I was working away in Cardiff for three weeks, coming home for the weekends in between, but we were travelling by car and the thought of two 7-8 hour drives within 48 hours wasn’t so appealing. Light bulb moment, I thought it would be great to stay back in Wales and do some hiking in the Brecon Beacons. My work colleagues didn’t mind travelling back without me and my partner said she would survive another week without me. So I packed my gear ready for the following weekend.
It was an intense first week in Cardiff, and I was relieved when my colleagues agreed to drop me off in the Beacons. On Friday we reached the Beacons at around 12pm and they dropped me off opposite the Storey Arms Centre. Watching them pull away as Alan tooted the horn felt odd, but I now had a half day of hillwalking to enjoy.
Pen Y Fan was covered in cloud, pretty much similar to the cloud I’m used to in Scotland, so I decided to head west over Bryn Du and on to the summit of Fan Fawr. From the car park, a faint path heads across open hillside before I found a more prominent path leading up to the summit of Fan Fawr, the grass was cover in rime and the wind chill on the summit was around -7°c. A bit of faffing around trying to find the true summit, I then retraced my steps back once I was satisfied I had attained the summit.
I was booked into the Brecon Beacons Youth Hostel, but it was too earlier to head directly there, I decided to follow the Beacons Way. For the first kilometre, the trail runs parallel to the busy A470 but I found a small waterfall set back from the road. I got my heavy pack off and brewed up. Despite being only 40 metres above the road, I found a few moments of tranquillity just sitting waiting for the water to boil, listening only to the sound of the waterfall behind me. I was quite happy to relax and kill some time here.
After a brew and some lunch I continued on north up the Beacons Way and around the corrie, Craig Cerrig-gleisiad. With the hostel only another 30 minutes away, I extended my route slightly further on to the summit of Fan Frynych. The red painted dragons on the white trig had seen better days.
The cloud was beginning to drop further and I felt moisture in the air. I decided to retrace my steps and head to the hostel, heading east down into the corrie. I imagined it would be a fine location to spot a raptor or two, but the only bird I seen was the Search and Rescue helicopter that was circling around. I hoped it was only a training exercise.
I arrived at the hostel for around 3pm and it didn’t open until 5pm. Nobody was around so I sat on the picnic bench and phoned my partner Nicola to say I was okay. A group of walkers arrived and let themselves in, so I quickly followed and went inside for some warmth.
I realised there was nowhere near to eat out, thankfully the hostel had a set evening menu and I got myself a 3 course meal for £8.50. I chatted away with some of the other hostellers, some had been up to Scotland, so we swapped some Munro bagging tales before retiring to bed at around 11pm.
The next again day, I had planned to walk up Pen Y Fan and camp somewhere up high. The hostel warden showed me a 1:25K map of the area and gave me a route to avoid the crowds heading up Pen Y Fan. After a good hostel breakfast, I cut across farmland to pick up the Taff Trail. I originally planned to follow the Taff Trail back to the Storey Arms Centre but I took the warden’s advice and headed north until just before the farm at Blaenglyn. where a stile can be seen.
I crossed the stile and ascended passed some tree plantations before hitting the open hillside. The views began to open up behind me as I gained height, I wandered over to the summit of Y Gyrn where I said hello to a couple other walkers. I could see the motorway path up Pen Y Fan, but by route followed the more faint path that swings east, then south passed the Obelisk memorial.
I then merged with the main path up Corn Du and onto Pen Y Fan, despite the biting wind chill and lack of views due to the clag, it was still fairly busy at the summit. People loitering around taking selfies by the summit cairn. Just as I was about to descend, I could see some blue sky above me, I decided to hang fire, the sun was trying to break through and I was treated to a brief Brocken Spectre.
And a glimpse down the north spur, Cefn Cwm Llwch.
I was beginning to get cold, so rather than adding extra layers, I decided to carry on heading east towards Cribyn. A fresh dusting of snow sitting on top of the grass made for a slippery descent, but the views were opening up, so I was keen to stay as close to the edge as possible.
Looking NW back to Pen Y Fan.
The further away I got from Pen Y Fan the more the numbers of people thinned out. I made my way over Fan Y Big and decided I had plenty time to bag the Marilyn, Waun Rydd where I had considered maybe setting up a summit camp. I was beginning to flag a bit when I realised I hadn’t eaten anything since leaving the hostel and lunch time had been and gone. I left Fan Y Big and I found some shelter on the way down. I stopped here for something to eat and spotted some army troops heading off Craig Cwareli, where I was heading up next.
After lunch, I continued on the path NE around the crags of Craig Cwareli. It seemed to take ages to work my way around the broad plateau. I had thought about camping here too when looking at 1:25k map the night before. But whilst it looks flat on the map, its full of peat hags and tussocks. It didn’t appeal.
I eventually arrived on Waun Rydd, finding the summit wasn’t the easiest of tasks. I opened the British Hills app which confirmed the summit was a grassy knoll, useful!! I found the cairn and walked over some knolls and decided I had reached the summit and retraced my steps back to the path.
