The Top Four Walks in the Brecon Beacons

Pen y Fan Walk, Brecon Beacons

Not far from the English / Welsh border lie the Brecon Beacons. Protected with national park status, the area boasts a landscape dominated by a series of rising peaks – the Beacons. Discover our guide to the best walks here.

Our guide to the best walking routes in the Brecon Beacons Not far from the English / Welsh border lie the Brecon Beacons. Protected with national park status, the area boasts a landscape dominated by a series of rising peaks – the Beacons. These overlook amphitheatre-like valleys and areas of forest with a good sprinkling of reservoirs too. The tops of the peaks provide sweeping views across the landscape while lower down, steep valleys channel gushing rivers over multiple waterfalls. The River Usk and Brecon Canal provide scenic options on easier terrain. There are loads of fantastic trails around Brecon but here we showcase four of our favourite walks in the area – all easily accessible from Nythfa House, our country house located on the outskirts of Brecon. You can do all of these walks with us on a self-guided basis and some of them are included in full or in part on our guided walking holidays in the Brecon Beacons. Walk: Pen y Fan Horseshoe Walk Distance: 11 miles (17.5km) Time: roughly 6 hours walking, including rest stops Did you know: At 886 metres in height, Pen y Fan is the highest mountain in South Wales and the highest summit south of Cader Idris.The descent from Pen y Fan towards Cribyn is known as Jacob’s Ladder. Pen y Fan is climbed as part of the Fan Dance Challenge. There are several ways to reach the top of Pen y Fan. At 886 metres it is the highest peak in South Wales and provides a big draw for walkers. The most popular, shortest and easiest to follow route is to the south-west of the peak starting from the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre. Regular walkers have nicknamed this route as ‘The Motorway’ as on any day in fair weather there will be a goodly number of people trudging up and down. For a more picturesque, quieter and rewarding walk we recommend starting from a forested area to the south-east of the peak. A flattish start leads to a reservoir from where there is one relatively short but very steep section of ascent which takes about 30 minutes. Being at the beginning of the route but after a little limbering-up, this gets the only steep section done all in one go while legs are still fresh. After stopping to admire the now panoramic view over the Blaen Taf Fechan Valley, it’s then gently uphill along a ridge for several miles. From here it’s easy to see the ‘horseshoe’ route all laid out in front and below including the return leg that will be reached in the afternoon. Other valleys soon reveal themselves on the easterly side of the ridge as do the peaks of Corn Du and Pen y Fan. The path meets ‘The Motorway’ and suddenly there are far more people about. There is the option to by-pass Corn Du and head straight for the summit of Pen y Fan but a brief scramble upwards is worth the effort to stand on Corn Du summit (873m) for fantastic views across the landscape. A short drop down and then it’s across to do the final few metres up to the top of Pen y Fan itself. There is plenty of room at the top to accommodate a large number of people so it’s a great spot to sit down and admire the views over a sandwich. There are lovely views of the sheer front of neighbouring peak Cribyn with the white houses of Brecon far below. The descent off Pen y Fan is different to the way up and it’s not so easy to spot the path initially. A rocky ledge appears to have a sheer drop off it but the appearance of walkers’ heads coming up from below reveals that there is indeed a path here. Anti-erosion works have taken place and the rocky surface is a little challenging for a while before it changes to something a little easier. At this point there is the option to climb Cribyn (795m) or if the legs are protesting, you can just head in a generally downwards direction along a path which nestles beneath the Craig Cwm Cynwyn Ridge – part of the Beacons Way. The morning’s ridge path is now on the opposite side of the valley as you head back to the start point on easy terrain. Start planning to climb Pen y Fan Walk: Llyn y Fan Fach & Bannau Sir Gaer Distance: 6 miles (9.5km) Time: roughly 3 hours walking, including rest stops Did you know: Llyn y Fan Fach is a picturesque lake that sits beneath the precipitous ridgeline of Bannau Sir Gaer. It's an epic scene, the remnants of the landscape's glacial past clearly visible etched into the landscape. To the west of Brecon lies a dramatic escarpment which overlooks the twin lakes of Llyn y Fan Fach and Llyn y Fan Fawr. A 45-minute drive from Brecon leads to a very narrow, winding road with an ever-decreasing surface quality that eventually reaches the car park. This part of the park is much quieter than the area surrounding Pen y Fan but is no less spectacular. It was shaped by glacial activity during the last Ice Age; Llyn y Fan Fach is a corrie, formed by compacted snow which turned to ice that went on to carve a bowl-like shape into the rock. A gravel path leads upwards from the car park following a tinkling river fed from the lake above. The only sounds are the distant call of sheep and the song of skylarks rising upwards. As you ascend, the ridge of Bannau Sir Gaer looms ever closer with its horizontal rock strata of sandstone and mudstone clearly visible. Reaching the edge of Llyn y Fan Fach there are sweeping views to enjoy across the landscape plus the natural drama of the very steep ridge which sits behind the lake. There is something slightly mystical about this small stretch of water, perhaps because it’s almost always in shadow; it is said that a lady sometimes sits on the surface and that’s not so hard to believe! A shortish but very steep climb leads to the top of the ridge to join The Beacons Way and catch panoramic views in a new direction. At some points there is a vertiginous drop to the side so it’s advisable to stay well back from the edge. It’s then an easy walk along the ridge to reach its high point – Picws Du (749m); a cairn marks the spot. On a clear day you can see the Irish Sea from here. On a less clear day, you can spot approaching weather fronts and the areas below which are lucky enough to be bathed in sunshine! From here you could continue along The Beacons Way to reach the second corrie in the area – Llyn y Fan Fawr for a longer, circular walk. Another option is to turn around and head back along the Beacons Way returning to the car park down a long section of grassy slope. All in all, it’s a very satisfying walk with incredible views in all