This week (in September) we were fortunate to have flexible working hours, so we could make the most of a good weather forecast, and head to the hills. Our intention was to climb Waun Fach, the highest peak in the Black Mountains at 811 m / 2661 ft, which also makes it the second highest mountain in southern Britain, south of Snowdonia. (The highest being Pen y Fan). This was also the first outing of our new Deuter rucksacks!!!
After leaving the pub car park in Pengenffordd (there is an 'honesty box' provided by pub - donations to charity) we made the quickly steep ascent to Castell Dinas, the ruins of an old Norman castle, then descended to a col with a small stream at the foot of Y Grib - known by some as the 'Dragon's Back'. When you see it, it is immediately apparent why the ridge bears this name.
Glorious sunshine and short dry grass made the climb of the spine very enjoyable. As we made our way up each incline and plateau, the view grew ever more panoramic. By the time we reached a tall conical cairn, we could see the Camarthan Fans, the peaks of Fforest Fawr and summits and ridges of the Central Beacons.
As we continued our way to the summit, we a paused to enjoy the antics of some Welsh hill ponies, who also seemed to be making the most of the summer sunshine. When we reached the cairn at Pen y Manllwyn, we had a great view of Hay Bluff and Twmpa (Lord Hereford's Knob) and also the Malvern Hills in the distance. It was so clear that we could also see Brown Clee and the Wrekin in Shropshire.
As we had been warned, the summit view itself is slightly disappointing. However, there was much evidence of land conservation work taking place - presumably to stop peat erosion. At the sad remains of a trig point we made the decision to deviate from the recommended route and head along the well-maintained path to the summit of Pen y Gadair Fawr. The extra mile was definitely worth the effort. Great views of the Sugar Loaf, Skirrid, the Blorenge and Abergavenny.
We made the return journey to Waun Fach, as the sinking sun created dramatic shadows on the eastern faces of the mountains. The descent was well-marked with awesome views of Crug Mawr, Pen Allt-mawr and Pen Cerrig-calch to the south.
On reaching the final cairn at Y Trumau, the sun sank behind Mynydd Troed and cast the valley in shadow. We followed the route back to the car park, knowing that we would return to climb some of the peaks we had view but not yet walked.
Working on the weekend was definitely a small price to pay for such a beautiful day!
Learned and Affirmed
An unplanned walk but the opportunity presented itself, so we quickly gathered our gear and headed for Torpantau forestry car park. Our mission was to 'bag' a Marilyn - Waun Rydd (769 m / 2,523 ft).
We walked the same route which we had taken when visiting Fan y Big. Although it was intermittently raining, the immediate climb up Craig y Fan Ddu and subsequent ridge walk seemed easier going. This was not the recommended starting point in our guidebook, which, we felt, would be pleasant on a warm dry day. However, with an afternoon of heavy rain showers forecast, we were slightly concerned that the final ascent at the end of the Blaen y Glyn valley would be a slippery, boggy and thankless struggle.
We were glad that we repeated the previous route along the Craig Fan Las ridge. This time the Blaen Caerfanell waterfall was in full flood, something that we had not seen during our summer walk when it was a mere trickle. We paid a quick visit to the cairn at the summit of Bwlch y Ddwyallt (754 m / 2474 ft - a Nuttall) and continued round the head of the Blaen y Glyn valley, trying not to be blown over by incredibly strong gusts of wind. Pen y Fan and Corn Du were in cloud but Cribyn occasionally peeked out to see what we were up to.
The summit cairn of Waun Rydd is small and not visible from the well-maintained path which runs through the peat haggs. The path, however, does not lead to the summit, so we left it and headed across the boggy grass to the highest point. We eventually met a small track and spied the small cairn. At this point, the wind speed increased considerably. Despite the low cloud, we could see familiar landmarks in the Usk Valley - Llangorse Lake, Tor y Foel and also the tall cairn at the farther end of this long flat summit.
We decided that we didn't have time to visit Allt Lwyd, but would descend via Allt Forgan. After a false start (thinking the well-maintained path was the one we needed), we found a muddy track, which took us to a war memorial for the crew of a Wellington bomber, which had crashed on the mountain during a training mission. There were two surprises. Firstly, we had not expected the wreckage to still be in situ and secondly, we were not expecting both memorial and wreckage to be decorated with poppy wreaths and other remembrance items. It was quite moving to discover that, in spite of the remoteness and inaccessibility of the memorial, they are not forgotten. A poignant and timely reminder of the sacrifices our ancestors made in the name of freedom.
Uh-oh...a fork in the path...and neither seemed to match the description in our guidebook. We made a best guess but the path soon became more of a stony sheep-track. With low cloud, rain and an hour's light remaining, we opted to return along the clear ridge path to the car park. There was no disappointment or regret. We knew this was the right decision. So...heads down, tramp, splash, slip, slide and squelch... we arrived back at the car park at sunset. After removing our weather gear, we sat in the car and finally ate lunch, which we had neglected due to the elements and lack of cover. Better late than never!
Learned and Affirmed
Way back in February, our friends Maria and Jenni took us on our first trek in the snow in the Pentland Hills. Later in the year they led us up our first two Munros - Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin.
