translation of the Welsh name Yr Eifl is The Forks, for reasons that are clear when you view the hill's dramatic northern aspect, and the English merely an approximation of its pronunciation. The smaller of the three peaks, Garn For (1457 ft) is closest to the sea and has been heavily quarried over the years; its man-made and natural cliffs drop precipitously and we'd read that access to this section of Yr Eifl is prohibited for safety reasons. The remaining summits, however, are access land and provide invigorating walking and some spectacular views of Snowdonia, the coastline and even - on a good day - across to Ireland.

The commemorative sculpture.
There is ample parking by the base of Garn Ganol, the tallest of the "three rivals" at 1841 ft, and several well-defined footpaths and tracks lead onto the hillside from here. We paused at the car park to admire a sculpture that had been created to commemorate the quarrymen who had once worked in the area. This takes the form of a handsome trio of menhir-like columns that echoes both the three peaks of the hill itself and the site's links to antiquity. A gleaming plaque displayed a poem in Welsh but I haven't been able to find even a mention of it online, let alone a translation. The lane carries on from this point, past the car park, then makes a steep, winding descent to the Nant Gwrtheyrn Heritage Centre, which was once a village for the quarry workers. Our journey on this occasion lay across the road, north-east through the heather-clad slopes to Bwlch Yr Eifl, the col between Garn For and and Garn Ganol. The track is a section of the Wales Coast Path and is broad and stony underfoot, the incline a steady but not especially taxing one.

The old quarry workings on the southern side of Garn For.
The last of the heather blossom for this year, on the slopes of Garn Ganol.
Garn For summit, as we head up to Bwlch Yr Eifl.
At the bwlch, we turned right sharply, leaving the track behind and making our way south east up the steep hillside. The path to the central summit of Yr Eifl is still clear at this point but the going underfoot is rougher, slippery mud or loose pebbles alternating with larger rocks. The much-anticipated vistas began to open out around us now: the unruffled expanse of the Irish sea to the west of us and to our north a couple of tempting-looking hills were our immediate neighbours; beyond them, the landscape levelling off as Caernarfon Bay sweeps round to the Menai Strait and Anglesey.

Caernarfon Bay, looking north east along the Llyn Peninsula
Rich and Lotte bringing up the rear, with Garn For and the Irish Sea.
Looking south west along the Llyn Peninsula

Boulder field with cairn.
We could see above that a number of boulder fields ringed the top of the hill and although there were patches of heather interspersed among them the path didn't appear to cut through them. When we reached the edge of the rocks it became clear that we would have to pick our way across them. A few small cairns provided some guidance to the route and occasionally we reached a boulder-free stretch where previous walkers had left footfall evidence of the way ahead. How easy it would be to pick out the course in poor visibility I'm not sure - if you were determined to continue, I suppose you might have to set a bearing for the trig point and pick out your own route upwards. Our German Shepherd was okay finding her way across for the most part but she was unsure a couple of times and it's worth bearing this section of the route in mind if you have a dog that is not comfortable crossing boulders. Our walk back later in the day followed a path roughly SSW in direction down from the summit; this is also steep nearer the top but altogether a more straightforward walk underfoot.

It didn't take too much time or effort before we were standing at the highest point on the Llyn Peninsula. An old and substantial cairn, with a bowl-like structure to afford shelter, and a trig pillar mark the summit. The trig was topped with a curious metal '4', surmounted by a smaller 'H' and 'A'. We couldn't work out the significance of this unusual addition to the traditional column and I haven't been able to find an explanation online either. [Update] I have since enquired on the Walking Forum and someone there suggested that it was a romantic declaration using the couple's initials, as in "H 4 A" (one hopes, "4 ever").

Looking south west along the Llyn Pensinsular from the summit.

