Post image for Fan Gyhirych, limestone country and an opera singer

Fan Gyhirych, limestone country and an opera singer

February 2, 2014 · 12 comments

Date walked: 1st December 2013

Distance: about 6 miles

The walk is within the area of The Brecon Beacons National Park.


A walk with Paul was long overdue and for this winter trek, which Paul had planned, I had the added bonus of him bringing his son, David, who I had not met before. We assembled at the car park at Craig-y-nos Country Park which is right next to the castle of the same name. I knew nothing of this place so Paul filled me in as we carried on in his car to a lay-by  at the foot of Fan Gyhirych.

The castle is not a castle, of course but a Victorian house built in gothic style and was the home of  the then famous but now little known (meaning I’d never heard of her) opera singer, Adelina Patti from 1878-1919. More of her anon and there is quite a lot of history on the website for the castle, which is now a hotel. My apologies for omitting to stop for a pic of the place. Here’s one I have lifted off a website – a hanging crime.

Craif y Nos castle , Brecon Beacons

I think Paul said that they are doing it up.

From the lay-by a stile in a fence marked a rough path that appeared to lead straight up what looked like a 45 degree slope. Which was several more degrees than I like to start a day’s walk facing. Paul led the way, who was quickly overtaken by David, as apparently as comfortable with the gradient as a young sheep.

Stile at the base of Fan Gyhirych photographed in the Brecon Beacons by Charles Hawes

There is no path marked on the map!

I was puffing and panting in no time and David (Young in Limb, Fleet of Foot, Fit in appearance) disappeared from view. As we climbed so we gained a good view of the Cray reservoir. We  were not on a path as such and we gained altitude by scrambling up the steep slope across the natural folds of the hillside.

View of Cray resevoir from the slopes of Fan Gyhirych photographed in The Brecon Beacons by Charles Hawes

Cray reservoir (pause for breath)

David’s stamina seemed short-lived (very gratifying) and Paul and I passed him and took a breather by a conglomerate outcrop whilst David struggled up behind us.

Conglomerate boulder on the side of Fan Gyhirych in the Brecon Beacons, photographed by Charles Hawes

Paul got that cap when he was in his Dylan/Donovan phase.

I was beginning to flag myself and asked Paul if we were near the top. “No, there’s another steep bit” he sheepishly replied. But he was wrong (most unusual) and I made the first sighting a couple of minutes later of  the rather weathered trig point that sits at the top of this 725 metre hill.

Trig Point of Fan Gyhirych photographed in the Brecon Beacons National Park by Charles Hawes

It looks like its been subject to concrete eating slugs.

Looking south-east on this moderately windy day I reckoned that about only half of the  distant wind-turbine power station’s (please don’t call them farms) pylons were turning.

Wind turbine installations viewed from Fan Gyhirych in the Brecon Beacons, photographed by Charles Hawes

Nice view pity about the junk on the horizon

From here it was pretty much downhill all the way. We took the wide track that heads south towards a wood, speculating on what  it was being used for. Forestry access? Illicit off-roaders? Moorland raves?

Wide access track near the top of Fan Gyhirych in Brecon Beacons, photographed by Charles Hawes

You can tell that we are on Red Sandstone from the track colour

Just past the wood a farmer had rounded up a group of sheep and cattle into what looked to me to be an old quarry. Paul thought he might be feeding them; I didn’t have a better hypothesis.


Sheep and cattle below Fan Gyhirych, photographed by Charles Hawes

Mind you, they didn’t look like they were feeding

The geology changes dramatically around here from sandstone to limestone. From the map I could see a route past a Swallow Hole onto the Beacons Way and the others were game for trying this. The swallow hole was easily located and is clearly used as an access to a cave system below.

Swallow Hole below Fan Gyhirych in the Brecon Beacons National Park, photographed by Charles Hawes

What else can you say about a hole in the ground?

The Beacons Way is well walked, so that was easy to find, too and in a few hundreds yards we were passing a limestone boulder strewn hillside.

