The Brecon Beacons National Park comprises many great peaks, each as worthy as the next – one of the most understated of all these is Carn Pica.
There’s no easy way to get to the summit of this mountain, which rises more than 750m above sea level. You can approach it from the long, sprawling mass of Bryn and the boggy uplands of Waun Rydd, or from the west and the Central Peaks of Pen y Fan and Cribyn. My favourite way to reach the summit, however, is from the east and Talybont Reservoir. It’s a steep route to the top, but a quiet one, perfect for those seeking a little solitude in the hills.
Carn Pica rises more than 750m above sea level in the east of the Brecon Beacons ©Philip Halling
1. Bridleway beginnings
The small car park midway along the western shores of Talybont Reservoir makes for a picturesque start and end point to this five-mile loop walk.
Turn right out of the car park and walk north for 100m to meet the bubbling waters of Nant Tarthwynni. Just beyond the river a bridleway leads left through a gate. Shortly after it veers to the right.
Talybont Reservoir, Brecon Beacons ©Jake Graham Photography
2. Tree tunnel
Follow the way through a succession of fields to reach a house (Berthlwyd-fach) – continue past this, through a gate and turn left on to a stony trail.
The steep and often muddy track is overhung with deciduous trees, full and green in the spring and summer and skeletal in the autumn and winter. It’s a real wildlife haven, particularly popular with small birds.
The next section is a good test for the thighs, as the path climbs 500m over two miles. Head out of the woodland and on to the flanks of Tywn Du. Blankets of thick bracken wrap the slope, providing good shelter for grazing sheep that roam the common land in the warmer months.
3. Ponies in the heather
The way flattens slightly as it rises on to the humpback ridge of Twyn Du. Pause for a moment and take in the views tot he east – Taylbont Reservoir, the Black Mountains and the Powys farmland beyond.
In summer, bilberries bushes grow in abundance, their woody branches stripped bare by hungry livestock. Then a month or two on, in late summer, the hills blush purple with blooming heather. Wild ponies graze the shrub, often tame enough to observe from just a few metres.
Look out for wild ponies on the ridge up to Carn Pica ©Daniel Graham Daniel Graham
Continue on the undulating path. Soon the real incline begins – for a moment, it feels as though the ground is rising exponentially as it zigzag up to an impressive cairn at the summit of Carn Pica.
4. Windy ridge
On a summer’s day, it’s the perfect lunch spot, but in winter the wind can be fierce – in these conditions it’s best to keep moving.
Make your way south from the cairn along the ridge. The land falls precipitously into the cwm below. It’s a superb vantage point for watching shepherds and their flocks as they ebb and flow across the land.
After half a mile, veer left to stick to the ridge, now pinched on either side.
5. Landmark navigation
Allt Lwyd, though still an impressive peak, appears modest in comparison to the Beacons behind you. The path braids somewhat hear, each channel cut deep into the peat, scarring the slopes with tar-black lines. Set your compass to north-west, using a corner of conifer forest for guidance.
6. Mud to finish
On a blustery day, the forest will provide a little shelter. Stick to its outer edge for a few hundred metres before branching left along a faint path. Walk steeply downhill to the corner of the field and a gate. It’s often very muddy here. Continue down the grassy track to the car park.
Click on the map below for an interactive version of the route.
Comfortable beds and good food can be found and nearby YHA Brecon Beacons Danywenallt on the northern shores of Talybont Reservoir.
Learn more about the Brecon Beacons National Park.