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Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Ghost Stones

The distant hills of Gyrn Goch and Gyrn Ddu with Tre Ceiri Hill Fort in the middle distance taken from the summit of Yr Eifl.

The Lleyn Peninsula has me in a draw, I have recently rediscovered how wonderful the landscape is and how easy its accessibility is too, despite the rather jaw dropping fact that if you lived at the tip of the peninsula at Aberdaron and required medical attention in Ysbyty Gwynedd, it being the local hospital, it entails a journey of 42½ miles by road and can take up to one and a half hours, or ten minutes in a 22 Squadron Seaking helicopter, a pleasing though if you are ever in need of emergency aid, but it does make you think that you are rather in isolation.
The trip had already been aborted three times before a success was finally achieved, the first attempt ended almost where it began, I had planned a trip to climb Gyrn Ddu and Gyrn Goch, two small but deceptively steep hills whose flanks tumble into the sea via Clynnog Fawr and Trefor. I had passed their bases more times than I can remember but had never explored the tops, they had never been that high on my tick list for some reason despite being so close to home, but a trip up to the iron age Tre Ceiri Hill Fort on the Rivals with my friend John drew me to them as they bathed in the sunshine in the crystal clear light, I had used Google maps to have a look at the terrain as I often do these days if I am planning a trip and it revealed a fascinating landscape with some interesting rock formation and several prehistoric remains.
I had been given a small volume that my friend John Cantrell had published on walks in the Lleyn Peninsula and the circuit around these two peaks looked like a nice afternoon jaunt.

1st Attempt.

I parked on the old road at the village of Gyrn Goch and set off rather in haste and without reading John’s description in detail, I remember the text mentioning a path up the left hand side of the conifer plantation so I duly set off at a fair pace and took the left fork in the track as described, I followed the river for a short while and got to thinking that the path although very distinct was not much used, after a struggle to cross the river via some very greasy boulders I was confronted with chest high bramble and ferns, fighting my way as best as possible in Dr Livingstone style I quickly got the impression that my way was not the right way, by now the path was virtually nonexistent, up ahead I could see a dry stone wall and what looked like a 5 bar gate so I continued my struggle, I eventually reached my goal and my ears were filled with heavy breathing, I knew I had struggled through the undergrowth and had just joined the ‘bus pass’ set but I wasn’t that unfit surely, I reached the top of the wall and looked over it only to be greeted by a large mouth full of huge teeth wide eyes and nostrils that were snorting at me rather menacingly, I was face to face with a woolly faced alpaca, in fact the field was full of them, also rather weirdly, in the middle of the field was a 1960’s Triumph Herald. It had also started to piss down. A strange Pythonesque feeling came over me as to how unreal it all was, I turned turtle and headed back the way I came through all the ferns and brambles, to top the day my boots were leaking too, not a good day.

My rather wet and snarly friend

2nd Attempt.

Now I was laughing, I had checked my maps and reread John’s description, in one of the chapters to the walk he mentions a 100ft waterfall that tumbles from the edge of the cwm, this waterfall has kept itself a secret as far as I could make out, I asked several of my colleagues who were regular mountain walkers if they knew of this cataract hiding amongst the trees, nobody had heard of it and there didn’t seem to be any mention of it anywhere either so off I set once more. This time I at least found the right start and set off up the farm track
The BBC weather forecast was not promising too good a day but what the heck, nothing ventured etc,
I got as far as the forest clearing and the heavens opened, but I could hear the roar of the elusive waterfall so carried on, the track now became nonexistent and I found myself heading towards the falls, after what seemed an age I caught a glimpse of  it through the downpour and the dense undergrowth and decided that they would have to wait for another day, I was now at the wall which leads to the open countryside and the hills beyond so I decided to at least make a low level round trip by returning along the old wall that acts as a boundary to the woodland. The hills beyond had long ago vanished into the mist and it was getting wetter as the day progressed. The path was very wet, very boggy, it was still pissing down and my boots still leaked. Soaked and rather dejected I headed for home.

3rd Attempt

My wife Clare gave me one of those looks that says it all without actually saying much at all, not the bloody waterfall again, don’t bother it’ll rain anyway.
I had tried to convince her and myself that these trips to the Lleyn were a much better proposition at this time of year than heading for the higher hill of Snowdonia, I had regaled her with amazing facts that Snowdon can average 200 ins of rain a year but the Lleyn only averages 37 ins a year, so the law of averages had to be on my side, --- she laughed.
I set off once more and this time headed in a slightly different direction by heading into the woodland itself along the workers track which followed the stream and hopefully the waterfall too, this time I met a man and his dog, the first sign of any form of life I had encountered on my trips so far, the dog, a huge American mastiff eyed me up and sniffed about rather alarmingly, I fell into conversation with the owner who said, ‘he’s gentle enough, don’t worry’, (they all say that, or “he doesn’t bite” don’t they). The rope that the dog was attached to was thick enough to hold a trawler steady in a storm, always a worrying sign; any animal that needs to be linked to a hawser should be in a cage!! It turned out during our brief conversation that he had only had the animal two days and was getting it used to its new territory, hmmmm

I was carrying a black Manfrotto tripod which does rather resemble a rifle if you carry it across your chest, so the beast might have thought we were off to hunt Moose or whatever American mastiffs hunt.

I bade him and his dog, which was now leaning against my legs and looking at me wistfully as if we had been hunting buddies all our lives, a good day and set off in search of the cascade.

