Date: April 16 2022
Location: Pen Y Fan, Brecon Beacons, Wales
Since we were blessed with beautiful spring weather during our Easter trip to Wales, we decided to pack in as many walks as we could while we were there which meant back to back long hikes up into the incredible Brecon Beacons. Without a doubt one of the most talked about hikes in Wales is Pen Y Fan, the highest peak in southern Wales at 886m.
Pen Y Fan, translates roughly to ‘mountains peak’ is an impressive hike that is busy at any time of the day, almost all year round. I was surprised at the amount of people already walking down as we were going up at 8:30!
The most common route up the mountain starts at a parking area called Pont ar Daf and we were lucky to sneak into the last spot. Cars were parked all along the busy road heading in and several food vans had already started serving up burgers and breakfasts for hikers (fuel…or a reward I suppose!).
We crossed a picturesque bridge and small stream and right away the climb up began!
While there are a few different ways to get up (and down) Pen Y Fan, the way we took from this parking lot is certainly the most well travelled, and judging by the number of families, children, and dogs packing the trail it’s definitely a popular spot to spend a sunny Saturday.
The climb up is essentially climbing two peaks, first we followed the trail up to Bwlch Duwynt, or “Windy Pass” and trust me, as soon as you reach that ridge you’ll know that the name fits!
The views going up the main track are impressive and the fog was rolling in and out as we climbed up, even though the path is well defined it was a pretty consistent uphill climb the whole way, good thing I stopped to take photos along the way, a good excuse to catch my breath for a second.
Once you follow the main track up to Bwlch Duwynt, you’ve arrived at the first of the two peaks. This one, called Corn Du (“Black Horn”) is only about 10 meters lower than it’s twin, Pen Y Fan. Together they make up a pair that was once called Arthur’s Seat. Legend has it that King Arthur once helped the people of Brecon with some pesky Wild Boars, the king killed the leader of the boars and the body rolled down into a river now called Afon Twrch or River of the Boar.
At the top of both Corn Du and Pen Y Fan are Bronze Age rock cairns, underneath which are stone burial cists (stone coffins). Both cairns have been excavated and remenants of tools, urns, and flowers were found inside. The coffins likely also contained ashes of at least one person, but likely more. Impressive to think that in the Bronze Age, they dug them on the tops of these impressive peaks. At the edges of the smaller peak we also saw lots of smaller cairns, made up as markers from fellow hikers.
After visiting Corn Du and admiring the view of the surrounding area, including the small glacial lake, Llyn Cwm Llwch, it was time to make the last push up to the top of Pen Y Fan, just as the fog started to roll in.
The last few meters up to the top were misty and windy but once we made it, it felt nice to have a bit of cool air blasting us in the face. Unfortunately it meant we couldn’t really see much of the view below. We did have to get in line for the required peak marker photo though!
After a few minutes of catching our breath we started our descent down the opposite side of Pen Y Fan, down some rather slick sections of stone and moss.
We slowly picked our way off the peak and then began a more gradual descent down toward the farm land surrounding brecon. I really loved the view of Pen Y Fan from this perspective as the peak really looked like a pointed dragons tooth or something epic like that.
The long walk down towards Brecon was a nice repreive from the push to climb up to the peak but I still found my knees wobbling and my legs feeeling heavy (probably from doing two big hikes in two days). We picked our way down through some smaller trails, toward a chorus of bleating sheep. It was hard to not keep turning around to look at the impressive mountain behind us.
Once we were off the mountain and into the farm roads, it was a quick and easy winding walk back into Brecon where a double scoop of the best ice cream was waiting for us.