Walk: Pen y Fan, Powys

Pen y Fan is one of the most popular peaks in the Brecon Beacons National Park. Most visitors hike to the mountain top from the Storey Arms – but for a quieter and more rewarding route, take the path up from Taf Fechan Forest past Neuadd Reservoir

For anyone who doesn’t fancy to entire 10.5-mile hike, stop at the reservoir and appreciate the peak from the valley

This quiet accent of Pen y Fan begins at the enchanting Taf Fechan Forest, rising beyond Upper Neuadd Reservoir to meet the summit from the south. It’s a long day, but a highly rewarding one. 

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For anyone who doesn’t fancy to entire 10.5-mile hike, stop at the reservoir and appreciate the peak from the valley. A string of trees runs alongside Neuadd, offering shade in the warmer months and shelter in the cold.

Sunset over Pen Y Fan, Mountain Range, Wales UK
View from from the top of the valley down to Neuadd Reservoir ©Getty

1. Enchanted forest

Leave the car at Owl’s Grove car park and cross the road into Taf Fechan Forest. A small wooden bridge leads across a stream. Turn left and followed the tree-sheltered trail alongside the river Taf Fechan. After heavy rainfall, the water flows with zeal – it’s a great place for photographers to practice their long exposures, or simply to sit and absorb the roaring cascades.

2. Stone bridge

After about 1km the path emerges onto a road at a stone bridge, offering another chance to listen to the river’s might. Head to the right of the bridge and follow the single-track road steadily uphill for 1km. Not long after passing a parking area (leave the car here if you like the idea of a slightly shorter walk) the roadway splits in two. Branch right up the rougher of the two tracks, merging with the Taff Trail.

Taf Fechan Forest waterfall
Taf Fechan Forest waterfall ©Getty

3. Rising

The way climbs gradually, first through scattered trees and then into open moorland. Now out of the woods, the views are vast: to your left is Upper and Lower Neuadd Reservoir – its dam walls, encircling conifers and apparent abandonment evoking a sense of Lord of the Rings. Towering above the glacial valley on three sides is the Brecon Beacons horseshoe ridgeline,  the highest point of which sits to the north-west: Pen y Fan.

Neuadd Reservoir looking up to the Central Peaks in winter
Neuadd Reservoir looking up to the Central Peaks in winter ©Getty

Roughly 2.5km after joining the Taff Trail you’ll meet a crossroads, shouldered on either side by Fan y Big and Cribyn. Turn left behind Cribyn (or climb it if you have the energy), sticking with the Taff Trail as it contours the ridge before ascending steeply to the 886m summit of Pen y Fan.

4. Top of the world

Regardless of the season, and indeed the hour of the day, Pen y Fan tends to attract large volumes of walkers thanks to its relative accessibility from the west and the A470. On a clear day the views are immense, making the stiff climb well worth the effort. In bad weather, it’s best to avoid the ridgeline altogether.

Cribyn with Pen y Fan beyond
Cribyn with Pen y Fan beyond ©Getty

5. Back into the valley

As the path draws level with the lower half of Nueadd Reservoir, look out for a cairn and a steep path to the left. Follow the braided tracks east for about 1km back into the bowl of the valley, keeping the large expanse of half-felled forest on your right-hand side.

6. A moment to yourself

The way enters a line of trees, emerging moments later on to the shores of the lower reservoir. It’s a rather special sight, and one you will often have to yourself. Cross the embankment and walk behind a small building to meet a second much larger building. Pass in front of this through a gate and take the single-track road south for a little under 1km to reunite with the Taff Trail.

Return to the stone bridge and waterfalls. You’ll recognise the forest from your outbound route, but instead of dropping beneath its conifer canopy, stay on the roadway, bending left after the bridge. A little over 1km later, the road forks – take the left-hand option, merging with another road that descends to a left-hand bend.

The Old Barn Tea Room
The Old Barn Tea Room ©Shaun Ferguson, Geograph

The Old Barn Tea Room at the bottom of the hill – fit with a small garden and beautiful little café – offers tired walkers a chance to refuel (check opening times). From here, it’s a simple case of sticking to the road for some 500m back to the car park.

Map

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Main image ©Getty