Pen y Fan, the highest peak in South Wales topping 886m above sea-level. A popular, accessible but challenging hike in the Brecon Beacons National Park. A trail of two summits it weaves ever upwards across moor lands past grazing sheep and curious horses. The reward? Dramatic views over rolling green hills pockmarked with small turquoise lakes left by glaciers of centuries past.
The hike over Pen y Fan, also known as Arthur’s Seat, is a well-trodden path. Still, it is used in the selection process by the British special forces, known as the ‘Fan Dance’ so it is not to be under estimated. It is an inviting challenge to people of all abilities to get into the outdoors and see some of the wonderful landscapes offered in the Brecon Beacons.
During a brief farm stay near Brecon, we were getting accustomed to rural life, the wintery June weather and a consonant-riddled Welsh language! After a week of braving the cold we made our first of three varied hikes up Pen y Fan. If you are looking to take on the hike in your visit to the stunning landscapes of South Wales, this is a handy and simple guide with some imagery to add a little inspiration.
What to take for your Pen y Fan hike.
The Pen y Fan hike is straight forward in good weather. If you have spent any time in South Wales you would know that weather can change rapidly. On the peak of Pen y Fan, this variance in weather is certainly increased. The short answer is, you need to be prepared for all four seasons.
- A fleece jacket
- Wind/rain jacket with hood
- Woollen hat
- Sturdy shoes with a decent grip
- 1 litre of water per person (2 litres in summer)
- Small snack or two to enjoy at the top
- A small backpack is a good idea to keep water and warm clothes
- Trekking poles for the way down if you have dodgy knees
There is little in the way of supplies at the trail so the Morrisons supermarket in Brecon will have everything you need for food and the Cotswold Outdoor store in Brecon will have any extra outdoor gear you may need.
Getting to the trail head
There are multiple access points to Pen y Fan depending on the length of hike. The most popular access point however is from Pont ar Daf Car Park. It is a 20 minute drive by car from Brecon to the car park. Alternatively, the local T4 bus route runs from Brecon (departs just behind the Morrison’s supermarket) to the trail head (stopping at the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre) which is right at the trail head. Buses leave every two hours but check the latest schedules.
Toilets, Food and Drink
Pont ar Daf Car Park has public toilets and often has food trucks and coffee cart operating at various hours. Best to bring your own food and drink to be certain.
It’s possible to do a looped trail. Best to begin from the red phone booth outside the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre. There is some information about the hike here and flora and fauna to see along the way. The trail itself goes upwards immediately. Almost 150m of elevation gain over the first kilometre!
The trail heads down for a short while passing through a cattle gate before crossing a creek named Blaen Taf Fawr. From there it’s a pretty unrelenting 250m of elevation over the next 2km until you reach the first summit of Corn Du. Here you have a nice outlook over the small pond of Llyn Cwm llwch. Some steep cliffs here so take care in fog or strong winds!
After that it’s a short decline and a gradual ascent to the main peak of Pen y Fan marked with a rock cairn and a sign informing you you are at the top and have reached 886 above sea-level, the highest point in South Wales.
The descent can either go down the way you came. Or instead you can avoid the short ascent back up Corn Du by continuing straight ahead on the more gradual descent taking you direct to Pont ar Daf Car Park. Either way the descent takes its toll on the knees and the gravel trail can get quite slippy so this is where poles come in handy.
All going well your hike up Pen y Fan will be a challenging 2 hour journey with some time at the top to take in the views. If the weather starts to close in, it’s best to descend, as fog, rain and wind will not only make for a miserable hike with no views, you could also get quickly disorientated. There are plenty of people doing this hike so you can be certain someone else will be along soon enough to help you find your way.
Enjoy the hike and let us know i you have any questions and how you got on!