Limestone outcrop  in the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu National Nature Reserve photographed by Charles Hawes

Suddenly being around a completely different geology was dramatic!

This area is designated as the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu (the Welsh love their place names being a mouthful) Nature Reserve and beneath it is one of the largest cave systems discovered in Britain. The views across this rocky landscape were superb.

View to Fan Hir from near Fan Gyhirych in the Brecon Beacons National Park

It’s always fascinating to see isolated trees in such obviously inhospitable scenery. Why there!! Fan Hir behind.

We passed another sink hole and I wanted to see if the bottom was firm. I hadn’t really thought about the plan B should it have collapsed under me.

Shake  hole in the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu National Nature Reserve, photographed by Charles Hawes

Paul took great care to place himself so that the pic would look as if I was in a hole in the ground.

I was delighted to find some sheep grazing amongst the rough tussocks of grass.

Sheep in Ogof Ffynnon National Nature Reserve in the Brecon Beacons by Charles Hawes

“We….like sheep……”- Has anyone got it yet ? (excluding Anne)

And with sheep there is, of course, sheep-shit, which to date I am ashamed to say,has not featured in any blog post up to now. I love the smell of sheep (just saying).

Fan Gyhirych-23

Lovely stuff when newly produced.

It really was shame to leave this landscape……

 Limestone outcrop at the edge of the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu National Nature Reserve, photographed by Charles Hawes

…..but Paul and David wanted to get to the pub and were beginning to mutter about my constant pauses for snaps (ok, I’ve made that up) and were forging ahead.

Approach to Penwyllt on the Beacons Way, photographed by Charles Hawes

David was good at going down hill

We crossed the line of a dismantled tramway and a row of cottages that Paul (Fount of All Knowledge) told me was now providing accommodation for cavers.

Terrace of cottages  in Penwyllt photographed from The Beacons Way by Charles Hawes

Now the headquarters of the South Wales Caving Club

The terrace would almost certainly have provided accommodation for quarry workers. This fascinating area of post industrial archaeology is what remains of the village of Penwyllt.

Just past the terrace is the line of the dismantled Swansea Vale and Neath and Brecon Junction railway line and a modest station building.

Railway station building at Penwyllt in Brecon Beacons, photographed by Charles Hawes

The line served the adjacent quarry running south until 1977

Paul had told me (not without a hint of admiration I would say) that Adelina Patti had had this built for her use and would be picked up from there in her carriage to be taken down the road that she also had made to the castle. Wikipedia confirms this, adding that she had her own waiting room in the station and that in return the railway line provided her with her own carriage!

Penwyllt quarry photographed by Charles Hawes

Closed in 1977 it reopened in 2007 briefly to provide stone for a major gas pipe installation that crossed Wales

To the side of the railway line is a large limestone quarry, now disused. It required investigation so we clambered over the fence for a nosey around.

Penwyllt quarry, photographed by Charles Hawes

The quarry has been used as a location in Dr Who and Torchwood

What seemed extraordinary to me was that around us were massive mounds of graded stone and there was clearly no shortage of useful rock remaining. I would usually be in the opposition camp to quarrying in important landscapes but since it was here, it seemed to me outrageously wasteful that the rock wasn’t being used.

As we got to the centre of the quarry we came across a man training up a bird of prey to do that very clever trick for our entertainment where they get the bird to fly off and then fly back for some food. The bird had definitely got the hang of the flying off bit of the trick.

Penwyllt quarry, Brecon Beacons, photographed by Charles Hawes

Man holding arm up in air

I could have spent a lot longer exploring this place but we had an appointment at the pub.  Leaving the Beacons Way we took another clear path down by the side of a wood, passing a grubby caver emerging  from a hole in the side of the hill.

cave entrance near Craig Y nos Park, Brecon Beacons, photographed by Charles Hawes

Caving is for speleologists in my opinion

The wood opposite us was a tapestry of the  muted colours of  denuded trees though with one  holding onto its golden leaves.

Fan Gyhirych-35

Our path turned back onto the Beacons Way and entered the tall conifer plantation that would have been part of Adelina Patti’s estate and still forms part of the Craig y nos Park.