directions and two iconic lakes ticked off. Start planning to climb Llyn y Fan Fach Walk: Fan y Big - There & Back Again Distance: 8.5 miles (13.5km) Time: roughly 5 hours walking, including rest stops Did you know: Fan y Big is not the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons – in fact it was downgraded to a mere “hill” after it was found by an intrepid mountain surveyor that it missed the mark by just 4.9ft (1.5m). At 719 metres, Fan y Big is the lowest of the ‘four tops’ which sit to the south of Brecon. With dramatic horseshoe ridges to follow, it’s a peak which is worth visiting either in isolation or as a longer, tougher walk taking in some or all of the three of the others. The handy Blaen-y-Glyn car park near the Talybont Reservoir provides the perfect start point. The first part of the route is on The Beacons Way following a steep uphill section alongside a series of gushing waterfalls which pass through a narrow ravine. The steep climb only takes about 30 minutes after which the path levels out. The land drops steeply on the right-hand side as the path weaves its way around the first of a series of increasingly dramatic valleys. Leaving The Beacons Way and crossing a stream, the route heads north-east before joining a new path which winds its way around the capacious Cwm Cwareli and Cwm Oergwn valleys. It’s well worth pausing every now and then to try and take in the enormity of the far-reaching views which lie beyond the natural amphitheatres below. A short descent leads to a ‘tongue’ of level ground which leads to the summit of Fan y Big. It’s a great place to stand and soak up the views towards Brecon in front and to the peaks of Cribyn, Pen y Fan and Corn Du to the left. At this point you could continue to the next peak – Cribyn – or re-trace your steps back to the start point. Either way, the views are fantastic and the walking most enjoyable. Start planning to climb Fan y Big Walk: Waterfall Country Distance: 9 miles (14km) Time: roughly 7.5 hours walking, including rest stops Did you know: Autumn is a great time for waterfall walking – especially after heavy rain (rather than during!). No trip to the Brecon Beacons would be complete without a visit to Waterfall Country – an area of Wales which has an unusually large number of publicly accessible waterfalls all clustered together. The rivers Mellte, Hepste, Pyrddin and Need Fechan all tumble down their respective tree-lined gorges before joining to form the River Neath. While many opt for the classic ‘Four Waterfalls Walk’ there is a longer option which takes in two different gorges and a greater number of falls. Doing the route in a clockwise direction means that the most exciting waterfall of the day is left until last. The walk involves heading north up the valley of Nedd Fechan and then east to reach the valley of the Mellte to head south again. The Need Fechan plunges its way through a tree-lined gorge and has a relatively easy path which gradually climbs. Sgwd Gwladus is the first named waterfall although there is a continuous supply of smaller falls and areas where large volumes of water squeeze their way through narrow, rocky chasms well before this. Sgwd Gwladus is a fairly narrow fall which plunges over a rock ledge into the pool below. Next up is Scwd Ddwli – a much wider affair and home to a pair of dippers who nest behind its protective waters. Walking along to the constant sound and sight of gushing water is a delight but eventually it is time to head away from the first river and head up through the woods. In late spring, the ground is covered in a beautiful sea of bluebells and other woodland flowers. Eventually the route reaches the car park which marks the start point of the classic ‘Four Waterfalls’ walk and a path which reaches the River Mellte. The first fall is Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, a wide, tumbling cascade which descends over a series of rocky ‘steps’. After this point it’s time to decide where you stand on the ‘mountain goat’ scale. A warning sign tells of there being a hazardous route ahead but perhaps doesn’t do it justice. There really are some very steep drops, narrow, slippery paths and areas where an ‘on bottom’ scramble is necessary. Luckily, opting for the safer path away from the river does not mean missing any of the falls; there are paths to reach all of them. With Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn and Sgwd y Pannwr waterfalls also ticked off the list, it’s time to reach the grand finale – Sgwd yr Eira. This is the famous waterfall that you can stand behind. Steep steps lead down to the riverside followed by a slippery hop over rocks and a final shuffle along a narrow ledge. The effort is well worth it. A wider ledge sits behind the waterfall and you can safely stand with countless gallons of powerful water roaring past your face – pretty exhilarating! The footpath actually continues behind the falls; cross right over and come out the other side to reach a woodland track which eventually leads back to the start point. This is a full day walk but absolutely worth the effort. Start planning to walk waterfall country Top tips for walking in the Brecon Beacons Car Parks - if you are going self-guided you will really need a car to make the most of the area. There are a good number of walkers’ car parks in the national park but they are generally quite small and can become full quite quickly, especially in the busy summer months and bank holidays. It is highly recommended to reach them by 10:00am at the latest. Most of them are free, the exception being the main car park for the Four Waterfalls Walk. Sometimes car parks can be closed so it is advisable to have an alternative option in mind before you head off. Loos – most walkers’ car parks have one or two portable loos in them. When out ‘on the tops’ there is little cover, so it is advisable to take advantage of the facilities where you see them! Self-Guided Navigation – don’t rely on navigating by mobile phone. You may not always get a signal and there is always the chance that your battery may go flat. And then you won’t be able to call for help if you need to. Nythfa House has a great selection of self-guided route notes which you can borrow. It is also strongly advised that you take an Ordnance Survey map with you too. Weather – always check the weather forecast from a reliable source each day. If strong winds, heavy rain or thunderstorms are forecast, it may be best to avoid walking on the tops. The high areas are very exposed with some sheer drops next to the footpaths. Always take a waterproof jacket with you, even if the forecast says that it will be dry. Mountain weather can be very localised and hard to predict.