Traversing the Brecon Beacons

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Traversing the Brecon Beacons

The plan


SO0820 : Three Geographers on Twyn Du by Philip Halling
On 31st December 2008, three regular Geograph contributors, Jonathan Billinger LinkExternal link Philip Halling LinkExternal link and Graham Horn LinkExternal link walked the full length of the main Brecon Beacons ridge

SO0919 : Car park by Talybont reservoir by Graham Horn from the car park south of Aber SO099197 SN9819 : Car park near the Storey Arms by Philip Halling to the car park south of Storey Arms SN987199.

As befits keen Geographers, over 400 pictures were taken between them. An immodest selection appears on Geograph in the relevant locations. This article links them together. All the pictures used in this article are also displayed on a map by following this link LinkExternal link

The plan was to walk up the eastern ridge of
SO0820 : Ascending Twyn Du by Jonathan Billinger Twyn Du SO0820
SO0620 : On Waun Rydd by Graham Horn then along Waun Rydd SO0620
SO0520 : Bwlch y Ddwyallt from the north-east by Graham Horn Bwlch y Ddwyallt SO0520
SO0320 : Fan y Big summit by Jonathan Billinger and Fan y Big SO0320
to the main peaks of
SO0221 : The west side of Cribyn 2 by Jonathan Billinger Cribyn SO024212
SO0121 : Pen y Fan by Philip Halling Pen y Fan SO012215
SO0021 : Approaching the summit of Corn Du by Philip Halling and Corn Du SO007213

We positioned a car at the far end and drove back to the start, where it was just getting light. The walk plan showed a distance of 15 kilometres and 1100 metres of height gained. So we needed all the daylight we could get for this trip and reasoned on heading west towards the setting sun where the last kilometre or so would be on a good path and could safely be completed in twilight if necessary.
SO1021 : Robin at the car park by Graham Horn
Also an easterly wind was forecast, with cloud remaining in the valleys below 400 metres but clear dry conditions above. But that meant it would be cold, confirmed even before we started when this robin arrived looking for breakfast. As it happened this car park was closed so we used the other one further south-west.


The start

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1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright

It was indeed cold, raw and foggy as we made our way past Berth-lwyd-fawr and towards the access land.
SO0919 : Winter food by Jonathan Billinger SO0919 : Foggy field near Talybont Reservoir by Philip Halling SO1020 : Berthlwyd-fach by Jonathan Billinger SO1020 : Bridleway past Berthlwyd-fach by Graham Horn SO0920 : Bridleway west by Jonathan Billinger

The hoar frost was much in evidence, although every few metres we were climbing into thinner cloud.
SO0920 : Hoar frost on the track by Graham Horn SO0920 : Hoar frost detail by Jonathan Billinger SO0920 : Boundary of Access Land by Jonathan Billinger SO0920 : Track above Aber by Philip Halling SO0920 : Climbing to the moorland by Graham Horn

Reaching access land

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1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright

Once onto the access land SO0920 we saw how stunning our day was going to be and three snap-happy Geographers went to work.
SO0920 : Frosty grass by Graham Horn SO0920 : Emerging from the mist by Philip Halling SO0920 : Eastern slopes of Twyn Du 5 by Jonathan Billinger SO0920 : Tor y Foel from below Twyn Du by Graham Horn SO0920 : Eastern slopes of Twyn Du 1 by Jonathan Billinger SO0920 : Talybont Forest in cloud by Philip Halling SO0920 : Eastern slopes of Twyn Du 14 by Jonathan Billinger

Twyn Du

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright
1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright

The climb up Twyn Du ridge SO0820 is steady and gentle, on a good path through sheep grazing moorland. The views east above the cloud were extensive, with Talybont Forest SO0922, the Black Mountains and Tor y Foel SO115194 prominent and Table Mountain SO226207 and The Sugar Loaf SO272188 clearly visible in the distance. Seeing pockets of land such as Buckland Hill SO139212 breaking above the cloud was particularly fascinating.
SO0820 : Footpath on Twyn Du by Jonathan Billinger SO0920 : Cairn approaching Twyn Du by Graham Horn SO0820 : Twyn Du by Philip Halling SO0920 : Cairn on shoulder of Twyn Du by Graham Horn SO0720 : Tor y Foel from Twyn Du by Philip Halling SO0820 : Sugar Loaf (Y Fâl) viewed from below Twyn Du by Philip Halling

1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright
1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright

