Our initial intention was to complete an 8 mile circuit, with Fan y Big as the only summit involved. However, the sight of Cribyn, Pen y fan and Corn Du was just too much to resist. Looking at the map, we calculated it would probably add another 5 or 6 miles to our original plan, but if we left out Cribyn, it would seem more sensible!
Fan y Big, according to wikipedia, "is a subsidiary summit of Waun Rydd in the Brecon Beacons National Park, in southern Powys, Wales. It is 719 m (2,359 ft) high and is often hiked as part of the Horseshoe Walk, a traverse of the four main peaks in the Brecon Beacons."
Free parking at the Blaen y Glyn Forestry Car Park - always a welcome start. In the eventual 13 mile circuit, there were only two really strenuous sections. The first was at the beginning. After ascending a well made path along side some beautiful waterfalls, you encounter a long steep gradient to the top of Craig y Fan Ddu. Despite the fact it was a very overcast morning, it was a lot more humid than we had anticipated, so halfway up this climb we had to remove layers and take on water to avoid overheating.
Once we had reached the top, we continued on the long ridge walk around the head of three glacial valleys - Cwm Caerfanell, Cwm Cwareli and Cwm Oergwm. The impressive vistas changing every few hundred metres. It is worth remembering to look back every now and again so that you don't miss the spectacular views of where you have been! The scattered peat haggs creating a landscape from a science fiction movie.
While Fan y Big itself is a gentle incline, it affords an impressive aligned view of Cribyn, Pen y Fan and Corn Du. There is a small overhanging outcrop of sandstone (allegedly called 'The Diving Board') where, if you have a head for heights, there is a fantastic photo-opportunity.
After a quick lunch, we descended Fan y Big and skirted around Cribyn - which, in hindsight, was a wise decision. We made the now familiar ascent of Pen y Fan and Corn Du, then began our trek along the western ridges of the Taf Fechan valley. Different sections of the ridge have different names - Craig Gwaun Taf, Rhiw yr Ysgyfarnog and Graig Fan Ddu. In places, there are sheer drops near the edge of the path. However, if you are anxious about heights, there is lots of grass/heather alongside the well-worn path.
We paid a quick visit (due to swarms of flying ants) to the trig point on Twyn Mwyalchod before a tricky descent - the second strenuous section mentioned earlier. A steep, deep cut track with lots of loose stones and slippery surfaces, which, from a distance, looks like a red, bloody scar. Lots of care needed. This is when walking-poles are probably advantageous but as we don't yet possess them, we took our time and selected our route with care.
We finally reached the Neuadd Reservoir without injury and after a few photos of the abandoned buildings, we walked bag to the car along two miles of forestry road. We would have enjoyed the sudden appearance of the sun except for the now ubiquitous swarms of flying ants and crane flies. We would have taken some more photos of the waterfalls but at this point we had had our fill of insects and did not want to brave the clouds of midges that we could see around the waters edge...maybe we will return in the snow!
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:
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.
,Huge excitement this weekend - we conquered our first two Munros in Scotland! Ben Vorlich and Stuc à Chroin.
Our good friend, Maria, initially inspired us to take up hill-walking. She introduced us to our first (tiny) hill in Scotland a few years ago - Cockleroy near Linlithgow. So, it was only fitting that our first experience of Munro-Bagging would be with her. Maria and Jenni were great company and expert guides.
Steep(ish) in places and the highest of the two Munros, Ben Vorlich was an easier, although longer climb. Stuc a' Chroin proved to be a challenge...and a real sense of achievement! Maria and Jenni paused to study Stuc a' Chroin as we began our descent from Ben Vorlich. Two available routes - a steep path through the grass to the right or a more difficult scramble straight up craggy face of 'The Prow'. The moment Jenni and Maria said, "We have a decision to make and now is the time to voice any concerns you might have...", we knew that this might be our most difficult ascent to date! Our response indicated that we were willing to have a go. Until you try something, you really do not have an idea of whether you can achieve it..
Halfway up The Prow, an un-mapped path, appeared to the left. Still steep and exposed, but not the scramble over the boulders. All was going well. Confidence levels were good. We stopped to take photos and remove a clothing layer. Off we set. I (Lynne) was now in front of Andrew and leading the way. Possibly a mistake. Definitely a mistake! Head down, focusing on hand-holds and foot-holds, I took the wrong route and strayed from the rough path at about 3000ft whilst heading up The Prow...onto loose rock! Confidence suddenly disappeared. Fear set in. There didn't seem to be any secure rocks. I will admit to panicking slightly. Andrew immediately said he was coming to help. I yelled, "Don't you touch me, don't you dare touch me!". Andrew remained calm, guided me back and then took over the lead at my request.
Such a relief to reach the summit. Such an achievement. Loved it! Can't wait for the next one!!
Learned and/or Affirmed:
We were accompanied (or led) by our good friends, Barbara and David this week. The Cobbler (or now known by us all as 'Cobbler, the Bobble Gobbler due to Lynne beginning with hair bobbles and returning without them) is outlined in the top right-hand corner of the opposite picture.
The Cobbler is just short of 'Munro' status - so its classification is a Corbett. It was still going to be the highest of all our peaks so far and, on first glance, it looked slightly terrifying.
To some, we didn't completely conquer The Cobbler. The black and white photo of the guy standing on top of the protruding rock is not Andrew - although we did wonder about doing a little bit of photo-shopping 😉. However, we did make it across to that rock and both of us climbed into the 'Eye of the Needle'. To reach the highest point on the top you need to climb right through the eye of the needle, onto the narrow ledge outside (with a 100ft sheer drop), navigate around to the back and climb up. Not something we felt capable of doing (yet) without security ropes and crash helmets. There have been many fatal casualties here over the years.
Nevertheless, an absolutely brilliant day. Thank you, Barbara and David! 😀
Learned or Affirmed:
...unless you count the walking block in GO Outdoors, Cardiff!
We are leaving for Scotland tomorrow and we know that we will be hill-walking with friends on our rare 'days off'. In fact, we will be experiencing our first Corbett and Munro Mountains. Excitement - apart from the ongoing issue of Lynne's walking boots. The Meindl's are not going to work. Scrambling to the top of a Munro will require boots that you feel safe in and that fit your feet comfortably. So, a trip to Go Outdoors in the hope that they will have something. A shout out for the staff member that spent two hours on Saturday and an hour on Monday assisting Lynne. The perfect boot was identified - Salomon Authentic LTR GTX.
Trust your instinct. As soon as I put my feet into these particular Salomon boots, I knew they were the right ones.
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.