This is a walk we’ve wanted to do for a while and we were waiting for a fine day. Aware that hordes of people walk Pen y Fan on the weekend, we set off early to make sure we had a parking place. We needn’t have worried. Unlike the Storey Arms, the Cwm Gwdi National Trust car park is well off the main route, down a few miles of single-track road. WARNING: The car park is no longer free unless you are a National Trust member. You will need £3 for the new Pay and Display machine.
The Cwm Gwdi valley is extremely picturesque but as we emerged from a small wood at the foot of Allt Ddu we hit our first snag…and we had only been walking for 15 minutes. There was no clear path due to the prolific growth of the fern. We circled back to see if we had missed something but ultimately decided to trust the route map and our map reading skills. We had to push through chest high fern in some places but eventually arrived at our exact destination. Phew! As we rounded the base of Allt Ddu the view was superb. The Black Mountain escarpment to our left, while ahead of us was the Cwm Sere valley and the peaks of Cribyn and Pen y Fan.
It was an easy and pleasant stroll up the Cwm Sere valley. We received a few noisy complaints as our presence disturbed some newly-shorn sheep and a couple of stonechats but otherwise we marvelled at the spectacular view as the clouds caused the colours to shift on the faces of the two mountains. No other walkers except some tiny figures on the ridges above us.
As recommended in our guidebook, we crossed the river above the series of small waterfalls. Once we had hopped across there was no visible path. It was the most strenuous climb of the day. The slippery, spongy tussocks of moss and grass took a heavy toll on thighs and ankles. It was a relief to reach the red, stony path at the top of the ridge.
We made the steep ascent to the summit of Cribyn (795 m/2608 ft) - still easier than the grassy slope - to be met with fantastic views of the neighbouring Beacons and their valleys. Llangorse Lake reflected the occasional sunbeams and Brecon town itself. We stayed a few minutes to catch our breath then continued along the well-maintained path up towards Pen y Fan, stopping frequently to take photographs of the ever-changing vistas (and oxygenate muscles!).
As we reached the summit, we had been expecting to see plenty of walkers but were somewhat bemused to see the long, orderly queue that had formed for photo-opportunities at the trig point. Very British!?
After a well-earned lunch, we made the trek across to Corn Du, then continued down past the Tommy Jones Memorial into the Cwm Llwch valley. It was a fairly relaxing stroll back to the car park although the final incline felt like it was mocking our tired legs. We valued the company of a pair of Grey Wagtails as we made our way along the river path, and tip-toed around a herd of horses shading their foals near a camping area.
Learned and Affirmed:
An amazing experience. It is hard to describe the sense of awe and wonder we felt all day. Magical moments when puffins decide to land unexpectedly beside you with a mouthful of sand eels. Bullets. Fast. Comical. And, a surprise trig point in the centre of the island.
A special 'hello' to the two families that we met on the day (if you do manage to find this blog). So much excitement and learning going on - shared by adults and children alike. In answer to the question (by one of the children) about Risso's Dolphins, the white markings are due to social interactions, not damage by netting. We looked it up when we returned home.
After looking at our photo, we were assured by one of the wardens that we had been watching porpoises. Just as exciting as the porpoises was the aerodynamic beauty of the gannets as they dived for fish.
Top tip: If you watch where the gannets are circling and diving, the likelihood is there porpoises/dolphins nearby. We followed the advice and were not disappointed!
Learned and Affirmed:
Another Marilyn this week. The Sugar Loaf is situated near Abergavenny and is part of the Black Mountains range in the Brecon Beacons. A 7.5 mile walk with an elevation of 596 m (1,955 ft).
Learned or Affirmed:
A slightly different adventure that didn't require climbing any peaks. An injury occurred after our Munro adventure. You can survive the mountains...but not a heavy-duty, iron school gate when it whacks into the back of your heel. Wearing walking boots has been impossible - apparently this type of injury takes a couple of months to heal, hence BEAKS not PEAKS.
If you like the sound of this, we'd highly recommend 'Voyages of Discovery' to be your guides.
We are Lynne and Andrew from Single Steps Learning. Our love of learning and exploring has inspired us to take up 'hill-walking'. We hope to progress from novice to expert! This is our journey.