Knowing they were making a brief stop in Wales, we planned to take them on a ridge walk in the Beacons. Unfortunately, just prior to their visit, Maria broke her wrist and it was still in plaster when they arrived. However, Maria was still wanted to do a walk, so we decided that the 'tourist route' up to Pen y Fan and Corn Du would be manageable, despite her injury.
The weather forecast clouds with sunny intervals, so we headed set off to the Storey Arms, hoping for the best. Being early on a weekday, there was no problem parking and we began along the path, which resembles a red scar across the mountainside. Corn Du was shrouded in mist but Fan Fawr and the Fans were visible.
As we were about a third of the way up, we were passed by soldiers carrying full packs and automatic weapons. While they gave nods and smiles of thanks as we made way for them, they were reluctant to engage in conversation - presumably because their every word would be heard on each other's head sets.
As we reached the col of Bwlch Duwynt we decided to take the path to Pen y Fan then 'bag' Corn Du on the return. On Pen y Fan summit the mist was thick and the soldiers, crouching in formation, looked quite eerie.
We had some group photos at the cairns on both summits but sadly the mist did not clear and we headed back to the car. Annoyingly, just as we were removing our walking boots, the cloud lifted and Corn Du appeared. Resorting to 'Plan B' we drove the the Brecon Beacons Mountain Centre in Libanus and viewed the twin peaks from the comparitive comfort of picnic bench, coffee in hand.
Learned and Affirmed
Leaving home later than we had planned, we were very lucky to find a parking place opposite the Storey Arms Outdoor Education Centre. It’s great that so many people are being active but accommodating so many cars is becoming a real issue on the weekends.
While the path to Pen y Fan looked like the route to a religious shrine, crammed with hundreds of pilgrims; the route to Fan Fawr was, well…empty…except for the two of us. Phew!
As we dropped down from the A470 to the ‘Taff Trail’ path, we followed the Taf Fawr to the point where it enters the Beacons Reservoir. You have to keep your wits about you if you want to avoid the numerous boggy patches through which the path runs. However, once we reached the far end of the reservoir (via moorland and forest tracks) we were glad to begin our ascent of Fan Fawr’s long, curving eastern ridge - Cefn Yr Henriw.
As we neared the summit, we spied the trig point off to the west. We decided to visit it although it wasn’t on our walk route. We were glad that we made the detour. Just as we got there, the sun emerged from the overcast sky and we had a great view of previously visited western peaks – Fan Nedd, Fan Gyhirych, Fan Frynych, Fan Hir and Fan Brycheiniog.
We then made our way to the ‘true summit’ (734 m/2048 ft), marked by a small cairn. Whilst we had a quick snack, we watched the continuous line of ‘pilgrims’ making their way up the Pen y Fan path, and a couple of paragliders frightening sheep on the other side of the valley.
As we made our post-lunch descent, we met another walker with her two dogs, one of whom took a great interest in Lynne! Like us, she was avoiding the crowds. We exchanged a few pleasantries and congratulations (she had just graduated!), then made our way back to the busy car park.
Learned and Affirmed
Slowly, but surely, we are bagging local Marilyns but not quite as many as the man who climbed all 1,556 of them. Well...not yet!
Today, we were joined by our good friend, Tim. An experienced walker and great company! Fan Gyhirych and Fan Nedd are situated in the Brecon Beacons and seemingly far less popular with walkers and tourists when compared to Pen y fan and Corn Du. However, there were definitely more inquisitive cows around and some bravery on Lynne's part was required to walk past by them...twice.
Predicting that the overnight rain had increased the boggy conditions hinted at in our guide book, waterproof boots and gaiters seemed like a wise choice. Following the recommended route had several moments confusion whilst attempting to find landmarks that had disappeared or degenerated since publication. e.g. a wire fence now reduced to rotting posts, barely visible above the vegetation. It added to the fun.
We crossed the northern face of Fan Nedd with beautiful views of the Senni valley below us. However, glancing at the view while you are walking risks an ankle injury! The path is very stony/rocky and needs full attention. Ankles intact, we reached the col joining our two peaks to be greeted by forceful winds and light drizzle. Hoods up and heads bowed we pressed on and began our ascent of Fan Gyhirych's curved northern ridge. Due to the ferocity of the wind, we opted for the constructed path rather than the route along the cliff edge. On reaching the trig point, we had some great views of the Black Mountain escarpment and Llyn Y Fan Fawr in the west, with Pen y Fan and its neighbours in the east.
On finding some shelter, we ate a quick lunch as the sun struggled to make an appearance. Refuelled, we retraced our steps back to the col (and the cows) and ascended the well-worn path up Fan Nedd. We reached the cairn and, once again, it was increasingly challenging to remain upright as the wind seemed to blast us from several directions. After a brief photo-opportunity at the trig point we spent a few minutes behind a thoughtfully constructed dry-stone wind-break before descending the eastern (wind-sheltered!) face back to the car.
Learned and Affirmed:
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:
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:
We definitely need to purchase gaiters! Unexpected amounts of snow meant that our feet were wet and uncomfortable. Gaiters may have prevented the snow from getting inside our boots. Either that or the waterproof membrane on our boots has a small tear - this was expertly explained to us by someone who works in Cotswold, Cardiff.
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.