I had wanted to come to the Brecon Beacons to climb Pen y Fan, but the longer route in the Pathfinder Guide they call the Brecon Beacons Horseshoe, which takes in Cribyn, Pen y Fan and Corn Du, certainly appealed to me, so I decided to do that rather than trying to follow the route of The Fan Dance this time. I will be back to do that very soon. We had decided that I would set off early to do this walk, returning in time to take a shorter walk with Debbie before she was due to have her spa treatment at the Nant Ddu Lodge, so I had packed everything ready the night before, and made do with drinking my fizzy vitamin C and taking my supplements before setting off from the Lodge at just before 0700 – I would eat some breakfast along the way. The day was clear as I drove the 20 minutes to the Cwm Gwdi Training Camp car park, and the sun was pushing to come through as I parked in the upper car park, which, as you will read at the end of this blog, is something I might change if I was to do this walk again. The best way to get to the car park from the A470 is to head to postcode LD3 8LE and then keep driving forward until you see signs for Cwm Gwdi on your right. I was setting off in my baselayer and Vapour-Rise Lite Alpine jacket from Rab. I swear by them in any weather, and if it was to suddenly rain I had my Mountain Equipment Fitzroy jacket which defies all weather. I was also wearing my Paramo boxer shorts, my North Face Paramount Peak convertible trousers, my Scarpa ZG10 GTX boots, my red Mountain Equipment beenie and my Outdoor Designs layeron gloves. I had my map, compass, first aid kit, spare bootlaces, headtorch and Gortex bivi bag, just in case, and had packed my rucksack with all sorts of energy bars and a bottle of water with a couple of Zero High5 citrus tablets. Yes, I was taking this seriously, and my rucksack weighed about 12 pounds. I set off at about 0720.
I crossed a stile at the end of the upper car park and turned left and came back on myself as I headed down to cross the Nant Gwdi. I do wonder if I had crossed the correct stile but I ended up where I needed to be, and it would not be the last time on this outward stretch when I wondered if I had quite taken the correct route. I followed a path up through trees, keeping the brook on my right, and when I emerged into open ground I went to the left to contour around the base of Allt Ddu, and I cannot help feeling that I actually contoured around at too low a level because when I came to the turn in the base and turned right to follow a clear path into Cwn Sere it did seem that I had to climb up to reach that clear path in the first place. The National Trust board in the car park had stated that this was the hard way to the top of Pen y Fan, and I just seemed to be making it a little bit harder still. Anyway, now that I had found the path I was able to follow it very easily while enjoying the views up the valley to Cribyn and Pen y Fan.
The sky was light and clear enough and now the wind began to blow up something of a gale, and the ground I was covering felt very exposed. When I said I could follow the path “very easily”, I meant it was easy to see, and not that it was easy to walk. It was hard, uneven terrain, tough walking and full of all sorts of ground features, and it is very easy to understand why the British Army would use the Brecon Beacons as a training area – if you want to produce the best then this would certainly be the place to test them, to get them to prove themselves, especially because I sensed I was still actually on one of the easier parts of the walk, so who knew what was to come. Well, I did, because I had looked at the contours on the map. The path drops to meet the Nant Sere above some waterfalls, and for my potential third mistake of the walk so far, I think I carried on too far before dropping down to cross the stream above the falls. I could see where I was heading, and in the clear light it was far too easy to see the bulk of Cribyn looming over me, and I was trying to take as direct a route as possible to reach the track which would take me to the summit of that first peak. Having said that it was far too easy to see Cribyn, I had not missed the point that the peak of Pen y Fan was covered in mist from time to time as I progressed. So I crossed the stream and began to make my way up the steep hillside beyond, and while ‘steep’ seems like an understatement to me, it did not seem to affect a horse I had seen earlier on the other side of the Nant Sere and which was now grazing above me. A crow wandered over, clearly waiting for me to die on this hill, never having made it to the mountain. I stopped to eat a couple of cereal bars for breakfast, and I had been fortunate enough to attend a work meeting at a De Vere hotel during the week, so had been able to pick up a few of their Verve Deli Rocket Bars. I ate one of those and the chocolate almond fudge Clif Bar I had received as part of my goody bag from The Wolf Run. I also drank some of my Zero High5 water and pushed on up the hill. It was steady going before I eventually reached a track which was contouring around the side of Cribyn, and I followed it back to where the base of Cribyn met the top of this hill, to find the path which runs along Bryn Teg, and turning right on to that I could see the route which would take me to the summit of Cribyn.
My thoughts of how steep the hillside had been disappeared, because it was as nothing compared to what was now ahead of me. I pushed on and the track seemed to just keep on getting steeper as it got closer to the top, so I was glad at how my legs dealt with it.
It was tough but I was determined to be tougher, so I kept going, one foot in front of the other, plugging away, and I could hear some chatter coming from the summit. Eventually I came over the top and was now at 795 metres. It had taken me about 2 and a half hours to get to this stage, I had not encountered anyone else until now, and as I came to the summit one of the women in the small group of three already there exclaimed “Where did you come from ?”, so I showed them on my map as she shared some Haribo with me. They had come up from The Storey Arms and were going to continue in the opposite direction from me. The man in the group very kindly took my photo as I stood at the cairn at the summit,
told me it was about half an hour from here to the summit of Pen y Fan, and then just ten minutes from there to Corn Du, and very soon we departed in our respective directions, but not before I had taken in all of the views around me, including the Black Mountains and Fan y Big, and not just the stunning view of Pen y Fan. And as it turned out, it was fortunate I did take in the views from this peak.
