#38 – Pen y Fan (The Brecon Beacons)

Typical Brecon Beacons scenery

 You would be wrong in thinking that the mountains of Wales end at the boundary of the Snowdonia National Park.  A bit further down the road the Brecon Beacons National Park has more than a mountain or two.  The Beacons National Park is also almost as popular as Snowdonia, both NP’s having more than 4 Million visitors a year.

Fen y Fan and Corn Du on the skyline as seen from Libanus, near Brecon

 You would also be wrong in thinking that the mountains of the Brecon Beacons are an easy option for hill-walkers.  This is the area used by the SAS to evaluate and train their new recruits, though if you fancy something a bit easier there is always the Brecon Beacons Traverse challenge – 72 miles and some 17000 feet of ascent, all to be completed in less than 24 hours!

The initial ascent from the Storey Arms

 Our aim was much more modest than either the SAS assessment or the Beacons Traverse – the route was from the Storey Arms to Pen y Fan via Y Gyrn and Corn Du. The initial ascent from the Storey Arms is steady enough, though our aim was to branch off left from the well worn track to follow the Right of Way marked on the map.  Although the Right of Way isn’t as easy to identify on the ground, it does avoid a 50-metre height loss on the better-known path – it also includes the poignant memorial to little Tommy Jones

The Tommy Jones memorial obelisk

‘Mist’ by the memorial obelisk

The inscription says it all – “This obelisk marks the spot where the body of Tommy Jones aged 5 was found. He lost his way between Cwm Llwch Farm and the Login on the night of August 4, 1900. After an anxious search of 29 days his remains were discovered Sept.”  

It remains a mystery how the boy came to this high place.

The path above Cwm Llwch

Beyond the memorial, the pace picks up a bit with a narrow path that hovers above the steep drop into Cwm Llwch.  The literal translation of Llwch is dust, and cwm is a valley, making Cwm Llwch “Dust Valley” – with the dry weather we had, this was an accurate description, with the red sandstone leaving a fine dust underfoot.

The final approach to Corn Du above Cwm Llwch

Looking down the Cwm Llwch path from Corn Du

The main reason for picking the path via Y Gyrn had been to avoid losing height into the small valley of Blaen Taf Fawr.  The other reason was to avoid the crowds following the more popular ascent route – however, we soon caught them up on the summit of Corn Du.

Crowds on the summit of Corn Du

 Corn Du translates as “Black Horn”, and from some angles the summit can appear to be ‘pointy’ and black in the light conditions that usually prevail in the Brecon Beacons.  Corn Du also appears to be the busiest summit, although at 873 metres altitude it is lower than Pen y Fan (886 metres).  In fact, Pen y Fan is the highest summit in Britain south of Snowdonia, but the top is strangely quiet after the hubbub of Corn Du.

The quieter summit of Pen y Fan (886 metres)

Sometimes size really is everything, which is possibly why we chose Pen y Fan for our lunch stop, though being able to find a bit of empty space might have had something to do with it as well.

Chris, Barbara and ‘Mist’ on the summit of Pen y Fan

Pen y Fan Summit, the highest top in the Brecon Beacons

On the descent - heading for the ice cream stall

From Pen y Fan we had to retrace our steps briefly to contour below Corn Du to follow the other popular route down to the car park near Pont ar Daf, where we found a stall serving superb local ice cream – perhaps there’s a good reason after all for following the popular route!

Corn Du from Pen y Fan on the return route

Text and images © Paul Shorrock


About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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7 Responses to #38 – Pen y Fan (The Brecon Beacons)

  1. Paul, many years since I have walked this route. I used to live near Bath in the late 80’s /early 90’s and my wife and I often went to the Beacons. Thanks for sharing your trip


    • Thanks for the comment, Mark. The term ‘classic’ is often overused, but I consider this to be a classic route – logical, satisfying and worthwhile. I’m a relative newcomer to the Beacons, but I’ll be back for more!


  2. Eeek! was that a mini-dress on the summit of Corn Du?! What an amazing and hilarious sight! They certainly get dressed up for that one on a nice day don’t they 😉 It was ‘orrid when I went up there but I still enjoyed the walk as they’re great mountains aren’t they! I really want to do the sharp ridge down the end of Cribyn – have you done it? Got any photos of the route? It looks steep and narrow but not too scary.


  3. Haven’t done the Cribyn bit – where’s me wish list?!! 😉


  4. matt jones says:

    YOU SEEM to have missed the Pumlumon mountains! worth a look, as highest in mid wales.


  5. Pingback: #169 – Brecon Beacons day – Craig Fan Du, Corn Du, Pen y Fan and Cribyn | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

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