Where’s the summit?
Pen Y Fan out of the cloud:
It was only around 2pm, I had plenty time to kill. Camping in consistent wind speeds of 15-20mph didn’t appeal I decided to descend and see what I would find on my way down. I followed the muddy Graig Fan Las path south.
I eventually reached the car park at SO0561175. But it was still too early to consider setting up camp, plus it was too close to the road for my liking. I sat on the picnic bench looking at the map, working out where I could camp.
I figured I would find somewhere in the Taf Fechan Forest, but every pitch I found had signs of irresponsible campers; fire pits, broken glass and empty beer cans. Not for me, I picked up a forest track, heading north towards Neuadd Reservoirs. I told myself ‘you always get nice grass around dams’.
One of the potential camp spots but too close to the road:
Another potential spot, but more signs of idiocy:
The Search and Rescue helicopter was out again, my morale was getting a bit low, I felt liking putting my arms up in ‘Y’ shape to get rescued. In reality I’d never do that but I was getting hungry, light was fading and I hadn’t found anywhere decent to camp. Maybe I was being too fussy, I was never going to find that lush bowling green to pitch on.
I reached the dam of the smaller reservoir and spotted my pitch, perfect. Only someone had beat me to it, unlucky lad, next time!
Not wanting to invade the space of the other campers, I walked on another 100m and found a discrete sheltered spot that my Trailstar would fit nicely into.
With the tarp up and the water boiling, morale was up and I was back in business.
Fed and watered, I fired up my small Bluetooth speaker and listened to some podcasts I had downloaded from The Outdoor Station and Mountain Podcast. The podcasts took me to just after 8am, when I remembered I kept back some of my whisky from the night before. I nursed what I had left before lying back in my sleeping bag listening to the rain lash off the tarp.
I woke up during the night with Silnylon in my face. I was a bit perplexed by this, I pitched the Trailstar as tight as a drum. It was then I realised it had been snowing throughout the night. Using my hands from the inside, I knocked the snow off.
It was a bit of a restless night, and in the morning I listened to the birds scurrying around the trees behind me and I eventually gave in around 7am and got up to check my surroundings.
I got the stove on for some green tea, but I had something different for breakfast. I had bought a sample of Huel to try. Huel is powdered food which you add water to and shake. Huel is meant to have all the nutrition you need with carbs , protein and vitamins etc. The vanilla flavour tasted fine, bit lumpy in places, but I think that was because the shaker bottle I had wasn’t quite big enough to break down the powder and absorb the water. I complimented the shake with a breakfast bar and thought I would test how long it took before I was hungry. The one thing that I didn’t like was the residue left in the bottle, possibly not practical for wild camping.
After breakfast I broke camp and left the calling card of the Trailstar.
It was a miserable dreich day, the clag was down to 400m and the drizzly rain was a bit of pain. My plan was to walk to Merthyr Tydfil and catch the train back to Cardiff and meet my colleagues who were already on their way down from Edinburgh.
I walked passed the derelict buildings by the dam and picked up the tarmac track heading south.
I walked passed both Pentwyn and Pontsticill reservoirs before picking up the Heritage Trail that would take me into Merthyr.
The Heritage Trail was an old railway, and I met plenty dog walkers and cyclists along the way. The drizzle hadn’t stopped since leaving camp, but thankfully the Paramo smock was performing well.
I was getting hungry and it was around 11:30am. The Huel and cereal bar kept me going for around three and a half hours and a good few kilometres of road walking under my belt. Not too bad, I may give Huel another go.
Disused railway tunnel:
I came across an abandoned bike, I thought it was a push bike and I had a grand idea of free wheeling all the way into Merthyr. Sadly it was scramble bike and the rear wheel was jammed tight. No cheating for me!
I eventually reached Merthyr, and I now needed to find out how to get back to Cardiff because I certainly wasn’t walking. A quick Google search revealed I could get a bus into town and catch the train home. Stood at the bus stop, I tweeted out that I was waiting on a bus, when one of my followers kindly advised that buses don’t run on a Sunday. Joy, I spied a taxi and flagged him down and got a run into town. A Tesco Extra is conveniently placed next to the train station and I still had well over an hour to kill. I decided to get some warmth in the café and some lunch. I got some strange looks trudging in to the café soaked and muddy from my backpacking trip in the Beacons. After lunch I caught the train back to Cardiff where even the pigeons looked truly depressed with the wet weather.
I reached the hotel long before my colleagues so I had no clean to clothes to change into. Nevertheless I got all my gear out to dry and every spare space in my hotel room was consumed with damp gear. Despite having no clean clothes, I hopped in the shower anyway and a my colleagues finally arrived after 9pm with my kit bag. I went out with them afterwards for something to eat.
A truly great hiking experience in an area I’m not familiar with. The Brecon Beacons are well worth a visit. This was also a good training exercise for the TGO Challenge later this year.