Brecon Beacons


Travel a few hundred miles south and you are bathed in warm autumn sunshine compared to the perpetual drizzle that seems to clothe the West Highlands at the moment.

Last weekend the sky was blue and the sun was blazing down on the Brecon Beacons allowing me to walk a delightful linear route. This was from the Llia valley over Fan Nedd and along the high escarpment of Fan Ghyirych before dropping down to estate tracks and then joining the line of an old mineral railway high up on the side of the Tawe valley.

I started near the mighty standing stone of Maen Llia in the depths of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Maen Llia What made our ancestors place these huge monoliths? Why, along with their numerous burial cairns, were they placed high up in these hills? Why was this a significant place for the ancient Briton? Archaeologists and historians speculate and hypothesise but like much of ancient history, with the lack of documented records, it can at best be an educated opinion rather than stated fact.

Leaving the standing stone behind I headed up over two fine peaks, only encountering two other walkers on the way. Then heading down to the line of an old mineral railway. that started high up in the hills by a series of small quarries before descending to the level above the hamlet of Glyntawe. The hundreds of miles of abandoned lines around our country are under utilised, admittedly many have been turned into paths or cycleways but many more lie forgotten and overgrown.

This line I suspect was under-promoted although it was clearly shown on the map. For some reason part of it was left out of the open-access area indicated on the map although the open-access continued either side of the line. This potentially prevents anyone following its course along the full length of the valley. So I was “forced to trespass” by continuing along the line, although others had clearly preceded me, to my destination of Coelbren. 

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A long weekend away with my parents who live on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park gave me the opportunity to walk in a different area than usual. Having my father on hand meant that I could rely on someone else to do the driving and ferry me to starting points and back from the finish.

I headed up into the Black Mountain (not to be confused with the Black Mountains found on the eastern side of the national park) and the peak of Fan Brycheiniog. This was a fascinating walk that makes me yearn to learn more about the geology of the British Isles. Walking parallel to the steep escarpment of Fan Hir, I wondered at the sheer geological forces that shaped this landscape over many millennia. As an amateur I can only guess at what created the tall heavily striated cliffs – was this the site of a large glacial lake – the rising and falling of the ice sheet scouring deep gouges in to the cliff face similar to the parallel roads found in Lochaber?  I really must put an introductory or idiot’s guide to geology on my Christmas book list.

Feeling much fitter and more energetic than my last hillside excursion I soon made good time to the mountain tarn of Llyn y Fan Fawr where some convenient rocks provided seating for lunch.  I was marvelling at the LLyn y Fan Fawrsolitude surrounding me when invading armies of walkers appeared from every angle all homing in towards the tarn. They too had decided this was the perfect place to stop for lunch.

A clear path leads steeply from the tarn to the windy Bwlch Giedd where strong gales awaited me. The path is undergoing restoration by the national park authority and they are doing a very impressive job. Often I have found that path restoration seems to amount to throwing down as many large stones and rocks possible without any thought of constructing a new path. The uncomfortable result encourages walkers to walk to one side along the grass bank exacerbating the existing erosion. New path to Bwlch GieddThe restoration up to Bwlch Giedd is a beautifully crafted piece of hillside engineering and will be a delight to walk on when completed.

I would normally stroll along ridges like this enjoying the wide panoramic views on offer, but on this occasion I hurried along  propelled by my own legs and the fierce wind. I dashed past the summit trig point on to the cairn at the end of the ridge before making an abrupt about-turn retracing my steps down to Bwlch Giedd and up to the Fan Hir ridge. The path skirts close to the escarpment edge giving tantalising glimpses of the sheer cliffs dropping below, but this was not a day to get tempted too close to the edge as one gust could have meant a Mary Poppin’s moment into infinity. Instead I opted for the more conventional descent continuing along the ridge line back down to the river.



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