Three Days in the Brecon Beacons, April 2019

Day 1

A 5:45am start was not an ideal time to start a long day but with a 180 mile drive to the start of the trail I didn’t have much of a choice.

I had packed everything the night before, including my food bag which meant I ended up forgetting the cheese I bought for lunches. I only realized this half way to Wales and had to make a slight detour to pick some up or I wouldn’t have had enough food.

After a little bit of driving around the tiny village of Llangynidyr I finally found the parking lot I had been told about and met up with Nigel, one of two people who were joining me on the hike.

Within 20 minutes Rikka arrived off the bus. She wasn’t feeling great after a late night bus ride from London so wasn’t hopeful about the trip.

With bags on our backs we followed the road a short way and finally turned onto a track that led up through farm land towards Tor Y Foel. We made the decision to climb over the peak rather than skirting, a decision I was regretting about half way up.

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The sun was brutally beating down on us and we were all worried about our water supplies. The views from the top made the climb worth it and we took a break for lunch while absorving the wide panorama of peaks and valleys.

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We poured over the map for a while before deciding to do our route backwards. It was a better choice for water and for camping options.

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We descended Tor Y Foel and followed a track around peaks and above the reservoir before turning into a deep notch carved between two points. Sheep surrounded us and wild ponies chomped grass as we passed by, barely casting us a glance, and two lizards seemed to be in a weird battle of teeth.

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At a trail junction we turned right and headed across the wide open moorland where the camping would have been perfect…if there had been water. It was here that Rikka decided that she wanted to do her own thing and she stayed behind as we continhed across the heathland and down into the valley towards the reservoir.

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Nigel and I chatted as we left Rikka alone, a little worried as she didn’t have a map or know the area. She knew the way back though. (She was fine and met up with Nigel for another hike on the Monday I believe).

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As we neared the lake, with the sun sparkling off it like a thousand diamonds, we passed a cafe and stopped for an ice cream and a coffee…one of the joys of hiking in the UK…and we made a rough plan for the rest if the day.

The trail paralleled a narro-guage track used by the Brecon Beacons Railway, a tourist-type steam locomotive that provides scenic tours. They were done for the day but we had heard the whistle earlier as we hiked.

The trail widened to a gravel path and and it was moderately busy, and as I usually do I tried to be polite and step off the trail with the dogs. All went well until the dirt collapsed underneath my foot and I was knee deep in a hole. Graceful it wasn’t. Thankfully it wasn’t muddy or any deeper, no did it tear my pants or get me too dirty…just wounded my pride a little, but at those times you just have to laugh.

A brief stop for a pint in Ponsticil, where I chatted with a couple of other backpackers, killed some time as we waited for the day to wane a little and then we backtracked slightly, climbing high above the manicured fields to find a campsite for the night.

An old, grass-covered quarry that was hidden from sight made a promising camp location and we found nothing more suitable after a quick look around. Pitches were flat but the ground beneath the grass was nothing but rocks which made pitching the tents difficult…tougher for me than for Nigel as his tent was freestanding where as mine needs good stake points to stay up.

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We both finally got out tents up after I suffered a minor tent stake injury that had blood gushing from a sliced fibger wound. Oops. It is has never taken me so long to get a tent up but this one was also fairly new to me and I’d only put it up a couple of times in the park.

With tents up we got dinner going and I fed the dogs just as a sheep was peering curiously over the edge of the quarry. Several more joined it and just as the sky was getting dark a very vocal ram stood on the edge and yelled at us for 10 minutes…I swear he was rally the troops for a night raid on the camp. None of the sheep looked impressed that we were there. (You can just see one on the cliff edge).

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We chatted for a while but it was getting chilly with the wind, despite our sheltered spot, and with the light leaking from the sky it was time to retire to the cozy confines of our tents to hopefully get some sleep. Planes, sheep and a lone owl seranaded us as we closed our eyes for sleep.

Day 2

I’m not sure I’ve ever slept so badly on the first night of a trip. I rarely sleep well but never badly. I was still up early as hawks screamed overhead disrupting our sleep. I dozed a little longer until the hawks returned and continued their incessant screeching.

We got packed and headed back down the mountain, stopping to get some water downstream from the waste water treatment facility…not the best location in my opinion, but we needed water and there wasn’t much choice other than the creek.

Of course as we climbed away from the valley we came across a free-running small creek. We dumped our water and re-filled even though it was probably completely unnecessary…it was all psycological.

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We followed a gravel track through the pines for a while; dense, moss-shrouded pines that were reminiscent of Mirkwood…full of magic and mystery.

We turned left up a track…the one we thought we were supposed to take but the fence-crossing was terrible and we were soon in some very wet and boggy terrain. Eventually we found the path we should have been on by a bridge…we had just left the road too early and missed a small waterfall at the same time.