I turned right from the direction I had come from to reach the summit, and headed along a clear, broad, bricked path, heading steeply down into a col, being careful not to go too fast and fall in my enthusiasm.
I met another group of 4 walkers as I headed down, and we exchanged greetings as I rushed past them – I felt refreshed and eager to make up time after passing over Cribyn. I had to be back at Nant Ddu Lodge by a certain time, and if I could make it through Pen y Fan to Corn Du in the 40 minutes suggested to me then I could keep on with my planned route and be confident of finishing it in time. If not, I would have to plot a shorter route back to the car. I had an excellent view of to my left of the Neuadd Reservoirs as I descended, crossed some water at the bottom and then began the climb up the other side. This was another steep climb, gradually bending at times, with the path firm underfoot and stepped, and always giving excellent views of my target, Pen y Fan. I passed another group of 4 walkers and again we exchanged pleasantries, with the last in the group saying I was a quarter of the way there, to which I responded I had better have gone further than that !
I kept moving on at a steady pace, keeping it going, not pushing too fast, my legs feeling fine and before long I was very near to the summit, climbing through rocks now but not with any difficulty, and met another 2 walkers at the top. They were putting on an extra outer layer because in the short time it had taken me to get here from Cribyn the weather had come in and it was getting colder as the mist spread across the land. I stayed to chat awhile with them before climbing the last few steps to a track which led to the cairn that marks the summit. The mist had fallen and I could not see the cairn from the very edge of the summit as I came over the top, only seeing it appear as I made my way up the track. A group of young walkers reached the summit around the same time as me and one of them very kindly took my photo at the cairn,
but I did not hang around to take in the views because there were none to be seen through the mist. I had indeed been fortunate to see what I did from Cribyn, but despite having no views to show for it, I was now at 886 metres and at the highest point in Britain south of Snowdonia. I set off to the left from the direction I had arrived and this was where I encountered the most traffic of the day, as I walked down the trail towards a fork which would take me to Corn Du. I could see the track ahead of me and little else as I dropped down before ascending again, passing a couple who told me I was about 20 metres from the summit of Corn Du. This down and up had very much been slight in comparison to that between Cribyn and Pen y Fan. The flat summit of Corn Du felt dark by now because of the mist, and I only stopped very briefly at the sprawling cairn before pushing on from being at 873 metres. I was feeling very good after having crossed the three summits, and having ticked off some new mountains in April. It had been very tough getting to the peak of Cribyn, tough again making the ascent to Pen y Fan, and then easy to cut across to Corn Du and I did not feel exhausted or incapable of completing this walk, and I did not feel that my rucksack was heavy. In fact, I was now confident that I would complete the walk in a shorter time than that set out in the guidebook. So, I should ask myself am I ready to take on The Fan Dance ? Not even close ! So the training must continue, and the best way to keep that training going and to monitor it will be to come back to climb Pen y Fan many more times, so it is not all bad.
I had made good enough time to stick to my originally planned route, so carried on in the same direction I had taken to reach the summit of Corn Du and could see the path I needed to take from there, which began with a steep descent before continuing along the escarpment above the small lake of Llyn Cwm Llwch, although at times the lake was shrouded in the mist and hardly visible. I passed a few groups of walkers coming the other way and this is clearly a popular route to the top, possibly because it brings together a few routes and is not as steep as the other ascents I had taken so far this morning. The mist was slowly starting to clear as I got lower and as I approached it I could easily see the obelisk memorial to Tommy Jones, the five year old boy whose body was found here in 1900 after he became lost in the dark.
I stayed a while in silent contemplation. I kept following the path which ran along the edge, and as the mist cleared I enjoyed better views of the lake from its left-hand side, then as the path curled round to the right I had a spendid view of the natural amphitheatre formed by Corn Du and Pen y Fan that encloses the lake, and in the other direction the valley of Cwm Llwch leading away from the lake.
I followed the path all the way down to the level of the lake, which I am not sure is the route in the guidebook, but it still brought me to the valley and I carried on to the left of the stream running through it. I was moving downhill at pace now, across easier ground than I had encountered in Cwm Sere, and I very soon reached a National Trust sign for Cwm Llwch by a stile which I crossed to bring me onto even more gentle terrain, now starting to be wooded, and just in front of a cottage I turned left over another stile. The field over to my far left was filled with sheep and many lambs, including a black one, and I stayed over to the right by a wall which brought me to another track, this one tree-lined and enclosed by low walls, with the stream nearby. As it started to very lightly rain, I climbed another stile and then a footbridge crossed the stream and took me into a parking area, which I exited through a metal gate. Very soon I reached a crossroads and turned right to bring me onto the road I had driven in on earlier in the morning. I kept straight ahead on it until I reached the entrance to Cwm Gwdi Training Camp on my right, and then walked up the steep driveway to my car in the upper car park. Yes, next time I would think about parking lower down. The guidebook suggests that this 8.5 mile walk should take 6 hours and it had taken me 5 hours and 20 minutes, so I was pleased with that, and especially as I had taken a couple of stops on the way. I was also pleased that my backpack had not felt heavy at any time during the walk. I quickly changed from my walking boots into my shoes and drove back to Nant Ddu Lodge, stopping off at The Storey Arms to take a photograph.
I had really enjoyed this walk, it had been tough and very satisfying, but I had never wanted or expected it to be easy, and very soon I would be back to take on Pen y Fan again, and then I would be starting off from The Storey Arms.
You can see more of my photos from the walk here.