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.
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!
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
Text and images © Paul Shorrock