Date walked: 4th January 2014
Distance: around 8.5 miles
Map required: Ordnanace Survey OL12 – Brecon Beacons National Park, Western Area. I get all my maps from Dash4it. They are well discounted, and delivery is free and fast.
Nearest shops/toilets at Pontsticill
The forecast suggested that this was going to be a blue sky day – the first for weeks in what has seemed like the wettest winter that I can remember. And so it proved – a day to be in the hills. My map of this part of the Beacons is already well annotated from previous walks. I have climbed Pen-y-Fan before, the memory laced with excitement at being blasted by bitter winds on its exposed plateau.
My route was taken from Tom Hutton’s little book “Circular walks in the Brecon Beacons National Park”, and starts from near the Neuadd Reservoirs. He grades this as “moderate” walk (I’m not sure that I will be brave enough to try his “strenuous” suggestions.)
The approach road after Pontsticill follows the banks of the eponymous reservoir, continuing by the Pentwyn Reservoir and then runs through the dark Taf Fechan Forest; it would be difficult to imagine a prettier drive on such a day.
This is a popular spot for both family outings and serious walkers and the car park was nearly full when I arrived.
From the car park I re-joined the road, which comes to a halt at the decrepit remains of the Filter House.
It’s a shame that this fenced off ruin hasn’t been found a new use but with a building so isolated any re-use might prove very intrusive; use at night, could threaten the Beacon’s dark sky status. Hutton would have the walker start by taking the very gently rising track on the East side of the Upper Neuadd reservoir and tackling the walk in an anti-clockwise direction. Intuitively (meaning I had actually failed to register this) and in-keeping with my contrary nature, I took the opposite way.
From the filter House I walked down to the weir at the end of the Lower Neuadd reservoir.
This little reservoir was constructed in 1884 to provide water for the then booming town of Merthyr Tydfil but as the demands of the coal and iron industry and its workforce outstripped supply a further reservoir was built above this.
From the reservoir I began to make my way up the steep and boggy slope on the western side of the valley.
This climb is about 750 feet over half a mile and a good puff by most people’s standards. I passed one lithe young man who was busy texting and a family whose young ones were doing better than their slightly podgy parents.
Towards the top I found a gully where the top soil had been washed away and was grateful for the firmer footing of the bare Red Sandstone, though it still became a scabble at the top.
At the top of the climb the path runs at the edge of the massive escarpment. It was wet but firm and no standing water was deep enough to be a bother.
A cairn provided a photo opportunity for a group of friends and a marker for the path but I had no difficulty following the well walked gently rising route on mostly even and solid rock. As I climbed, so the view opened up.
The day was all about views and the stupendous beauty of this most dramatic of landscapes. And, as always, what brought all this to life was the play of the light on land, casting deep shadows on some hillsides and highlighting others.
After about a mile the path follows a ridge and the views open up to the west, providing a glimpse of the Bristol Channel.
The breeze today was light even at 2,400 feet but on the ground the coarse reeds lying flat revealed that up here the wind is usually more challenging.
The path, sometimes very stony, sometimes flat and looking like it had been laid by hand…..
…….continued to rise to 2,700 feet before dropping down to a walkers crossroads called Bwlch Duwynt.
The Beacons Way comes down from Corn du and descends east to join the A470 (though the road is hidden from view). For those who can’t be bothered with this lesser of peaks, another path heads straight for the superior Pen y Fan and another avoids the Cord du summit by taking a more northerly route.
I joined those wanting to enjoy Corn Du’s particular charms, the path as carefully laid as any quality garden path. The last few yards take the form of a rough stone staircase made for us by those seeking to make this very steep climb easier and wishing at the same time to limit, perhaps, the extent of our wearing away of the hillside.
At 2,864 feet the views were pretty spectacular and many people were circulating the edge of its flat, anvil shaped summit to enjoy them in all directions.
And some were just in too much of a rush to take in the views at all.
I sat for a while out of the breeze to have a cup of coffee and my lunch (a banana -I had intended to pick up a sandwich but never stopped) and to enjoy the sight of the reservoir. Despite the sun and the calm it was still pretty cold up there; the stiff tufts of rough grass were encased in ice .
Pen-y Fan’s summit is only a quarter of a mile of so away and to claim it required a little descent and another quite steep bit before I enjoyed the full glory of its 2,906 feet- the highest point in South Wales.
The cairn marking its peak was being treated like Everest’s summit with people queuing up for their trophy snaps.
All a little absurd, but entirely understandable and on such a beautiful day there was almost a sense of euphoria amongst the blessed congregation.
I sat for a while and ear-wigged conversations. One man was being very erudite to his bemused girlfriend about the difference between true north and magnetic north. Another couple were chewing over the latest Sherlock Holmes episode (one of the best programmes in years IMHO). A girl pronounced with a sense of pride that her heartbeat was at 65. I checked mine -108 – my pride being informed by having got there at all. And having got there, what joy!
On such a day what better place to sit and take in the beauty of the world?
The path to the diminutive 2,608 feet of Cribyn is part of The Beacons Way. It is very worn and very steep and it also has been stepped in places by the thoughtful people from the National Park to make the clamber less difficult. It is steep going down and steep climbing back up again.
And in the dip in between the peaks is a permanent little pool that held Cribyn’s summit in its still, cold water.
I moved pretty slowly on the upward climb. A man walking marginally faster than me and carrying a large pack informed me that the stepped surface had been put in place since he had walked it last 25 years perviously. I guess that it is inevitable that with popularity comes change and as part of that process comes a certain taming of the wild.
Cribyn’s summit presented another view of the Neuadd Reservoir , the late afternoon sun adding a little mistiness in the surrounding hills to make it picture perfect.
From Cribyn I carefully picked my way down the steep slope to the col known as Bwlch ar y a Fan (or more prosaically, “The Gap”). The going down is always harder than the climbing up but I was finding both quite an effort by then. Ahead was the next challenge, the path climbing nearly 400 feet to the next summit – Fan-y-Big.
The sun was about to drop below the horizon and most people ahead of me decided to take the track that leads from The Gap back to the reservoir.
I’d had a fantastic walk and the best of the day so I followed suit, my attention kept being drawn to the light shining through the trees at the edge of the reservoir ……….
……..and back to the summits, where I had walked, glowing in the warm light and getting encroached upon by the racing shadows.
Just as I was nearing the car park the light was thrown onto my side of the valley, catching the tops of the trees and the rising moon.
A mile or so back down the road from the car park a cafe had been signposted so as I put my bag in the boot I had a vision involving tea and cake. Sadly, The Old Barn tearooms were closed so I displaced my tea fantasy to one at home with Anne. And that might have been that except that as I drove back though the woods the light on the reservoirs was extraordinary, making perfect reflections of the hills and demanding much stopping of the car and hopping over fences.
I’m a slave to my art.
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 Charles@veddw.co.uk