SWC Walk 85 : Pen y Fan Horseshoe
A classic horseshoe walk climbing the highest peaks in the Brecon Beacons via a glacial ridge. Access by car only
Pen y Fan : 6.5 miles (10.5 km), 1700 ft (500 m) of ascent
Pen y Fan and Fan y Big : 8.0 miles (12.9 km), 2100 ft (650 m) of ascent
Pen y Fan, Fan y Big and Waun Rydd : 12.0 miles (17.5 km), 2400 ft (750 m) of ascent
|OS Map||OS Explorer 12 (Breacon West and Central)|
|Toughness||10 out of 10 - about 500m / 1,500 feet of ascent|
This classic horseshoe walk to Pen-y-Fan (2907 feet / 886 metres), the highest peak in South Wales and the Breacon Beacons National Park. The walk is along a U-shaped ridge around a steep sided glacial valley, with stunning views over South Wales, and the Bristol Channel. After a very steep climb at the start to reach the ridge, the walk is fairly gentle over good paths.
The walk starts at a remote resevoir north of Merthyr Tydfil (so access by car only), and quickly ascends a steep sided glacial valley to begin the ridge walk. The first summit reached after a gentle walk is Corn Du and then a short climb up to the highest peak - Pen y Fan
Then is down to the col. Peak baggers only can add Crybin (you loose the height straight away), or just contour around it to a lower col. The shorter walk ends here - just follow the farmer's track back to your car.
Although it looks steep, especially just after the descent from Pen-y-Fan, it is only 500 feet up to Fan y Big - highly recommended. Its summit is one end of a large high altitude bog with stunning views. Either contine walking around the glacial valley before descending, or a do a lovely flat ridge walk to the other side of the bog along a good path to Waun Rydd.
The entire route is over well maintained paths, the drops are steep only on 1 side, so none of it is scary, or needs a head for heights. Route finding (in clear weather) is easy as you can see the entire horseshoe route (apart from the out-and-back to Waun Rydd) from any point on the route. The summits are very exposed however, so a walk for a clear sunny day, with little wind or rain
Pen-y-Fan is large glacial grassy mound with steep glacial sides, less rocky than the mountains of North Wales. It is the southern most mountain in Great Britain, about 3½ hours drive from London.
To any of the above, add: Crybin (i.e. go over it rather than contour around it, same distance, about an extra very steep 120m of ascent)
The mountain (Corn Du and Pen y Fan) can also be climbed from the Storey Arms (now an Outdoor Education Centre) car park on the A470. This is much easier (you start at 470m) and by far the most popular route up, due to it starting on a main road and having a shorter ascent. The route is weymarked and well maintained. It gets quite crowded on a clear day. There are 2 parallel paths up, well maintained by the Nation Park service (so up one, down the other, but still basically out and back by the same route). The route meets this one up just before Corn Du. Its not practical to do the horseshoe route to Fan y Big from the Storey Arms.
Sadly, there are fatalities in the Breacon Beacons, even in the summer.
|Railway Viaducts||If travelling from the south (via Merthyr Tydfil), you'll pass a dramatic railway viaduct, part of a disused railway line, and now forming parth of the Taff Trail walk/cycle path - its worth stopping to look at it on the way back down. An even more dramatic viaduct (on the same disused railway line and also part of the Taff trail) is over the Merthyr itself. Its north end (SO 032083) is in Cefn-coed, and it crosses the valley over the A465 "Heads of the Valleys" Road, near the point were you join/leave the A465|
|Travel||Car Only. Park by the Neuadd Reservoir. Park at the farest National Park car-park. If the barrier is open, go a km or so further, and park along the side on the access Road to Neuadd Reservoir (OS: 032181). Its single track, but there is space to park, and a turning circle at the end. The resevoir is a few miles north of Pontsticill, which is in turn, north of Merthyr Tydfil. Nearest postcode: CF48 2UT (near start of resevoir access road)|
|Stay||Brecon or Abergavenny|
|Lunch and Tea||Pubs in Pontsticill - if coming from the south, you'll drive past them.|
After the walk, we would really appreciate your comments
|Map Walk||This walk requires an OS map and a compass or GPS for navigation. You can print out OS maps using the link above.|
National Rail Enquires: 08457 48 49 50 • Travelline South East (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (10p/min from landlines) • Transport for London: 0343 222 1234
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Getting to the Start
- Head north from Merthyr Tydfil, past Pontsticill, along the west side of the large Pentwyn resevoir.
- Where the road bends right along the top of the reservoir (near CF48 2UT), go straight on (north) along a single track lane (the Neuadd Reservoir's access road).
- Continue as far as you can along the access road. In April 2011, the road was blocked just after a National Park car-park, but you may be able to continue a little further to a second gate (at height 470m) where there is room for several cars to park.
- You are in the middle of a steep sided glacial valley surrounded by the ridge which you are about to walk around. There is a reservoir in the bottom, and a farmer's track heading up it (north) on its right hand side to a col (pass) between 2 of the peaks. The route is distinct and easy to follow. Apart from option 4 (not recommended in mist), the valley bottom containing the car park, reservoir, and track is visible from the entire route.
- Head north along the access road (passing the start of the track and a car barrier if you started from the National Park car park).
- Just before the reservoir, cross to the other side of the valley, heading west, and climb straight up the steep sided valley to the ridge on one of several obvious tracks (to reach height 730m).
- Follow the ridge north along a gentle and obvious route.
- At the junction with the path from the Storey Arms, bear left, still gently uphill, along a path, steep only at the end, to Corn-Du (873m).
- Then you loose a little height before climbing again to reach Pen y Fan (886), the heighest peak in the Brecon Beacons and South Wales.
- The route is steeply down off the east side of the summit.
- At the col (pass at the bottom), you can see Crybin directly in front of you. Here, you have a choice, around the side or over the top!
- To climb Crybin : (option 1 above - heros only, as you loose the height straight away) Continue straight back up to Crybin (795), turn south, and along its ridge, and down the other side.
- To contour around it : (the much easier option) - follow the obvious path
- Either way, come to another, lower, col (pass) with the farmer's paved track (at 599m).
- Here you have another choice, head back to your car, or continue peak bagging.
- To return to your car : Follow the track (south) straight back to the car park.
- To continue the main walk, climb very steeply straight up (east) to Fan-y-Big (719m).
- This peak is the far end of a large expanse of almost flat high altitude boggy moorland It has 3 other indistinct summits that make for a gentle ridge walk (once you've made the summit) with dramatic views throughout.
- Follow the ridge south then south west along an obvious path to the next peak (730 m).
- Here you have another choice. Head back to your car, or continue to Waun Rydd.
- To reach Waun Rydd: Follow the fairly level ridge path all the way round (east) to Waun Rydd, about 3.5 km (762m), then retrace your steps back to this point.
- Descend the steep valley side (the opposite side from the one you ascended earlier), and follow the farmer's track back to the car park.
- Do not contour too far around Tor Glas (the steep slope above the farmer's track) before you descend. In particular, do not cross the stream (marked waterfalls on the 1:25,000 map). While there is an indistinct path down on the otherside, it is boggy, slippery, and heavy going - it is a good example of the reason why you're not advised to follow rivers downhill.