The path now follows level moorland, with a steep climb up Craig y Fan to Carn Pica in prospect ahead. So plenty of opportunity was taken to stop and admire that view eastwards again.
SO0720 : Footpath to Carn Pica by Jonathan Billinger SO0720 : Approaching Carn Pica by Philip Halling SO0720 : View east along Twyn Du by Jonathan Billinger SO0720 : Steep path up Craig y Fan 2 by Jonathan Billinger SO0720 : Climbing towards Carn Pica by Graham Horn SO0720 : Tor y Foel from Twyn Du by Philip Halling

Carn Pica and Waun Rydd

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1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright

Carn Pica SO069201 stands prominently at the edge of the Waun Rydd plateau above Craig y Fan. It has recently been rebuilt, as a picture by Nigel Davies shows. Another excuse for a stop, and to check with two GPSs that Carn Pica is indeed in that square. It is, by about 20 metres, although it is interesting to see that two identical GPS units (Garmin Etrex) often differed by up to five metres (never more) throughout the day.
SO0620 : Two geographers by Carn Pica by Jonathan Billinger SO0720 : Approaching Carn Pica by Graham Horn SO0620 : Rebuilt Carn Pica on Waun Rydd by Nigel Davies SO0620 : Carn Pica by Graham Horn SO0620 : Cairn on Carn Pica by Philip Halling SO0620 : Carn Pica by Jonathan Billinger

Continuing west, the path on the Waun Rydd plateau SO0620 turns gently northwards past frozen summit pools and eroded sections of peat. The view towards the main Brecon Beacons peaks opens up.
SO0620 : Pool on Waun Rydd by Graham Horn SO0620 : Frozen pool on Craig Pwllfa by Philip Halling SO0620 : Frozen pond on Waun Rydd 2 by Jonathan Billinger SO0620 : Erosion on Waun Rydd by Graham Horn SO0620 : Peat erosion on Waun Rydd by Graham Horn SO0520 : A single icicle by Jonathan Billinger

Bwlch y Ddwyallt, Craig Cwareli and Craig Cwmoergwm


1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright
1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright

The plateau now narrows to a col, with an aerial view of the first of the steep north-facing glaciated cwms, Cwm Cwareli, and gentler slopes to the south. A good path hugs the tops of the head walls of successive cwms, following Bwlch y Ddwyallt, Craig Cwareli and Craig Cwmoergwm, to Fan y Big. Each corner turned reveals another massive drop to the north, where the sun never shines, and it is also from this area that the main peaks of the Brecon Beacons line up for their family portrait. We are joined by The Beacons Way, an 161 kilometre long distance path that seems to wander all over the National Park collecting every point of interest on route.
SO0520 : Footpaths meet at Bwlch y Ddwyallt by Jonathan Billinger SO0520 : Bwlch y Ddwyallt from the north-east by Graham Horn SO0520 : Cwm Cwareli by Philip Halling SO0420 : Path above Craig Cwareli by Philip Halling SO0520 : Peat hagg at Bwlch y Ddwyallt by Philip Halling SO0419 : Cairn on Craig Cwareli by Graham Horn

SO0319 : By the left ... dress by Graham Horn
Repeat after me:
silver = Corn Du
gold = Pen y Fan
bronze = Cribyn
4th = Fan y Big

SO0319 : Walking alongside the Craig Cwmoergwm by Jonathan Billinger
Repeat after me:
silver = Corn Du
gold = Pen y Fan
bronze = Cribyn
4th = Fan y Big

SO0419 : The Brecon Beacons by Philip Halling
Repeat after me:
silver = Corn Du
gold = Pen y Fan
bronze = Cribyn
4th = Fan y Big


Fan y Big and Bwlch ar y Fan

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1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright

Fan y Big is really just a promontory where the cliffs surrounding Cwm Oergwm and Cwm Cynwyn join. Its claim to fame is "the diving board", an airy slab of rock near the summit projecting out a couple of metres above the head wall of Cwm Cynwyn. Certain people are persuaded to stand on it to have their photo taken.
SO0320 : Fan y Big summit by Jonathan Billinger SO0320 : Bare rock on Fan y Big by Philip Halling SO0320 : Fan y Big summit by Jonathan Billinger SO0320 : Fan y Big diving board by Graham Horn SO0320 : The High Dive by Jonathan Billinger

