Posted by: Ross Gardner | August 17, 2011

The Brecon Beacons

View from Fan y Big. Copyright 2011 Ross Gardner

I love the mountains.  Hailing from the relative flatness of Essex, they provide landscapes so very different to any that I seek out find at home.  Don’t be mistaken.  I shall always have a great fondness for the wild places of my more local districts; for the thronging ancient woodlands and the coastal expanses that can always deliver a dose of sorely needed solitude and space.  But it is among the rise and fall, the plummeting valleys and soaring stone eddificies of the mountains that the very keenest sense of wildness will so often be experienced.  As much as anywhere else in our islands, this is incumbent in the environs of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

A few nights camping in Crickhowell made accessible, among other things, a taste of the southern Welsh mountains.  We plotted a route from the car park on the edge of the forested Blaen-y-glyn, near Talybont reservoir, up the steep slopes to Craig y Fan Ddu and the moorland plateaux that runs up to Fan y Big, with a return through Taf Fechan Forest.  Mountain landscapes look beautiful from afar.  Viewed from the banks of some tumbling river, with the craggy valleys heaving up about you, or from the roadside of a lofty mountain pass, having had the car toil up the steep hills, stuck in first or second gear.  Personally though, I am never fully satisfied until I have experienced the hillsides beneath my feet and trudged up through the switchback trails to reach a summit, regardless of how high or otherwise it may be.  I need a proper dose of the uplands and here, among the higher ground of ‘The Beacons’ themselves, I received just that.

After a moderately brutal start to the walk up to Craig Fan Ddu, ascending around 280 metres in the first 700 or so metres across the ground, the rewards are rich and plentiful.  To the west the folds of the high ridges of Fforest Fawr lined up, merging into a the haze of the late July morning.  Directly to the east the land drops sharply away into a stream-scored valley.  To the north awaited ‘our’ summit- Fan y Big.  At 719 metres, it is quite high up in Brecon Beacons terms, but here it sits beneath the Cribyn (76 metres higher) and is dwarfed by Pen y Fan, the highest point of the Park at 886 metres.  It is these three summits together, that provide perhaps the most dramatic vista of the walk.  Each are joined by curving ridges.  The ground slopes steeply away, down into a series of broad valleys.  It is a wonderful and such a geographically explicit panorama, with, from a distance, smoothly carved contours of the land, that you could almost imagine once being filled with and gouged by the countless tonnes of ice that fashioned this landscape.

The return across the slope of Tor Glas and through Taf Fechan Forest was rather less dramatic, but gave us the company of the varied birdlife of the hillside and woodland.  Wheatear bounces along the side of the path ahead of us and the twitter of coal tit and goldcrest among the conifers was rarely far from earshot.  We glimpsed a rosy-red crossbill among the tree tops and among some more open, tree scattered country we came across a flock of siskin and picked out a pied flycatcher and redstart interloping with a foraging flock of tits.

I had been delivered my dose – the coastal delights of The Gower awaited.

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