Saturday, 24 October 2015

Pen y Fan & The Neuadd Circuit

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Route: Blaen y Glyn, Craif y Fan Ddu, Beasons Way, Graig Fan Las, Bwlch y Ddwyallt, Craig Cwareli, Craig Cwmoergwm, Fan y Big, Bwlch ar y Fan, Craig Cwm Cynwyn, Cribyn, Craig Cwm Sere, Pen y Fan, Corn Du, Bwlch Duwynt, Craig Gwaun Taf, Rhiw yr Ysgyfarnog, Graig Fan Ddu, Filter House, Taf Fechan Forest, Taff Trail

Date: 24/10/2015
From: Blaen y Glyn Uchaf

Parking: Blaen y Glyn Uchaf
Start Point: Craig y Fan Ddu
Region: Brecon Beacons

Route length: 10 miles (16.1 km)
Time taken: 05:08
Average speed: 2 mph
Ascent: 1,135m
Descent: 1,114m

Nuttalls on this walk:
Fan y Big (719m), Cribyn (795m), Pen y Fan (886m), Corn Du (873m)

Other Summits: None

Other points of interest: The Diving Board

A change of scenery this week. In fact a change of country as well as we were off to Wales to savour some of the best it has to offer. Not Snowdonia (yet) but a bit further afield - the Brecon Beacons, a range of high hills in the south of the country. High is perhaps a bit of an understatement as Pen y Fan reaches a towering 886m in height - that's Pillar territory which is every bit a mountain. Pen y Fan would be the focal point for our walk - a high level circuit along the mountains surrounding the Neuadd Reservoirs. Pen y Fan would be the main event.

We were forecast a day of two halves; a rainy morning followed by an improving afternoon. With this in mind we delayed our start slightly to give us the best chance of a cloud-free Pen y Fan. Our starting point was a large car park at Blaen y Glyn Uchaf in the Talybont Forest, an expansive woodland that surrounds the Talybont Reservoir. From here it was straight into action with a tough climb up alongside Nant Bwrefwr to reach the main ridge of the mountain range.

A stepped path climbs the steepest parts before it levels out over Craig y Fan Ddu; a short terminal ridge to the south east of the range. Ahead if a couple of miles of largely flat walking along Graig Fan Las high above Blaen y Glyn. The moment I proclaimed that the weather wasn't that bad (misty as I saw it) the rain arrived and hung around for the next few hours. Many of these photos were salvaged from my phone and other people's more waterproof cameras so at least there's something to look at, even if it is largely a grey mass.
Waterfalls on Nant Bwrefwr
The path alongside Nant Bwrefwr
Entering the mist on Craig y Fan Ddu
Sara at the stepped Blaen Caerfanell
Blaen Caerfanell
Blaen Caerfanell - you'll notice me in this picture
The path, still level turns almost back on itself at Bwlch y Ddwyallt where we were thrust into the midst of a very cold and gusty wind coming from the North West. We had been sheltered from up to this point and, for the first time this autumn, it was time to put the gloves on.
Heading along Graig Fan Las
Bwlch y Ddwyallt and time for the main camera to go back in the bag
Looking back to Craig Cwareli
Craig Cwmoergwm
As we rounded the high wall of Craig Cwmoergwm the rain and wind eased slightly and gave us the opportunity for a short snack break before climbing towards Fan y Bîg, the first substantial peak of the day.
Cwm Oergwm
It's a reasonably steady climb up to Fan y Bîg where the summit sits at centre of a trio of ridges. No cairn marks the top though the abrupt protrusion of rock known as 'the diving board' is mildly
entertaining. With the rain returning we continued along the ridge as it sweeps steeply off Fan y Bîg into Bwlch ar y Fan, a deep col that bears the remains of an ancient trail known as The Gap Road. The trail scythes straight through the centre of the range, splitting Fan y Bîg from the neighbouring Cribyn.
Shelter cairn close to the summit of Fan y Big
The summit ridge
Fan y Big's summit
The diving board
The dog tries out the diving board
The face of Fan y Big
Heading down to Bwlch ar y Fan with Craig Cwm Cybwyn up ahead
Up to this point the walking had been fairly easy and we'd covered some decent ground. Things were about to change though as Cribyn presents the first of a pair of steep ascents, both of which are around 200m in height. The rain was still pouring as we started the first climb.
Fan y Big
Heading up towards Cribyn
The real drama of these hills can be found on their northern faces where near vertical walls of rock and grass fall to the valleys below. Cribyn sits in between two of these valleys, Cwm Cynwyn to the east and Cwm Sere to the west. These valleys once nurtured small glaciers which carved out the distinctive faces of these hills. Not that we'd be seeing them today. Despite our best efforts the cloud still hung low on the summit of Cribyn hiding any views.
Looking back along Craig Cwn Cynwyn
Cribyn's summit
Disappointingly this also meant hiding the view of Pen y Fan's north face, arguably one of the most impressive in the Brecon Beacons. We were afforded a tantalising glimpse as the clouds threatened to lift but tantalising was all we'd get.
Descending off Cribyn
A brief glimpse of Pen y Fan
Cwn Cere
Down off Cribyn we went into the unnamed depression that brings the Beacons Way up from Bwlch ar y Fan. High up ahead is the sweeping ridge of Craig Cwm Sere which climbs steeply up to the summit of Pen y Fan. It's obvious that Pen y Fan is a popular mountain given the pavement-like path that climbs Craig Cwm Sere. We encountered a number of people climbing and descending from the summit, even on a foul day like today. After some steep plodding, a final set of rock steps lead out onto Pen y Fan's distinctly flat summit. We encountered some hardy locals who were out to celebrate their church's Centenary by unfurling a large banner and Welsh flag on the summit. We were only too happy to provide them with the photographic evidence of their feat.
The paved path leading up Pen y Fan
The burial mound atop Pen y Fan
Pen y Fan's summit monument
Sara and I at the top
Pen y Fan is the highest point in South Wales and the highest peak south of Cadair Idris. The summit is marked by a well preserved Bronze Age cairn with a central stone cist. The grave is fitted with a series of concentric stone kerbs to protect the central mound from slippage. The cist is a box formed by vertical stone slabs near the centre of the barrow, and it is currently occupied by the National Trust sign, but will have originally held the ashes or other remnants of a dead person or persons since multiple burials together are common.
Summit portrait
The name Pen y Fan consists of the Welsh words pen (meaning 'top, head, peak, summit'), y ('the') and fan, a mutated form of ban ('summit, crest, peak, beacon, hill, mountain'). The same noun ban, in its plural form bannau, is found in the Welsh name for the Brecon Beacons (Bannau Brycheiniog). There is no one standard translation of Pen y Fan, but 'the mountain's peak' or 'the beacon's summit' are both possible translations.

