It’s the morning after I got back from my solo trip to the Brecon Beacons. Three days of great hiking. Two super, sunny days and one with more traditional Welsh weather. All in all a great time and whilst I didn’t do as much micro navigation as I had planned I did gain more valuable experience in Winter conditions.
After a 5:45am start and a 3.5 hour drive I eventually arrived at my starting point in Taf Fechan Forest. As I drove up the road, from miles away, I had begun to see the snow capped peaks of the Pen y Fan horseshoe. I had a weird emotional experience. I felt nervous, a little fearful yet very excited. I’m not really sure where it all came from. Perhaps it was because I was doing the hike alone or perhaps the snowy conditions increased my anxiety. All I know is that as soon as I was parked and geared up I was more than ready to get going.
The walk begins up the road before reaching a damn at the foot of he Upper Neuadd Reservoir. The path then cuts steeply up to the east, quickly bringing you up on to the top. The route up got more and more snowy and there were some beautiful icicles and frozen streams.
From here the route is simple. Follow the various peaks round until you head back down. Last time I was here it was raining in the spring and I could see nothing at all. This time the panoramic was incredible and never ending. An endless display of hills, mountains and countryside. Perfect conditions for enjoyment!
The first peak up was Corn Du which arrives after a narrow ridge with steep snowy drops on either side. Just before Corn Du is the top of one of the main paths. There was a lot of people who were taking the traverse round to Pen y Fan but I decided it was a much better idea to go up and over Corn Du. It was quite slippery going up and even more so on the way back down.
Next up was Pen y Fan. The tallest point of the Brecon Beacons which rises magnificently. Gentle slopes on one side with steep and craggy drops on the other. It was lunch time and despite the cold it was extremely busy up there. Families with kids in trainers, it must be half term! I decided I wasn’t going to join the queue to take a photo and so quickly headed down and out of the wind to have my lunch, basking in the sun. I spent 45 minutes there eating food and drinking tea. It was a glorious way to spend a Monday.
After lunch it was up and over Cribyn where I stopped for a plank as part of the 30 day plank challenge. It was only 20 seconds. Day 1 on the path to a 5 minute plank… After that was over it was down to a saddle beneath the delightfully inappropriately named Fan y Big. There was a helicopter doing 200m trips up and down the main path carrying large bags of rocks so I decided to traverse up avoiding it’s flight path.
From here I didn’t see anyone for a long time. The paths were all pretty unobvious and the terrain was flat and all looked the same. I decided instead of trying to find a path I would just plot a route on my watch and follow it. I head off over the bleak, snowy tundra in search of my grid reference a kilometre or so ahead of me. Eventually I hit it and the subsequent path which headed south west, back down towards the forest and the car.
Day 1 was the best day weather wise. Constant sun meant for a various pleasant hike. From here it was a cup of tea and then off to find my hostel for a couple of ales, some dinner in the local pub and an early night!
My second day was the longest walk. At a distance of 27km with over 1200m of ascent it was certainly a leg burner! Thankfully the weather held and despite the clouds coming in the afternoon it was still great and visibility was perfect. After a good night’s sleep in a relatively snore free hostel room, a tasty breakfast and a drive up some very icy roads I arrived at my start point. In the middle of nowhere parked on the side of the road.
I was heading up to the Waun Fach horseshoe. My walk once again began with some forest trekking before heading up and on to the top ridge. Here on it was pleasant up and down strolling over a few peaks. The wind picked up and it got icy cold so I stopped for a tea and managed to get nearly scared to death by a hiker coming up behind me and saying good morning. It wouldn’t have been so bad but I’m pretty sure I was singing some sort of girlband hit from the 90’s.
The route headed up over Pen y Gadair Fawr and then back up and down up to the large topped Waun Fach. I was planning on having lunch up here but the clouds, wind and negative temperature meant that it really wasn’t the most pleasant place to be. Instead I headed down to a saddle a couple of kilometres further round and 200m lower where I found a conveniently placed wall to shelter me whilst I h d my lunch and tea.
After this with slightly heavy legs and a full belly it was time to carry on round the final third of the horseshoe. There were quite a lot of paths down and I was a bit concerned about the time and how much I had left but I decided that I would walk right up until nightfall as it’s not often I get to spend time in the mountains so there was no point going down yet!
The final couple of hurdles were the impressive looking Pen Alt-mawr and Pen Cerrig-calch. Two massive lumps jutting out of the landscape. I nearly didn’t do them because of my time constraints but once I was on them I was very glad I did! So much snow and ice up there.
From here it was back down and below the snowline then back around to my car which was a good 3km up the road. This was tough. After 7 hours on my feet and a lot of miles and ascent I was pretty knackered. However, I knew I had chocolate covered raisins and some tea in the car to look forward to.
My final day was the polar opposite of the other two. I looked out the window and could see grey, rainy skies. The tops of the 400m hills outside my window where shrouded with mist and I knew that today wasn’t going to be quite as enjoyable as the other two.
After a long drive which ended in some quite terrifying steep and pothole filled tracks I arrived at a small car park. I was the only car there. Everyone else was nice and warm inside somewhere. I decided that instead of doing a full day I would do a few hours so that I could get the long drive started and head back to London early and beat any traffic (ha!).
I was at the foot of the Black Mountain range. Yesterday I was in the Black Mountains range. Seriously, could they not come up with a better name!? My route took me up a barren road alongside a ferocious looking river towards Llyn y Fan Fach. If I looked closely then I might see the lady of the lake sitting atop the waters. That’s a pleasant image when you are walking through Silent Hill landscapes in the the mist. When it started to snow it was all too similar to the falling ash from the films…
Once I’d shaken off my fears I headed up a muddy slope and on to the top. Here it was snowy and icy and very windy. The snow was falling. Sometimes it was rain. It wasn’t pleasant. I kicked on and went over the next through peaks before reaching the higest point of the day of 781m on Fan Foel. This was not the place to be sticking around for a scenic lunch so I quickly found my path and headed down quickly to get out of the elements.
From here on it was an amble over gentles hills and moorland trying to find the correct route on the myriad paths. Eventually I got back down to the car where I changed in to some warm clothes and begun the long drive home.
It was a great three days and it makes me want to spend as much time in the mountains as possible. I just felt so much more relaxed there. I had a different pace. I wasn’t always rushing. There was more time to breath. Even when I slept my dreams were no longer filled with confusion. This was replaced by dreams of mountains, forests and lakes. Now I’m back in hectic London. Although, I’m off to the peak district for two nights tomorrow so it’s not all bad… Weather looks shocking… Bring it on!