An early start on Saturday 23rd April for a two and half hour drive to the Brecon Beacons. Straight down the M4 towards Wales from where we currently live in Berkshire. It was an unusual drive to the mountains, I mean this in a way that you don’t see mountains on your journey and even when your only miles away you wonder if you have taken a wrong turn and missed them. I am used to driving to the Lake District or Snowdonia where the mountains stand proud on the horizon when your fifty miles away.
I approached the horseshoe via the little village of Pontsticill and drove up the western edge of the reservoir. I stopped on the small bridge dividing Pontsticill reservoir and Pentwyn Resevoir to catch my first glimpse of Pen y Fan. The forecast was to stay dry, but the wind direction was from the North bringing cold air with it. After all it’s still April so having the correct clothing and layers was still important. I originally planned to do an overnighter, but I decided to do a single day hike in the end. Taf Fechan Forest was to be the start of the trail.
Owl Grove was the trail head and it followed the Taf Fechan river north through the forest. The Taf Trail also came through this area, but I was to take another route through the forest towards the fells. The river was crystal clear and as I followed it for the first section of the trail a Dipper stayed just ahead of me, flying up stream to another rock as I got closer. A highlight during the forest section of the route was watching a Redstart flit from tree to tree, the colours really stood out in the morning sun. As I reached the end of the coniferous woodland the view opens up allowing you the first view of the horseshoe around the col that was shaped by the ice age. To the left was a steep sand stone cliff and your eye followed the ridge towards the highest point of the route Pen y Fan (886M).
A steep climb along the tree line brings you out on the summit trig point of Twyn Mwyachod (642m). The northerly wind hit you here and I slipped on my Marmot Nano to keep the cool breeze off. The Brecon Beacons are synonymous with the SAS, selection for the regiment take place on these fells and you are reminded of this on the trig point.
My journey would go north from here crossing the red quartzite of Graig FanDdu, Rhiw yr Ysgyfarnog and Craig Gwaun Taf towards Bwich Duwynt.
As you approach Corn Du (873m) the summit west of today’s main peak the view south is stunning, the col sweeps out towards the forest I had come through earlier and you get a view of the dam on the Upper Neuadd Resevoir. You already get the feeling of space and openness as the surrounding fells spread out around you and look west towards the Black Mountains.
It’s at this point you realise you won’t enjoy a private view from the summit of Pen y Fan. On a Saturday afternoon I shared the view from the highest peak in the Brecons with around two hundred people who had all made their way up the tourist route from The Storey Arms on the A470. People of all ages had trudged up the route in all kinds of footware to queue for a selfie on the summit cairn.
The view of the summit plateau of Pen y Fan is very clear from Corn Du, the cliffs south of here are impressive which flank your route so far. Looking towards the summit you glance the next stage of the horseshoe. The route drops off Pen y Fan to the east and climbs steeply up the south face of Cribyn, from here another descent before another climb up Fan y Big. First though, join the centipede of people to the summit.
Descending off Pen y Fan the path drops steeply with a very rocky fall to your left into Cwm Sere. Starting my climb up Cribyn, I took on some water and a few Jaffa cakes to give me the energy to climb the steep stair case to the top. In my opinion the best view of Pen y Fan is from here.
Once down of Cribyn on the col where the paths crossed I stopped and made some lunch. Pasta and some flapjack went down well and I could then contemplate my route from here. Several options lay ahead, one path heads straight down the Cwm towards the forest and reservoirs or stay high and take in some more peaks.
Zig Zagging up the path to Fan y Big I went past bags full of stone dropped off for path renovation work by the National Trust. Watching the wild horses gallop down the fell side was a wonderful sight. I followed the path edge Craig Cwareli past large peat bogs, to my left a steep drop off where I watched a Peregrine Falcon swoop down and land somewhere on the crags below my feet. The path split and I took the path south joining the Beacon Way and dropped down to a mountain stream with some waterfalls. The trail merged with the road that was only one kilometre from the car park.
The Brecon Beacon Horseshoe was a great walk, navigation was easy on a day with good visibility. If you want to miss the crowds you may want to head up there during the week. Despite a few steep climbs, once you are up there you enjoy some great views over southern Wales.