Brecon Beacons (Pen y Fan) Horseshoe from Neuadd Reservoir walk
A classic horseshoe walk of the Brecon Beacons (Pen y Fan, Corn Du, Fan y Big) around a glacial valley, with an extension to Waun Rydd
|Length||15.3 km (9.5 mi), with 804m ascent/descent. For alternative start points with longer and tougher walk, and for opportunities to cut out some of the ascent and distance, see below Walk Options.|
|Toughness||6 out of 10, with 5 hours walking time.|
The ridge linking the four table-top peaks traversed on this walk (Corn Du, Pen y Fan, Cribyn, Fan y Big) forms the majestic core of the Central Brecon Beacons and contains the three highest tops in South Wales, of which Pen-y-Fan is the highest at 2907 feet / 886 metres. As a result, this classic horseshoe walk around a steep sided glacial valley is amongst the best ridge walks in South Britain, featuring some spectacular views in all directions, over South Wales and the Severn Estuary.
From a remote reservoir (at 401m) north of Merthyr Tydfil you climb steeply to reach the ridge, from where the gradient is mostly fairly gentle over good engineered paths as you follow a sequence of steep escarpments to Corn Du and Pen y Fan. Pen y Fan is the southern-most mountain in Britain and a large glacial grassy mound with steep glacial sides.
A steep descent leads to the base of Cribyn, which requires a steep 120m ascent and descent, however, the main path contours around it.
Descent to a col, and either take a good gently downhill track back to the start, or make a final steep 500m ascent (not as high as it looks from the bottom) to Fan y Big to complete the horseshoe. An out-and-back extension further along the fairly level ridge – to Waun Rydd alongside an upland bog – offers more superb views, lastly along the Usk Valley.
Route finding is easy (in clear weather), as the whole of the horseshoe route is visible at all times. Despite some steep drops this walk is not scary or dangerous, but it is exceptionally exposed to the elements. As the horseshoe walk starts from a remote car park, 8 more accessible ascents to the ridge are described.
Note: Corn Du and Pen y Fan are very popular peaks as they can be easily accessed from car parks on the A470. Expect lots of walkers (experienced and not) on that short stretch, in any weather.
When descending from Fan y Big or Waun Rydd, start your descent from Fan y Big. Don't start your descend from the south end of the ridge, as the valley side (Tor Glas, marked on the OS map) is pitted with streams, and is a good example of why you shouldn't follow a stream downhill - its a good place to break an ankle
The drama of the ridge walk develops best when approached from the Neuadd Reservoir car park, slowly ascending to the ridge and then up to the tops along it, before gently descending back to the start.
However, the car park is very remote, and not served by public transport, therefore 8 other routes to the summit are described
These starts inevitably add distance and ascent to the walk, making it a very strenuous walk if also completing the full horseshoe. On the other hand they enable numerous variations of the ridge walk, going up one route, completing some of the ridge walk and/or the extension, and descending a different route. For an overview of the various ascent and descent options check the route map on the SWC website and for all details see pages 8 and 15 of the walk directions pdf respectively.
OS Explorer: OL12 (Brecon Beacons National Park)
OS Landranger: 160 (Brecon Beacons)
Neuadd Reservoir, map reference SO 036 170, is 9 km north of Merthyr Tydfil, 229 km west north west of Charing Cross, 401m above sea level and in Powys, Wales (as are all other start & finish points).
Saturday Walkers’ Club: This walk is doable as a day walk from London by car.
A couple of options not far from the end of the Horseshoe, on the road back down south to Pontsticill and Merthyr, but more options at the alternative end points, in Talybont and in Brecon. See page 2 of the pdf.
|Stay||Accommodation is available in Brecon, Merthyr Tydfil & Crickhowell, and in the Llwyn-y-Celyn Youth Hostel.|
If travelling from the south (Merthyr Tydfil), along the road from the A465/A70 junction to Pontsticill (which leads on to the Neuadd Reservoir access road), you'll pass the dramatic Pontsarn railway viaduct near Glais Bridge(near CF48 2TS). It's part of a disused railway line, now forming part of the Taff Trail walk/cycle path. It's worth stopping to look at it on the way back down.
The even more dramatic Cefn-Coed Viaduct (part of the same disused railway line, and also part of the Taff trail) over the Merthyr itself. Its north end is near CF48 2NB, in Cefn-coed. It crosses the valley over the A465 "Heads of the Valleys" Road, near the point were you join/leave it.
The Brecon Beacons National Park is in south Wales. It consists of bare, grassy, glacial mountains, with north facing escarpments. Its peaks, just shy of 1,000m (3,000ft), are the highest mountains in the southern UK. The national park is also noted for reservoirs, and the Dan yr Ogof caves. Its 4 mountain areas, from west to east are:
This is a challenging but achievable walk in good weather, even for young children, but it is in remote exposed mountain areas. It is possible to twist an ankle on any walk, and it will take hours for mountain rescue to drive to the trailhead, then climb the mountain, to reach you. So:
After the walk, we would love to get your feedback
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline (bus times): 0871 200 22 33 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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Full directions for this walk are in a PDF file (link above) which you can print, or download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
This is just the introduction. This walk's detailed directions are in a PDF available from wwww.walkingclub.org.uk