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Sixty on Pen-Y-Fan

May 17, 2015 · 15 comments

Date walked: May 2nd 2015

Map used: None – but the route is covered by OS Explorer OL12

Distance: around 5 miles


I had been wondering how to celebrate my 6oth birthday for some time. Years possibly. I had no appetite for throwing a party, where I would have probably have spent most of the time either preparing food or serving drinks and worrying if both were sufficient/deficient/Ok. Then there’s the clearing up. And although a trip in a hot-air balloon might be nice, you can’t guarantee that on the day it would be able to take off. What I really fancied was a walk with some friends followed by a great meal out.

What more life-affirming place to be on one’s birthday than on the top of the highest peak in South Wales? Well, OK there could be more life affirming places, but I thought this would do just fine for me. It isn’t even a very long walk.

There won't be many of these today - far too wet!

There won’t be many of these today – far too wet!

I invited 14 friends to join me (Anne does not walk for pleasure and would join us later), enticing them, I had hoped, with feeding them in the evening at The Bell at Skenfrith, about an hours drive away. Anne and I had booked to stay the night (I did not intend to be wholly sober by the end of the evening) so there would be separate rooms for the boys and girls to shower after the walk and to change in.

The forecast was for rain. Lots of it.  Five of my invitees had accepted. Not bad, I thought, and their acceptances were made before the forecast. Well, six in fact said “yes” : I did one tweet announcing that I was going to do this and inviting all my 1,100 Twitter followers to join me. My Nephew-in-Law (is there such a relation?) Simon, who lives locally, saw the tweet said he’s like to come. Simon is an instructor in mountain climbing and is very outdoorsey; if anyone could stop me getting lost he could.

I chose a route described in Tom Hutton’s great little book: “Circular Walks in the Brecon Beacons National Park“. He  starts at the car park opposite the Storey Arms Outdoor Education centre.  I decided to assemble my hardy compatriots at the Brecon Beacons National Park Visitor Centre, a couple of miles away at 2pm , with the intention of us having a cup of tea together and a bun after the walk. It was a bad idea.

Everyone arrived, but by the time we had greeted, got ourselves selves sorted and had worked out who was taking their cars to the Storey Arms and who needed a ticket for the car park, the narrow window of post-walk tea-taking time had evaporated.

Neil, Paul and Dave are all regular walking companions; you have met them all several times in this blog. Bridget (who is working around all of Scotland’s Munroes) had flown in that morning from L.A and was brought by Corinna – my most recently-made and most huggable friend whose energy and enthusiasm for the walk was undaunted by the dank and misty atmosphere.

Group climbing Pem-y-Fan in Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, photographed by Charles Hawes

Left to right: Bridget, Dave, Simon, Neil, Paul, Corinna

The route up the hill couldn’t have been clearer, the laid stone path – already wet and getting wetter- was stepped for much of the way. It was also not very slippery, for which we were all grateful.  As we climbed the view changed from poor to non-existent.  Simon (who had walked up here many times before) stopped at one point a few yards off the path and told that there was a near sheer drop of around 100 metres just beyond where we were standing. We decided not to seek out the Tommy Jones Obelisk, who had died from exposure on the hill in 1900.

I am not very capable of conversation when I am climbing up hills, so cannot report any profound “how does it feel to be sixty” conversations (just fine, thank you). The others were doing rather better and Neil and Dave were putting the world to rights as they gravitated towards the rear.

Simon periodically called us gently to a halt to wait for them to catch up.  I can find climbing steep hills  quite intimidating at times as I  look ahead, panting, and and feel somewhat oppressed by seeing how much further and higher I have to go.  For me when I can’t see more than 20 yards ahead, that psychological barrier is removed. My legs felt fine. My waterproofs and boots were keeping me dry. I felt fine. Happy to be there.

So I was surprised and pleased when Simon told us that one rather steep fight of steps meant that we were just below Corn Du, the peak below Pen-Y Fan which is just 13 metres its junior. Back in  January last year I was here on the clearest and brightest of days. Today, with no views to be had we paused to re-group …..

Group on Corn Du, Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, photographed by Charles Hawes

Simon: “We’re on Corn Du, give me five” Neil: “But I hardly know you”

….and dropped down to a dip between the two summits……

Walking between Corn Do and Pen - Fan, Brecon Beacons National Park, photographed by Charles Hawes

It really was this misty – and raining, too

…. climbing back up to the murky Pen-Y-Fan where  I asked a chap to take a few snaps of us.

Group on summit of Pen-Y-Fan, Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales



Group on summit of Pen-Y-Fan, Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales

Group on summit of Pen-Y-Fan, Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales

Everyone got a Mars Bar from me as a thank you for joining me.

Around the summit, were many markers from previous climbers.