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A long gradual climb…and I mean an all day climb…took us towards Corn Du and Pen Y Fan. It was a little used way to get to the top of the highest point in southern Wales but it was definitely more gradual and less populated than the main route.

A quick lunch break in the rapidly-disappearing shade provided us with some sustenance for the climb ahead as we trudged ever-upward in the broiling sun. We were starting to feel like a baked cake in the oven.

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When we finally hit the trig point and the edge of the escarpment we were rewarded with a breeze and stunning views of Pen Y Fan and Corn Du. And of course there were now 100s of people.

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The slog continued upwards and we walked slowly, trying to keep ourselves from over-doing it in the heat. Many comments were overheard about the dogs’ packs…all of them positive and most of them amused or impressed.

Nigel took a break for lunch where the trails converged with the main trail up to the peaks from the road below. The hilltops looked like swarming anthills with as many people were around the tops of each apex, and yet more kept coming.

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We had initially planned to camp at the lake below Corn Du and summit the mountains the next day but ut was still early so we braved the crowds and climbed to the top of Pen Y Fan…it felt like Disneyland and there were even lines of people waiting to take their picture at the sign at the top. I didn’t bother…I’d been there and done it and that was all that mattered.

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A steep incline led us down the other side of Pen Y Fan and the trail, despite so-called “improvements” was an absolute nightmare to walk on. As we were no longer camping at the lake we were heading for an empty reservoir area another couple of miles along the trail where we could find water. A few puddles along the path seemed to provide a nursery for hundreds of tadpoles…I’m not sure how long they can survive in puddles like that without rain but there were a few seep-springs that kept the puddles topped up.

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With a few cows barring our path we turned down towards the abandoned reservoir basin and checked out numerous possible campsites before settling on one beside the creek. Kye found a new obsession as we discovered the dozens of frogs in the creek, many of them involved in orgy-balls and other mating rituals…it all looked very bizarre to see large clumps of frogs all entwined.

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We were still early to camp so got set up early (not always ideal in the UK but we took a risk). Our lovely camp area soon became everyone-else’s go to camping location and another four groups set-up in the area although not close to us.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening working on a crossword, cooking dinner and playing in the creek with the dogs, all below the looming presence of Pen Y Fan and above the medieval-looking dam wall.

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Day 3

I slept much better last night. It was colder but being snuggled down in my 10* quilt I didn’t notice it. What I did notice was the heavy dew/condensation that completely covered the tent, inside and out. Even the inner part of my tent had some condensation…and having a double wall tent makes it that much more difficult to wipe down the inside of the fly.

I was up quickly to find a semi-secluded spot for morning needs and the sun followed me back to camp. It warmed quickly and I was soon out of my fleece base layer. With a quick wipe down the tent dried fairly quickly and we were soon packed up.

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We first had to climb out of the reservoir on a very rough trail that had seen some serious abuse under the feet of cattle. It was rough going and boggy in places, and I was thankful to reach the old roman road that climbed more gently upwards to the point we had left it yesterday.

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Another steep climb took us behind Fan Y Big and back onto the Beacons Way. The views were spectacular behind us and while I kept stopping to give my sore legs a break it was great opportunity to appreciate the beauty we were surrounded by.

People were few and far between now we were away from the main attractions of Pen Y Fan and Corn Du. We weren’t on the Beacons Way for long as we followed the edge of the steep cliffs around in a horse-shoe, stopping briefly for a water break.

The trail undulated for a while which made the hiking enjoyable and the views easy to look at and take in while we walked.

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We reach a monument at Waun Rydd that had been cobbled back together in a haphazard way after it had been damaged by weather or vanadalism. It left one wondering why someone bothered if they weren’t going to do it right.

With all the climbing behind us it was now time to brave the steep descent on a horrendous path towards the end of Talybont Reservoir and the dam. After yesterday’s descent from Pen Y Fan my legs were already struggling and I was in misery trying to moderate the speed at which I was hiking down, and the roughness of the washed-out trail didn’t help.

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It was a grueling hour or so that we spent coming off the mountain and I was glad to see the dam and some flat ground. I chugged the rest of my water as I was still dealing with a headache I had from the time I woken up, and with a half hour of walking left it wasn’t doing me any good in my pack.

I was glad to arrive at Nigel’s house where a cold glass of orange juice tasted heavenly and helped to cool my core temperature down a little. The sun had no abated all morning and without clouds or a minimal breeze the hiking had been hard on the system.

Nigel was kind enough to drop me back at my car with the dogs. We said our farewells and I headed home. Thankfully the traffic was good and we were walking in the door by 6pm, just in time to enjoy dinner and a glass of wine before jumping in a much-needed shower.

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