Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

Walking the central Brecon Beacons

6th November 2006

The naming of the Brecon Beacons National Park is a plausible source of confusion because it is named after one of the several mountain ranges occurring within its boundaries. From west to east, the mountain ranges are: Black Mountain, Fforest Fawr, Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains. The first and last on the list are another source of confusion, especially when guidebook writes get them mixed up. In addition to these, there are other attractions such as the town of Brecon (which hosts a jazz festival every year) and the Usk Valley around Crickhowell and Abergavenny.

The last of these is where I have been on my previous visits to the national park. The first of these saw me walk from Abergavenny to the summit of Sugar Loaf and back. On the other visit, I walked the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal between Abergavenny to Crickhowell, from where a bus returned me to the start of my walk.

Abergavenny has always been my entry point because of its being a stop for train services travelling between Manchester and Cardiff. However, remaining in its vicinity has always felt as if I was away from the heart of the action and tricky public connections stopped me going east until last Saturday when I visited the central Beacons, the Bannau Brycheiniog proper.

The useful X43 got me from Abergavenny train station to Storey Arms between Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil. Storey Arms is a popular starting point for walkers, as I discovered, and that was even with Cardiff playing Australia at the Millennium Stadium: the Welsh follow their rugby closely. Next time, I might start from somewhere quieter because I found it hard to relax with people both ahead of and behind me. In fact, I have seen Storey Arms described since as a honeypot.

My walk took me over Y Gyrn on my way to Corn Ddu and then Pen y Fan, the highest hill in the national park. Cribyn was a tempting proposition, but for the amount of up and down that would be incurred to reach its summit: I decided to leave it for another day and picked up a path on its southern slopes that took me to Bwlch ar y Fan. The steep sided Fan y Big presented itself there, and I was tempted by a partial ascent of Cribyn from its less steep side before returning to the aforementioned pass (bwlch is the Welsh for pass, just as bealach performs the same function in Scots Gaelic) and made my way to Brecon before dark. I now realise that ascending Cribyn and descending its northern spur was a distinct possibility, but I decided to play it cautious on my first visit to these hills.

After some good walking on a clear, sunny day, I left Brecon on the X43 to Abergavenny with a view to returning: there is a good deal to experience here. From Abergavenny, rail got me home by 21:00 with a train to Stockport for a connection to Macclesfield, an early finish; the start was early though with a 06:10 bus departure to get me to Crewe for the 07:18 train to Abergavenny.

Fan y Big, Brecon Beacons, Powys, Wales

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