It was still cold and windy by the time we left the summit behind, crossing the small col that joins Pen y Fan to the neighbouring Corn Du. The two peaks together were once referred to as Cadair Arthur or 'Arthur's Chair'. Corn Du shares many similarities with Pen y Fan, including matching Bronze Age burial cairn. As we sat on the summit there was a sense that the weather was slowly starting to cheer up though it was arriving later than hoped for.
The busy summit of Corn Du
At the summit of Corn Du
Indeed, as we made our way off Corn Du the clouds parted with the abruptness of a flick of a switch and sunlight bathed the Neuadd valley revealing a fine view along the reservoirs towards the Taf Fechan Forest.
The clouds begin to break as we make our way down Craig Gwaun Taf
The path descends down the easy ridges of Craig Gwaun Taf, Rhiw yr Ysgyfarnog (no, I can't pronounce that one either) and the sloping Craig Fan Ddu. Here, at a large cairn, the path delves into a dark gully emerging some 200m lower at the dam for the smaller of the Neuadd reservoirs. All of this was done in splendid sunshine, enough to warrant finally taking waterproof trousers off.
The Neuadd valley
Corn Du, Pen y Fan and Cribyn
Heading along the narrow Rhiw yr Ysgyfarnog
Cribyn
Looking along Rhiw yr Ysgyfarnog
Graig Fan Ddu
Sara and I descending Graig Fan Ddu
On our way down towards the Lower Neuadd Reservoir
It's a two mile walk back to the car through the remnants of the Taf Fachen Forest, along the Taff Trail. The Taff Trail is a 55 mile, largely traffic free route from Cardiff to Brecon which utilises old tracks, tramways and bridleways to join the two locales together.
The steady slopes lead to the dam of the Lower Neuadd Reservoir
Sara and I contemplate the route down
The reservoir had been drained, presumably for work on the dam
The sun was starting to set as the walk drew to a close, casting shadows between the trees of the Taf Fechan Forest. This is a great walk which is generally very straightforward, aside from the steep ascents of Cribyn and Pen y Fan. The only disappointment was the weather, robbing us of the dramatic view of the mountains themselves as well as the expansive views that they are known to possess. I'm keen to return in the not-too-distant future to try these again. In the meantime it was time to find a pub to dry off and plan some more adventures.
Sunset between the trees of Taf Fechan Forest
Looking towards Pentwyn