Highest peak in South Wales
This article describes walking routes to the summit of Pen y Fan, which is one of the three most iconic Welsh mountains, Cadair Idris and Snowdon being the others.Together with its slightly lower twin summit of Corn Du, Pen y Fan used to be called Cadair Arthur, meaning (King) Arthur’s Chair. Giraldus Cambriensis referred to Cadair Arthur in his “Journey through Wales” (1188). There are no stories linking Arthur directly to Pen y Fan. There is however a story about Arthur coming to the aid of people the western part of the Brecons, who were being terrorised by a pack of wild boars. He finally managed to kill the pack leader on the Black Mountain. The body rolled down into a river, which even today is known as Afon Twrch (river of the boar).Pen y Fan forms part of the Brecon Beacons (Bannau Brycheiniog), a series of flat-topped mountains. Although the smallest of the three peaks described in this series, Pen y Fan is considered by many to be the most dangerous mountain in Wales, mainly because the weather is so very changeable in this region.
Routes up Pen y Fan
The Storey Arms route is the easiest way to walk up Pen y Fan. Access is from the A470 road between Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil. Just under 5 miles from Brecon, you will pass the the Storey Arms Education Centre. Continue in the direction of Merthyr Tydfil to a car park about 1.5 miles further along the road.
This is one of the most popular mountain walks in the country. It is so heavily used that a wide path, commonly called “the motorway”, has been formed up the mountain . Some families even go up this path with fairly small children, although this is not to be recommended if the weather conditions are anything less than ideal.
Coming up this way you can head straight for the summit of Pen y Fan. However, a slight but rocky detour, which requires some scrambling, will take you first to the twin summit of Corn Du. From there a small descent followed by ascent along the saddle will bring you easily to the top of Pen y Van. The total distance for the ascent and descent is about 4 miles and will take most people somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5 hours.
Along this route, you will see an obelisk set up as a memorial to 5-year-old Tommy Jones, a miner’s son from Maerdy, who got lost on the mountain in 1900 while visiting his grandparents. His body was found after 29 days.
There are a number of other routes up Pen y Fan, which are far less used. For example,starting north of the mountain, at Cwmgwdi, is a more challenging route of 7.5 miles in total, which will take about 5 hours. This ascends to the ridge between Allt Ddu and Pen y Fan and offers dramatic views of the sheer cliffs of Pen y Fan’s north face. The final ascent is very steep and requires some scrambling over rocks.
Brecons horseshoe walks including Pen y Fan
Another variant is to do one of the popular “horseshoe” walks, which link together three or four of the Brecon peaks. A circular route of 8.8 miles mainly along ridges, takes in a horseshoe of four peaks. Although the publishers of this route claim it takes just under 3 hours, this seems a very optimistic estimate. I can’t remember exactly which route I followed the one time I did a Brecon horseshoe walk, but it took me most of the day, although that did also include walking back to Brecon from the finishing point.The four peaks horseshoe walk starts south-east of Pen y Fan at the Neuadd Reservoirs. It climbs steeply up the ridge to meet the path from the Storey Arms, takes the diversion up Corn Duand continues to Pen y Fan. From Pen y Fan, a steep, rocky descent leads to the pass from which the summit of Cribyn is approached. From Cribyn, the route follows a pass to Fan y Big. Although this is the lowest of the four peaks (2340 ft), the climb to the top is steep. From there, the route continues along the ridge and eventually descends to return back to the starting point.
Horseshoe walk over Pen y Fan in winter
Be safe! If you are not an experienced hill walker, please read the safety guidelines before planning to go into the mountains
There are many places to stay within the national park, including farm accommodation, pubs, country house hotels, self-catering cottages, hostels and campsites. However, for those who wish to mix in some town-based activities, staying in the cathedral and market town of Brecon is the ideal solution as it is close by. Follow this link for more information about the town.
It is a 15 minute bus ride on the T4 bus from Brecon to the Storey Arms, where you can start the ascent (or alternatively walk along the road for 1.5 miles to reach the car park mentioned above. Incidentally, the T4 is a long-distance route, which runs from Cardiff, via Pontypridd and Merthyr Tydfil to the Storey Arms and Brecon, and then continues on to Builth Wells, Llandrindod Wells and Newtown. This service is run by TrawsCymru.
Resources from Amazon.com
1. Landranger Maps: Brecon Beacons Sheet 160 (OS Landranger Map)
1. Brecon Becons OS Explorer Map of West and Central Areas
2. Walk! The Brecon Beacons