I have lived in South Wales all my life, but other than the odd walk up Twmbarlwm as a child, I have never really explored what the Welsh countryside has to offer, in particular the Brecon Beacons. This year I am determined to change that and become a bit more “outdoorsy” but so far I have done very little towards meeting this goal. Luckily I have Mike around to give me a kick up the bum when needed and this Sunday with a child-free sunny day ahead of us he suggested we take a walk up Pen Y Fan.
For those of you who don’t live in Wales or have never heard of it, Pen Y Fan is a mountain situated in the Brecon Beacons National Park and is the highest peak in South Wales. Interesting fact –this mountain is used by the military as part of the Special Forces selection process, in fact while we were there we saw a several people doing the Fan Dance
We packed a small picnic (2 cheese sandwiches each, mine with cucumber, 4 bottles of water and 2 cans of Pepsi Max) and set off towards the Brecon Beacons which is about an hour drive from us (including time for Mike to get lost, which always happens and did happen!). When we got there, there was a cycling race going on along the roads and also a lot of runners around so I guess there must have been a running race as well. This meant that it was really busy for parking but we found a space on the pavement to park. We got here quite late (around 12pm) so I think it would be quieter if you came earlier in the day.
We weren’t sure if we were in the right place to start the walk as it’s not very clearly sign posted so we walked away from the car park towards the Storey Arms and asked a race marshal who sent us back in the direction we had come from. There is actually a trail that starts near the Storey Arms but I needed the toilet and there was none around there. (For the record the toilets are horrific, so go before you set off, if you’re the type who needs the toilet regularly take some toilet roll and anti-bac hand gel with you!)
We found the start of the trail and set off in the brilliant sunshine. It really is a beautiful place. There is water and rocks at the bottom which you cross using the wooden bridge. There were families sat by the water with children playing in the stream. It looked like a lovely area to sit and relax but we skipped this and headed straight up the mountain.
At 886m, Pen Y Fan is pretty high and the trail started off quite steeply. I’m not going to lie, I found it a lot harder than I thought I would. Twice on the way up we stopped for a rest as I could feel my heart rate rising and I was struggling to regulate my breathing. This shocked me as there were young children literally sprinting past me having no trouble at all. After my second rest stop we slowed our pace down a bit and I found it a lot easier so I think we had just been walking a bit too fast.
The scenery is beautiful and I found myself stopping every now and again to take it all in. It was really busy with lots of other walkers going up and down but when the human traffic eased a bit it was so peaceful and relaxing.
We reached a flat bit at the top and stopped to take in the views and pose for a few photos before climbing the last bit of the peak. This bit was a bit harder to navigate than previous parts and involved a little clambering over rocks but nothing too challenging. We reached the top and looked around for the Pen Y Fan sign for a photo op. Alas, it was nowhere to be seen. Probably because we were on the wrong mountain! We were on the top of Corn Du, the mountain peak before Pen Y Fan! The much busier peak that we could see further over was the one we wanted to be on.
We climbed down the other side and it was only a 10 minute walk to the next summit. This one was a little easier to get to than Corn Du and didn’t involve negotiating large rocks. It was amazing at the top. The views were incredible, it was such a clear day that we could see for miles and it felt like we were on top of the world. After the obligatory photo with the plaque we had a look around and then chose a spot to eat our picnic (not too close to the edge as I was nervous we were going to fall off!).
It was really breezy at the top. Luckily for us it was a boiling hot day so even though I had packed a hoodie, I was fine in just my vest top. On a colder day though I would definitely take some layers to put on as the breeze is icy!
After taking hundreds of photos and eating our picnic we headed back down, using the path that goes around Corn Du rather than over it again. The walk down was easier than the walk up, obviously, but it is still tricky in parts and you have to be careful not to walk too fast. My knees were hurting a bit on the way down and I had a horrible migraine all day which was getting worse with every step so I can’t say that I really enjoyed the descent. I suppose the ascent is more exciting as you’re looking forward to getting to the top, whereas the way down you’re not really that excited to get back to your boiling hot stuffy car! Mike was excited to get an ice cream from the stand at the bottom though so he had no trouble staying motivated. The stand also sold burgers and drinks and actually took card payments so don’t worry if you forget to get cash out beforehand (like we always do!). Also, I should mention that the car park we used was free to park so all in all it was a really cheap day out.
We reached the bottom at 3.30 so all in all it had taken us about 2-2.5 hours to get up to the top and back down again. We really enjoyed exploring Corn Du and Pen Y Fan and it has definitely sparked my interest in getting out and about more and exploring Wales. I would really like to include Mollie on these adventures but I think this one would have been a bit hard for her as she has never done anything like this before. There were lots of young children there though so it is definitely suitable for a family adventure.
Have you ever been to the Brecon beacons? Do you have anywhere you recommend exploring? I think the water fall trail will be next on our to do list! Where do you like to go in your local area? Would love to hear from you in the comments!