There follows a steep descent to Bwlch ar y Fan (Pass of the Beacon). This is the lowest point of the ridge and has been used for centuries as the pass from south to north. Good tracks lead up from Cwm Taf Fechan to the south and Cwm Cynwyn to the north, both of which are popular access routes and quick, safe descents in an emergency. This meeting of the ways was a convenient point for lunch.
SO0320 : Bwlch ar y Fan by Jonathan Billinger SO0320 : Descent to Bwlch ar y Fan by Graham Horn SO0320 : Above Bwlch ar y Fan by Philip Halling SO0320 : The western slope of Fan y Big by Jonathan Billinger SO0320 : Beacons Way by Jonathan Billinger

Blaen Taf Fechan and Cribyn

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1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright

Jonathan followed the Beacons Way round the south side of Cribyn to collect some photos of the Taf Fechan. This is a level path avoiding the slog up Craig Cwm Cynwyn, a bonus if you are covering the whole 161 kilometre Beacons Way. There are good views southwards towards Blaen Taf Fechan (the Head of the Little Taf) which becomes part of Afon Taf, the main South Wales river flowing into the sea at Cardiff. A short distance down is Upper Neuadd Reservoir SO0219 which is a popular starting point for walks from the south.
SO0220 : The Beacons Way by Jonathan Billinger SO0120 : Tor y Bigwns 1 by Jonathan Billinger SO0220 : Gwaun Perfedd by Jonathan Billinger SO0219 : Upper Neuadd Reservoir by Graham Horn

Meanwhile Phil and Graham climbed Cribyn. This is another point where head walls join, Craig Cwm Cynwyn and Craig Cwm Sere, separated by the steep descent of Bryn Teg. The top of Cribyn, looking down Bryn Teg, is probably the most exposed point on the whole walk.
SO0221 : Cribyn summit by Jonathan Billinger SO0220 : The path above Craig Cwm Cynwyn by Philip Halling SO0220 : Path above Craig Cwm Cynwyn by Philip Halling SO0221 : Bare rock on the summit of Cribyn by Philip Halling SO0221 : Bryn Teg by Philip Halling SO0221 : View west from Cribyn by Graham Horn

Pen y Fan

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1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright

The most strenuous part of the route is probably the 130 metre descent from Cribyn to the col and the 220 metre ascent of Pen y Fan on the far side. The much-eroded path has been significantly improved with stone, including stepping stones across the pools at the col. Here are more views looking both ways.
SO0221 : Path descending from Cribyn by Philip Halling SO0121 : Pen y Fan by Philip Halling SO0121 : Crossing the pool by Graham Horn SO0221 : The west side of Cribyn 2 by Jonathan Billinger SO0221 : The ghost of Cribyn by Graham Horn SO0121 : The final ascent to Pen y Fan by Jonathan Billinger

The final haul up to the summit gets steeper at the point where the old red sandstone cap is met. The whole area was once glaciated. The retreating ice eroded the old red sandstone from all but the peaks of Pen y Fan and Corn Du, thus leaving them the highest points in the area.
SO0121 : Erosion on Pen y Fan by Graham Horn SO0121 : The sting in the tail by Graham Horn SO0121 : Looking east from Pen y Fan by Jonathan Billinger SO0121 : Corn Du viewed from above Craig Cwm Sere by Philip Halling SO0121 : Rocky path near the summit of Pen y Fan by Philip Halling

Finally you are standing on the 883 metre summit of Pen y Fan, the highest point in Southern Britain. Pen y Fan means "Head of the Beacon". This is the panoramic view composed of seven separate photos (is it somehow possible to make a true panorama out of these?) Apart from the peaks to the east that we have just visited, Cribyn, Fan y Big, Waun Rydd etc, one can still see the Black Mountains beyond, plus the distinctive Sugarloaf. Slightly further north than the northern end of the Black Mountains we could make out with the naked eye Brown Clee Hill SO594866 87 kilometres and Titterstone Clee Hill SO591779 81 kilometres. To the south-east, south and south-west are the various upland areas between the South Wales valleys. Again, with the naked eye we could make out the Quantock Hills and Exmoor over 80 kilometres due south. Beyond the two visiting Geographers and nearby summit of Corn Du, to be visited shortly, the peaks of Fforest Fawr can be seen, Fan Fawr SN9619, Fan Nedd SN9118, Fan Gyhirych SN8819 and Fan Brycheiniog SN8221. The most extensive view, though, is probably to the north-west where the successive layers of upland above the cloud revealed Mynydd Epynt, centred around SN9443, the moorland around Drygarn Fawr SN8658, and Pumlimon Fawr SN7886. By careful examination we were also able to confirm that we could see Aran Fawddwy SH8622 102 kilometres distant on a bearing of 351 degrees grid (above the head of the guy sitting on his own in the fifth photo - trust me!).
SO0121 : Top of Southern Britain on New Year's Eve - south-east by Graham HornSO0121 : Top of Southern Britain on New Year's Eve - south-south-west by Graham HornSO0121 : Top of Southern Britain on New Year's Eve - west-south-west by Graham HornSO0121 : Top of Southern Britain on New Year's Eve - west-north-west by Graham HornSO0121 : Top of Southern Britain on New Year's Eve - north-north-west by Graham HornSO0121 : Top of Southern Britain on New Year's Eve - north-north-east by Graham HornSO0121 : Top of Southern Britain on New Year's Eve - east-north-east by Graham Horn