The views from here certainly lived up to everything I had read about Yr Eifl. We really were fortunate with the weather and had a panoramic view of Snowdonia from north to south, with many of the major mountains clear to see; as well as Caernarfon Bay to the north, we now had an unrestricted line of sight across Cardigan Bay too, while - below us - the surprisingly hilly Llyn Peninsular stretched out into the Irish Sea. We could see our next port of call from here too, of course - Tre'r Ceiri, which stands at 1591 ft. The name is thought to mean 'Home of the Giants' and its summit is the site of one of the best-preserved and most impressive Iron Age hill forts in Europe. Looking down on it from this perspective really gives you a feel for the grand scale on which it was constructed. 

Looking across Cardigan Bay to the Rhinogs.
The Rhinogs.
Looking south west along the Cardigan Bay side of the Llyn Peninsula.
Tre'r Ceiri hill fort.

Cattle roaming around on our route back.
We still had to get there and we could see the path across the saddle between the two peaks, as it cut a neat line through the vegetation. 

Before we reached that easy walking, however, there was a steep descent to make. The path was narrow but easily followed and while it didn't involve crossing a boulder field like the one on the other side of the hill, we did use our hands to help us over a couple of large rocks. 

As we made our way down, we glanced below to our right, looking towards our planned route to the car park from Tre'r Ceiri: between the crags of Caergribin and the southern aspect of Garn Ganol, where our path lay, there were a number of large cattle and they were seemingly rather active, constantly on the move in fact. Even had they looked docile it would have given us cause for concern with the dog accompanying us, so we decided to re-assess the situation when we got to the hill fort.

Crossing the saddle was a yomp across some occasionally rather wet ground. I seem to have an unconscious homing instinct for the bogs and mires of the world. A brief climb then brings you to the hill fort entrance. Dwarfed by the walls on either side we passed through and found a plateau of sorts. There were clusters of hut circles, the remains of the many roundhouses that had filled this once-thriving community. We wandered round here for quite a while, climbing to the summit (marked by a cairn) and admiring the views in the changing light of the sun, which was noticeably sinking lower.

The boggy walk across to Tre'r Ceiri.
Entering the hill fort.
Looking along the ramparts.
Hut circles from the summit of Tre'r Ceiri. In the background is Garn Ganol.
Cadair Idris on the horizon.

From the south-western end of the ramparts we could still see the cows wandering somewhat aimlessly around the Caergribin moorland. We noted that once we crossed through the gate onto the heath there was no obvious escape route should they react badly to the dog except back to the fence, which could end up being a considerable distance to cover given the extent of this enclosure. As far as we could see, there were no other fences or walls in sight that we could surreptitiously skirt or climb over if we needed to. We decided our only option was to head back over the summit of Garn Ganol and so we retraced our steps across the damp col between the two peaks and back up to the trig point. Thus it was that we managed to still do three peaks on Yr Eifl, even without placing a foot on Garn For.

It was sunset now and we got a great view of the mountains of Snowdonia basking in the evening glow before the sinking sun was eventually swathed in cloud on the horizon. 

Snowdon (l), now cloud-free, and the Nantlle Ridge (r)
The peaks of southern Snowdonia catching the early evening sun.
Farmland on the slopes of Gyrn Ddu.
A glimpse of Ireland on the horizon from back on the summit of Garn Ganol.

We struck out on the path I mentioned above, heading roughly SSW downwards. Off the steepest part of the slope, we were on a broad pathway of flattened grass that made for a leisurely stroll back to the car park and soon we were heading home. 

Sunset over the Irish Sea as we regained the lower slopes of Garn Ganol.

Yr Eifl from just outside Trefor as we headed home.

This is a relatively short walk and doesn't involve a great deal of ascent but the views it affords really are spectacular and make a half day wandering around this hill worth anyone's time.

Date: September 2015

Walk length: 6.5 km

Total ascent: 611 metres



  1. Great photo's and write up.Are you on Facebook ?,if you are join a great group called WALKING FOR PLEASURE.

  2. Cheers, mad max - much appreciated! I am on Facebook actually, I'll head over there now and check out the group. Thanks for the heads up, all the best!