Fan Gyhirych-36

We paused on the bridge that crosses the confluence of the Nant Tywynni with another stream that emerges nearby. A girl was playing Pooh sticks and I thought I’d take a snap, though I’m not sure that her accompanying Gran approved.

She then starting lashing at me with her twigs

It had been an excellent walk and after we had re-united ourselves with our cars Paul and David led the way to the nearby Ancient Briton.

I could see why Paul had wanted me to see the place. It had a great atmosphere and a wide range of beers and an interesting menu. I ordered the wild bear pate. “Do you mean the wild boar pate” the landlord asked? “Well I’d rather the bear but I’ll settle for the boar” Paul laughed.

All the photographs on this and most of my other posts were taken on a Canon  compact and were processed from Raw files. High resolution files and/or prints of up to A3+ size can be produced on request. Email me for costs at

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

John February 2, 2014 at 8:59 am

Good walk that! Though I doubt any of the sheep would be classed as Hawes, most likely being Welsh and not from the Yorkshire Dales.

At last! We can talk about one of your pics as being really shitty! Which reminds me of the true story of the couple that took their young son on a trek into the Beacons to collect wimberries and the son proudly produced the bag he’d collected but pointed out that they tasted nasty!

Caves may also be for spelunkers, you know. But somewhere in between the them and the overly-academic speleologists you have the cavers who really enjoy the caves. And talking of caves, the link to Ogof Ffynnon Ddu doesn’t work for me.


Charles February 2, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Yes, its always good to walk with Paul (and his family).Aha, If you are thinking of the riddle about the sheep, its not linked to my name. Thanks for pointing out the broken link. I shall use your alternative.


Neil February 2, 2014 at 9:14 am

Sounds and looks like a fun day. Nice views from the top. Can’t say I mind steep ascents from the off. Bit like vegetables. Eat them first and get it over with… Black sail…!
Lots to say about holes. Ask Bernard cribbens…



Charles February 2, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Yes indeed a very interesting and enjoyable walk. I remember when we did our Offas Dyke walk to Hay we had a massive slog uphill at the start and then it was long but plain sailing! But even that was nothing to compare to that pull out of Black Sail.


Anne Wareham February 2, 2014 at 10:55 am

Yes, that link comes up with a very odd message. And not about sheep, either… Xx


John February 2, 2014 at 11:43 am

Just been checking. The Countryside Council (CCW) no longer exists, of course, and its website is “in transition” as relevant stuff is shifted to the new Natural Resources Wales site. The page to which your link points seems to have disappeared into a sink hole in the process. I’ve found it’s always risky to link to any site ending in “” as they don’t understand the meaning of “stability”!

You might want to replace it with either of the following (the first is much more fun once you work it out):


Paul Steer February 2, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Charles, you were far more gentlemanly in your commentary than I was expecting! I learned something new about that quarry, I had no idea it was used in Dr Who.The scramble up the slope was a challenge worth conquering was it not?


Charles February 2, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Indeed Sirrah, I take your comments about my gentlemanliness to suggest that I am at times otherwise not so which is a gross insult. I demand satisfaction.


Neil February 2, 2014 at 4:38 pm

I suggest choosing sheep as weapons…


rob grover February 2, 2014 at 8:21 pm

‘Walker disappears down sinkhole’
Well known Monmouthshire celebrity walker, Charles Hawes, has disappeared whilst out walking with friends in the Beacons.
‘Haven’t you taken enough pictures already,it’s time for the pub’, his friends tearfully admitted had been their last words to Charles. But no, his search for the elusive, perfect snap was too compelling, or perhaps he was lured by the plaintiff bleating of a sheep, imagined or real. Sadly we’ll never know.
But wait, Charles had taken a nifty shortcut to the pub, so they all had a jolly good laugh over a pint, and Charles was able to buy his round after all


Charles February 2, 2014 at 10:55 pm

Haha, love this. Mind you, no one tried to stop me!You’ll have to invite me on one of your walks and I’ll get a round in (if its on a train route home!)


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