If you’re thinking of heading over to Wales and conquering one of it’s biggest mountains, then this guide is for you!
We recently popped across the border for a couple of days in Wales to hike around the Brecon Beacons and summit not only Pen y Fan, but 4 other peaks that surround it – sounds easy enough, right?
About the Brecon Beacons
Home to the highest mountain in southern Britain (but more about that later), the Brecon Beacons are a well known national park situated in Wales, just over the English border.
A gorgeous area of natural beauty filled with not only mountains, but also vast reservoirs and impressive waterfalls. The Brecon Beacons is also one of 5 areas in the world granted as an International Dark Sky Reserve. It’s clear to see why when you visit and see the vast 520 square miles of rural countryside that surround you!
But it’s not all beauty and peace: known for its changeable and often harsh weather conditions, this area is used as part of an SAS selection process. Twice a year regular military personnel attempt to pass the ‘Fan Dance’. This initial phase of the special forces selection process involving a vigorous 24km hike while carrying 24kg in weight.
About Pen y Fan
As previously mentioned, Pen y Fan is the highest mountain in southern Britain, sitting at 886 metres. Offering unrivalled views of the surrounding countryside, Pen y Fan suitably translates to ‘top of this place’ in English (very original naming if you ask me).
When’s the best time to visit?
While Pen y Fan is ‘climbable’ all year round, it’s also known as being the most dangerous mountain in Wales. This makes it paramount to check and double check the weather conditions before you go. The best months would therefore be the summer between June-August when the classic UK weather is ever so slightly more predictable. That being said, we completed this hike in October and the conditions were perfect!
There are a great deal of options around the Brecon Beacons, ranging from campsites to cute AirBnb’s and everything in between. Due to the time of year for us camping wasn’t an option, so we opted to stay at the perfectly placed YHA Brecon Beacons. Filled with like-minded hikers, the location is perfect for completing the route I’ll set out below. This isn’t your stereotypical hostel either, they offer a range of options from cute glamping pods to the more classic shared rooms.
Summary of the route
Now I want to preface this article by pointing out that we are avid hikers and the route we chose is by no means a short and gentle stroll – but oh by is it worth it!
I’m talking rolling countryside, wild horses and nothing but the sound of nature for miles around.
The Horseshoe walk will have you climbing up 4 individual peaks: Corn Du, Pen y Fan, Cribyn and Fan Y Big. Not too shabby for a days work!
Here’s a map of the route, with some more detail below.
1. Storey Arms to Corn Du
Our starting point was actually the YHA Brecon Beacons where we were staying, which is about a 30 minute walk from the ‘proper’ starting point. If you plan on staying here too, all you need to do is head out of the hostel onto the main road and turn left. Then, just keep following the road until you reach the Story Arms activity centre.
Right next to the Storey Arms is a small gate that takes you to the start of the hike up to the first peak, Corn Du. This part leads you in pretty gently as you make a slow ascent, before a final push up to the summit.
2. Corn Du to Pen y Fan
From Corn Du you get a wonderful view over to Pen y Fan, this is where you want to take your photos from! We also decided to have a pause here for a coffee and a snack to take in the scenery before hopping across to the next peak.
This section of the hike is relatively small and consists of a small downhill and then back up hill to reach the top of Pen y Fan. It will most likely be the busiest part of the whole hike as most visitors come here just to tackle this one.
You can, of course, stop here for a break and take in the views. However, I’d recommend pushing on and getting out of the ‘traffic’ – soon you’ll be away from the crowds and almost have everything to yourself.
3. Pen y Fan to Cribyn
This section of the hike was probably my favourite. As you make your way down from Pen y Fan you’re met with gorgeous views all around as you follow a sort of ridge all the way along to Cribyn.
It was around here that we ran into a herd of the infamous wild horses that wander freely through the Brecon Beacons. As the route wasn’t very busy when we visited they were more than happy to go about their business as we passed through, absolute bliss!
4. Cribyn to Lower Neuadd Reservoir
After you’ve made another push up to Cribyn you’ll descend down onto an old road (now completely pedestrianised) that passes through the mountains. Here you’re met with a choice: either pass straight over the road to quickly tick off Fan-Y-Big, or turn left and head to Lower Neuadd Reservoir.
The road to the reservoir is definitely the easiest part of the hike, but also the longest and most ‘plain’ in my opinion. Especially true when compared with all the glorious mountain scenery you were just amongst!
5. Lower Neuadd Reservoir up to Graig Fan Ddu ridge
Now don’t go thinking all the climbing is over, there’s one last uphill struggle to go!
After you cross the reservoir you need to head up a pretty steep incline to reach the top of Graig Fan Ddu ridge on the other side of the valley. Once you reach the top you’re rewarded with sweeping views on all sides as you hike along the ridge back towards Corn Du.
6. Graig Fan Ddu ridge back to Storey Arms
Just before you reach the part where it starts inclining back up to Corn Du you’ll hit the path that you took at the start. It’s actually referred to as the human ‘motorway’ of the Brecon Beacons due to how busy it can get!
Unless you want to tackle this monster loop for another round (good for you if you do) here is where you’ll descend back down the starting point of the Storey Arms.
If you want to fully immerse yourself in the route and see how we got on, you can check out my vlog of the day below:
And there you have this mini guide to hiking the Pen y Fan horseshoe ridge!
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Lots of love,
The Chaos Diaries