Painted stone on Summit of Pen-Y-Fan, Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, photographed by Charles Hawes

Writing on stone on summit of Pen-Y-Fan, Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, photographed by Charles Hawes

I was a bit relieved that we all had managed the climb. I had had some worries that Bridget’s jet lagged state might have hit her half way up but she seemed to have walked it off. I was slightly anxious, too, that Dave, who had not long ago had a nasty operation after a very serious illness, might have bitten off more than he could chew, but he seemed as fit as any of us. Neil always feels that he is going to struggle on our walks but always manages fine. There’s always something to be anxious about – even on your birthday.

With no views to enjoy we re-traced our steps to the dip. A small group of not particularly well prepared walkers engaged Simon with where they were and where they needed to go and he immediately put them straight before guiding us onto the path taking us back down to Storey Arms.

Perhaps the mist shrouding the descent (which I often find harder work than the ascent, it being harder on the knees),  created the same psychological mechanism in me as it did for the ascent, but it felt like we were looking over the Storey Arms in a very short time compared to going up.

We paused at the plaque informing us that the whole of the Brecon Beacons (really!?!?) had been gifted to the National Trust in 1965 by the Eagle Star Insurance Company.

National Trust plaque near Storey Arms, Brecon Beacons National Park, photographed by Charles Hawes

None of us knew how that had come about.

And we paused again at a board at the bottom where there were toilets and a van selling coffee.

Brecon Beacons Partk sign near Storey Arms, photographed by Charles Hawes

Ahem… a somewhat wet lens.

OK, here’s one with me in it.

Pen y fan 60th-31

And then we all thanked Simon for his company and guidance and made a bee line for the cars. That was a great start to the festivities.

Hat at 60th SAM_0415






{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne Wareham May 17, 2015 at 8:58 am

A great day! Repeat on your 70th……and…….



John May 17, 2015 at 11:05 am

You young people have all the fun! Though I think you need to clarify a bit Anne! Are you wishing longevity or desiring Charles to take every opportunity to get out of the house and leave you in peace?

And Charles may have noticed that Simon (the expert one with the very large back-pack) is carefully watching his feet as he walks – shows Bob has the right idea!


Charles May 17, 2015 at 5:41 pm

Yes, not finished with wild get togethers yet. I’m still not convinced about the “head down” approach.


Charles May 17, 2015 at 5:43 pm

When I get to 70 it will be the new 50. Book me in.


Neil May 17, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Nice blog Charles 🙂 And great picture of us all at the top. Pictures do accurately reflect the level of wetness of the walk. Cant say I’m especially disappointed that it will be another 60 years before we do that again. But other, sunnier walks in the meantime would be lovely. A great bunch to walk with, and an especial thanks to Simon for his guidance.


Charles May 17, 2015 at 5:38 pm

Thanks! Not as many pics as I would have liked, but I do hate getting the camera wet. So you’re not up for this being a regular 5 yearly walk then? Our walk on the Rhymney Ridge coming next…..


Neil May 18, 2015 at 4:12 am

Ah, the one where we completely misread the guide, and should have been walking in Kent instead? Looking forward to reading your explanation on that 🙂 xxx


Michelle May 17, 2015 at 1:33 pm

Happy belated birthday, albeit soggy!


Charles May 17, 2015 at 5:39 pm

Thanks Michelle! Only soggy on the outside…..


Paul Steer May 17, 2015 at 7:24 pm

A wet but good day, I struggled toward the top, but your huggable friend Corrina kept me going ! A memorable day Charles – thank you.


Marianna Paulson May 19, 2015 at 12:00 am

Happy, Belated Birthday from Canada, Charles! Did the merry making go on into the wee hours, or was everyone ready for bed after that wet climb?

I, too, use the term nephew-in-law; also niece-in-law. While we’re at it, why not aunt/uncle-in-law? 😉

Very interesting rock formations in those pictures of the group. They look man-made. Are they?


Charles May 19, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Thanks Marianna! Well we had a great meal and party at the Bell and I had several glasses of Champagne but I think we were all tucked up/passed out by 11! Ok, I will see how many other relatives that gives me. Might not be able to afford the Christmas cards. Yes, the pile of rocks on the summit is a man- made cairn. We make them on most mountain tops.


David Marsden May 21, 2015 at 6:20 pm

Happy 60th, Charles. I often climb a mountain on my birthday and have done so since my 20th when me and a chum traipsed up Helvellyn. Sorry the weather wasn’t glorious for you (it often isn’t for me either, but then mine’s in November). I’ve put your 70th in my diary. (Hardly every read Twitter – so personal invite please). Dave


Charles May 21, 2015 at 8:09 pm

Thanks Dave. Come to Wales for your next birthday climb! Maybe we should do Snowdon for 70th? (And get the train back).


David Marsden May 22, 2015 at 5:28 am

Sounds like a date! D


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