The summit was incredibly free of people, thus the Geographers had to make the best of the human interest around them, mainly each other.
SO0121 : On top of Pen y Fan by Jonathan Billinger SO0121 : Geographer on Pen y Fan 2 by Jonathan Billinger SO0121 : Enjoying the view from Pen y Fan by Philip Halling SO0121 : Geographer on Pen y Fan 1 by Jonathan Billinger SO0121 : View to the west from Pen y Fan by Philip Halling SO0121 : A walker in his heaven by Graham Horn

Corn Du

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1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright

Heading south-west we crossed the slight col between Pen y Fan and Corn Du, and were soon sheltering from the wind again on the lee side (west) of that mountain.
SO0021 : Corn Du from Pen y Fan by Graham Horn SO0021 : The summit of Corn Du by Philip Halling SO0121 : The Beacons Way by Jonathan Billinger SO0121 : Pen y Fan from Corn Du by Graham Horn SO0121 : The summit of Pen y Fan by Philip Halling SO0021 : The summit of Corn Du by Philip Halling

The finish


Ahead of schedule and with some daylight left, we decided to descend by three different routes to add a bit of variety to our pictures.

Phil's route

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1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright

Phil took the north-west ridge, Craig Cwm Llwch, with a view back to Corn Du. He went past the obelisk to Tommy Jones, the 5-year old boy who died after getting lost on the mountain, then followed the watershed west and south-west over Y Gyrn towards Storey Arms.
SO0021 : Descent from Corn Du by Graham Horn SO0021 : Brecon Beacons by Philip Halling SO0021 : Approaching the summit of Corn Du by Philip Halling SO0021 : Tommy Jones Memorial by Philip Halling SN9820 : Cloud hangs over the Storey Arms by Philip Halling

Graham's route

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1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright

Graham started on the same route, with a view down to Llyn Cwm Llwch, a glacier tarn, then headed west on the direct path to Storey Arms, crossing the headwaters of the Taf Fawr.
SO0021 : Path to Corn Du by Graham Horn SN9921 : Lone walker descending Corn Du by Jonathan Billinger SN9921 : Path to Corn Du by Graham Horn SN9921 : Blaen Taf Fawr by Graham Horn SN9820 : Cloud in Glyn Tarell by Graham Horn

Jonathan's route

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1:50,000 Modern Day Landranger(TM) Map © Crown Copyright

Jonathan headed south-west to Bwlch Duwynt, then down the direct route to the car park past frozen waterfalls on the Taf Fawr.
SN9920 : Look West! by Jonathan Billinger SN9920 : Descending the Corn Du path by Jonathan Billinger SN9919 : Main path to Pen y Fan by Jonathan Billinger SN9919 : Waterfalls of the Blaen Taf  Fawr 1 by Jonathan Billinger SN9819 : Footbridge over the Blaen Taf Fawr by Jonathan Billinger

And finally ...


And we all reached the bottom, back in the valley mist, just as the sun was going down, to end a perfect day.
SN9919 : Last glimpse of the sun in 2008 by Jonathan Billinger SN9820 : The A470 at Storey Arms by Philip Halling SN9820 : A470 at Storey Arms by Jonathan Billinger

The icing on the cake for us was that three photographs from the trip, one from each contributor, reached the top ten in the Geograph of the Year week 52 shortlist.
SO1021 : Robin at the car park by Graham Horn SO0920 : Eastern slopes of Twyn Du 5 by Jonathan Billinger SO0320 : Bare rock on Fan y Big by Philip Halling
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