The Brecon Three Peaks was a long overdue visit to this part of Wales. We figured that the trip from Guildford was a hop, skip, and a jump – so plenty of time to get to know the area.
Finding The Brecon Three Peaks
Setting off from Guildford at lunchtime on Friday, the trip was instantly a ball-ache, taking an interminable 75 minutes to get as far as Reading. We hoped to be near Swindon by that stage in proceedings, and the SatNav was continually predicting longer and longer journey times. Still, the weather forecast was kind, and we had hope in our hearts.
The rest of the trip made the first 75 minutes seem like a charm. It was turgid driving, and when the SatNav took us North past Chepstow and the local roads towards Abergavenny at 20mph, patience with the drive dropped.
Passing through Tintern was beautiful, and as we crawled through LLandogo I was reminded of the Netflix series Sex Education – which was down to the fact that Llandogo and the Wye Valley were filming locations. At this point, the fact that we were following an octagenarian in a Skoda at 12mph in a 20 limit was a boon…
Getting within 20 miles of Brecon the SatNav delivered us to a cart track that tested our marriage and my £250 per wheel tyres – at which point we testily swapped drivers, and I was presented with metal bollards with a 7′ gap protecting a bridge. I had 2 attempts at getting my 6’10” Q5 through the gap, before angrily driving through the Friday night traffic.
We got to Brecon and bought our provisions for the walk.
Choosing our route
We’d done some research and had opted to walk from the Cwm Gwdi Car Park – part of the reason we’d stayed in Brecon. Many walks, and the majority of walkers, start from the Southern approaches, including the Storey Arms. Liking our space and solitude to enjoy nature, we opted for a “quiet” route.
We Paid and Displayed, hoisted our packs onto our backs, and set off – knowing that the walk would be tough going to start with. The weather was great. A little grey (like me) but warm, dry, and with a gentle breeze.
Within a few hundred metres the views behind us, and to the North, started to open up beautifully – revealing a vast plateau with various peaks beyond.
A wag had provided a piece of useful advice in graffiti form:
As our minds and bodies woke up to the task ahead of us, we took the advice from the rock, and focused our efforts in small blocks of distance, and periodically rewarded ourselves with chunks of delicious crumbly fudge. Hats off to Aldi for the fudge – it gave Roly’s a run for its money!
Before long we crested a rise, and our first “proper” vista appeared – with the route ahead ahead of us clear for all to see. Pen-y-Fan was directly ahead, Corn Dhu to the right, and Cribyn to the left. We couldn’t determine where Fan-y-Big was, but the only reason we’d considered a walk there was for the childishness giggling that the name brought about.
The walk up to Pen-y-Fan was just lovely. The track was easy to follow, but wasn’t a motorway. There were enough people around that if things went shit-shaped, we’d live to tell the story. And there was no litter. The strata on the rocks was beautiful to behold, and we took the time to slow down and enjoy the walk.
The path followed a broad ridge before somewhat rearing up in front of us – reminiscent a little of Pen-y-Ghent in the Yorkshire Three Peaks.
Up we went, until we crested the mountain – revealing a large flat summit on which there were excitable throngs of people milling around. There was a huge number of younger people – teens – who seemed genuinely excited to be on the top of the world.
We took our place at the cairn, took the obligatory snap, enjoyed the 360 degree views, and settled to eat some lunch. Although it’s not the highest summit I’ve walked by some margin, I still marvel at the views that the highest point in any region affords – and we were blessed with the weather.
The walk from Pen-y-Fan to Corn Dhu was little more than 15 minutes.
While only about 400m from Pen-y-Fan, it felt very different, and the views seemed better – something I can’t really fathom. We sat and looked down over Llyn Cwm Llwch and the path down to the Tommy Jones obelisk. Poor young Tommy – and the mystery that surrounds his death to this very day.
Our seat afforded a comfortable place to sit, with our legs dangling into space, however the local fly population liked it too, and with the temperature dropping, we proved our achievement with a picture, and set off again.
The route from Dorn Dhu to Cribyn would take us up to Pen-y-Fan, then down, then up again. Choosing to avoid the crowds and to keep ups and downs to a minimum, we found a smaller and deserted path on All Trails. This is one thing that I adore about All Trails. We’d never have found the path that we did without having the app, and as with the Ranger Path, the slightest deviation from the tourist routes affords space and peace.
Dropping the 200m or so, we then settled in for the climb up to the top of Cribyn. It’s an unforgiving “climb” that must be about as close as you can get to a natural path following an arrow-straight gradient.
Employing familiar memory games we attempted to distract our brains from the walk ahead. Our legs were tiring a little, and while I’m learning to enjoy the walk, and not focus just on the finishing, I would be more than OK when we reached the summit.
Before too long we reached what I thought was a false summit, and found that we had arrived. Oh, happy days!
Getting down again
Our options to get down were (a) re-trace our steps to Pen-y-Fan (no thank you very much); (b) head off to Fan-y-Big for a chortle and a much longer walk (no thanks); or (c) follow a goat path off the Northern face of Cribyn.
Seeing not a soul in sight on our goat path, and realising that a missed step could result in a nasty fall, we manned-up, and shimmied down.
After the initial 15 minutes of concentration, the walk down was easy, though a long “down” is just as tiring as a long “up”, and our toenails started to know that we’d been descending.
Avoiding some nutter sheep, we made our way off the mountain, and with the help of All-Trails, back to the car in almost total solitude.
It was a long overdue trip to the Brecon Beacons, and I’m glad we did it. It was right for us as a couple. Challenging enough without being intimidating.
It reminded us of the need to pack for all weathers, including summit temperatures.
We must, must, must NOT rely on All Trails for navigation.
I’d walk it again, but not in a hurry.