After about ten minutes I was having second thought about my plan to thrash my way through the bracken and laurel growth and a lot of horrendously wet and slippery ground just to find the falls but I carried on regardless, eventually after much grunting and more Dr Livingstone style jungle bashing I found it, well sort of found that is—by hanging off the trunk of a laurel bush I could see the top third of it as it tumbled into the steep sided valley, at least it did exist but getting to it was nigh impossible and a tad risky too, to top it all it started to piss down and my boots were still leaking.

I carried on upwards and did the usual low level round trip and lo and behold the rain became a drizzle and eventually just a slight dampness, on the descent past the forest I came across the remains of an old medieval field system and the tumbled rocks of some dwellings which were an added bonus to the day.

I took a few shots on the camera and headed back to the car, I was getting well acquainted with the area by now.

The remains of the medieval field systems on the lower slopes of Gyrn Goch

4th Attempt

Even I was getting a bit fed up of trudging up the forest path to gain the open moor but at least it wasn’t raining, yet!!
Once more I headed up the track and gained the boundary wall and headed for the summit of Bwlch Mawr and after a good brisk 20 minutes I was on the summit, It was from this top that the landscape opened up and I was amazed how bleak and open the vast expanse of moor actually was, to think it was only a short distance from the road it felt like being in the middle of the Carneddau. From here you can make out the dry stone walls which are an incredible feature of this area, they literally extend for miles in all directions, are all in extremely good condition and are as straight as a die, apparently they were erected early in the 19th Century by the workers who were employed by Lord Newborough** whose estate covered a vast area of the Lleyn and beyond, the amount of rock that has been moved in this very open and exposed bit of moor to create these walls is mind boggling as is the skill and quality of the workmanship.

The cairn on the lower summit slopes of Bwlch Mawr looking across to the peaks of Gyrn Ddu and Gyrn Goch.

Also on this summit there were what looked like the remains of Bronze Age burial cairns and dug into the  cwm between here and the next summit of Gyrn Ddu are the remains of Clawdd Seri a raised dyke which is mentioned in local records as far back as 1200 but probably again dated from the Bronze Age. The whole area seems to be covered in the remains of long lost settlements.

Wall builder’s shelters?

After gaining the summit of Bwlch Mawr and doing a bit of exploring amongst its very rocky summit I headed along the wall to gain the next peak, this wall is a spectacular affair and is as straight as an arrow for a good mile, nothing gets in its way and it doesn’t deviate at all even when it confronts a pile of rocks but just carries on over and through like a knife slicing its way through the hillside. I was aiming for the lower summit of Gyrn Ddu and I did attempt to a shortcut across the moor to try and make a bee line for the gap in the wall and then straight up the hillside, after fighting my way through bog and tufts I could see why the path followed the wall for most of its length and I returned to the original track after a short deviation, the path here also becomes a section of the Lleyn Coastal Path before it breaks away to skirt the base of Gyrn Ddu before heading to Trefor and The Rivals and beyond.

The short section of ‘double wall’

On reaching a turn in the wall you are suddenly confronted with a short section of double wall as in a drovers track, this section has no relevance to the rest of the walls which are all single and high, this section is no more that 100 meters in length and ends as suddenly as it begins, another mystery!
From here you head up the path towards the lower summit of Gyrn Ddu where another wall heads off into the distance, as it reaches the lower summit is rather dramatically rides defiantly over the very centre of a huge burial cairn and undoubtedly the wall builders utilised the material available that was close at hand.

The lower summit of Gyrn Ddu where the wall slices its way through the Bronze Age cairn

A slight wind got up and flurries of snow began to fall, between the two summits are more signs of human habitation in the form of the remains of a dwelling, there is not much left but it seems to have been a single roomed house or ‘hafod’ the Welsh word for a summer shelter, where shepherds would remain with their flock during the summer seasons, I contemplated stopping here for a brew and a quick bite to eat but felt rather isolated but not quite alone.

The remains of the ‘Hafod’ between the summits of Gyrn Ddu

 I quickly reached the summit which is very rocky and reminiscent of the Glyderau and their boulder strewn summits and decided it was time for some nourishment, I dropped down to the lee side of the wind and brewed a cup of tea and ate my sandwich, I also had the comfort of the sea view which was a respite after all the walls and moorland. The next summit was Gyrn Goch and was the final top on the tour, it was a pleasant slope along another wall, this wall had an alarming lean of about 70° for its whole length and had obviously been constructed purposely in this way, possibly to act as a deflection to the gales from the sea and not a barrier against them, but it did give some shelter from what was now a biting wind, this was a pleasant little summit and again not a sound, no bird song or bleating sheep or the bark of dogs from the village way below

 The great leaning walls of Lleyn

The silence was overwhelming until the ghost stones whispered into the winds as I finally faced the final slope and headed for home I wondered how much life was entwined in these now deserted hillsides, there were bronze age burial cairns, ditches and dykes from the dark ages, long abandoned farmsteads and field systems and the long oh so long dry stone walls that dominated the landscape slicing their way over the moor and rocky summits without as much as a slight avoiding turn till they veered off, mostly at a perfect 90° angle and headed off up another slope to create another boundary.
Will I return to this open and sky wide expanse of hillside again? To that I can positively say yes and fairly soon too but on a blue sky day with the sun shimmering off the waters of the bay and Skylarks and Ravens diving and tumbling and I will make sure that I have company other than the ghost stones and their long lost souls whispering to the wind.

Looking across to Gyrn Ddu from the final summit on the round, Gyrn Goch.

**The Baron had his residence, Plas Glynllifon only a few miles away from these moors and guarded his lands for his own use; it is only in recent times that the area has become accessible with the advent of the CRoW* act and is now open access land, long may it remain so.
(*Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000)

 The peaks of The Lleyn Peninsula on a spectacular evening.

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