I put my legs and lungs to the test in the Brecon Beacons this week and wow, was it worth it.
I had some annual leave to use up and had got it in to my head about going somewhere new and somewhere challenging, so having a google search I stumbled upon the Beacons Circuit on the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority website – www.breconbeacons.org. It claims this was ‘the big one’ which takes in the main summits and ridges of the central Brecon Beacons all in one go. So, being a ‘go big or go home’ kind of guy, I was sold on this 11 mile hike.
The route starts at the Storey Arms Outdoor Education Centre where you climb the first hill, Y Gyrn (619m), from which you start to see the challenge ahead with Corn Du and Pen-y-Fan ahead and to the left of you, respectively. The sprinkling of snow on the peaks and ridges made the sections ahead even more exciting, I’m a big kid at heart and walking in the snow felt like a real treat.
After another climb along the Craig Cwm Llwch ridge you pass Tommy Jones’ obelisk. This is a memorial to a 5 year old boy who became lost on the mountains in the summer of 1990, marking the spot where his body was unfortunately found.
The wind was whipping savagely over the ridge and only got worse at the summit of Corn Du (873m). This is second highest peak in South Wales and has a substantial Bronze Age cairn on the summit. The view is incredible – panoramic and extensive, but its Pen-y-Fan that dominates the view. The summit for which is reached by crossing a saddle like ridge. This is the highest of the southern peaks at just over 2,900 feet above sea level and apparently is used as part of the UK Special Forces selection process.
The journey down Craig Cwm Sere was slow going due to the amount of snow and ice and what wasn’t covered was slick with water and mud. But the ‘rest’ is short lived as from here you climb up to the top of Crybyn (795m). Down from here you meet the ancient trail known as ‘The Gap’ – which is a wide gently sloping pathway made of beautiful red rock and sand. It runs alongside the Neuadd reservoirs which boast some impressive dam barriers and buildings and frankly a lovely place to stop for a coffee.
Through the reservoir complex you climb up for around 200m to reach a trig point at 642m above sea level. The path is steep but the improvement works being carried out make it manageable, with gravelled paths and stone steps helping ease the brutal ascent. From the trig point your aiming to go right, back towards Corn Du. Now, two things happened here. I was tired but enjoying leaping from tuft to tuft, avoiding the deep drifts of snow until there came a gap too big to jump. So, I jumped in to the snow and sunk waste deep in to a bog. Having been an avid watcher of Ray Mears and Bear Grylls I knew to immediately fall forwards and spread my weight. Well, that’s how I’m telling it ok!? Anyway, I was soaked and muddy so a brief roll in the snow took the worst of the mud off and allowed me to keep going. SO the walk along the long, exposed ridge to Corn Du was less than pleasant – the wind had got up and was viciously whipping my wet clothes and I had to really lean against it to keep going.
Turning away from Corn Du and heading down hill you find a well-made path down which takes you down to Pont yr Daf and the river Taff Fawr. From here it’s a short walk back along the road to the Storey Arms and for me, a chance to change my clothes and grab a nice hot coffee from the refreshment van.
With a bit of exploring along the way, I ticked off 14 miles in 5 hours. After some respite I headed off 20 minutes south to Waterfall Country, which has the greatest concentration of falls, gorges and caves anywhere in Britain.
The Four Falls Trail is a linear walk starting at Gwaun Hepste carpark and leads to the four main falls along the river Mellte.
Each fall is impressive in its own right, but for the me reason for this was to visit the last of the falls – Sgwd yr Eira. This truly is a hidden gem – reached by cliff hugging, rocky paths along the river’s edge – heard before it is properly seen. Due to the amount of rain to waterfall was thundering on the rough path which goes behind the fall. So I ticked off one of my bucket list items and walked behind the waterfall. The noise and the spray were intense but there is nothing like it and it was an experience I will not forget.
The trail is around 5 miles, with a lot of up and downs, but it’s an amazing experience and therefore totally worth the effort.