This classic walk up the highest mountain in the Brecon Beacons can be undertaken by very young legs as well as those which are getting on in years. The path is well maintained and the 500m of ascent can be taken with as many or as few breaks as makes it comfortable. Equally, for the fittest of walkers it makes for a good early morning or late evening hike if you’re fitting it into a busy day. On a good day the views from the top are breathtaking.
There’s also a very good chance that you’ll see more than one person running up or down – if they’re doing it while carrying a heavy rucksack it’s likely they’re soldiers training for the famous Fan Dance – the 24km SAS Selection test march.
Distance: 4.1miles (6.6km)
Ordnance Survey Map: OL12
Park for free at the Pont Ar Daf carpark on the A470 grid ref: SN988199
Walk to the southern end of the car park where there is a public toilet block. From here turn left onto the footpath and you will see the wooden footbridge over the river.
Cross the footbridge (watching out for any trolls who may be lurking underneath!) and follow the obvious footpath uphill. The river will be to the left of the path as you walk upwards. You’ll step over a number of culverts as you walk which carry the water collected in gullies on the uphill side, across the path to reduce footpath erosion.
Five minutes from the start you’ll see this stone detailing how the land came into the ownership of the National Trust.
Continue further up the path and the summit of Corn Du will come into view. At this stage it’s obscuring Pen-y-Fan – you’ll have to wait a bit longer to see your main peak of the day.
1.5miles (2.4km) into the walk you’ll reach the Bwlch Duwynt Cairn (‘Windy Pass’ in English) . Look slightly to your right and you’ll see the ridge line and sweeping slopes of Craig Gwaun Taf. Look towards your left and you’ll see the summit of Corn Du, and just behind it, Pen-y-Fan. Choose the path that leads around the bottom of Corn Du. Corn Du will be on your immediate left, and to your right the valley will open up with some amazing views of the Neuadd valley and the reservoir below.
And then before you know it, the summit really will be within touching distance and it’ll be time to make the final climb and celebrate your success at 886m (2906ft)!! From here see if you can spot the town of Brecon to the north, Cadar Idris in the north west, the Bristol channel at Porthcawl to the south east, and Sugar Loaf to the east.
The summit cairn was a bronze age burial chamber. When it was excavated in 1991 they found a spearhead and a brooch inside. I wonder how many pairs of feet have climbed The Fan since then?
You can choose either to descend the same way that you climbed up, or you can take the path directly from the summit of Pen-y-Fan back in the direction you just came but climb up on the right hand path to Corn Du instead of traversing around the mountain. This is a less celebratory peak with just an unmarked cairn for your efforts. The views are pretty good though and make it a worthwhile climb.
Keep going in the same direction and you’ll have a short section of scrambly down climbing to rejoin the main path. Take care if it’s a wet day as the rocks can get slippery. And then follow the main path back to the car park.
Now you’ve conquered Pen-y-Fan, which mountain is next on your list? Let us know and if we’ve been, we’ll write you a guide.
If you’d like to climb more mountains but don’t have the confidence with a map and compass, let us help. We offer a number of navigation workshops throughout the UK running over one day or join a number together to make a weekend or week of it. Alternatively hire a guide for the day – sharing the cost with a group of friends makes it really good value and you get a fully qualified Mountain Leader with first aid training and local knowledge to give you a great experience. Email us for further details.
And don’t forget our kit blog – if you’re unsure which footwear you’ll need to climb Pen-y-Fan have a read of our footwear blog which answers just that question. And when it comes to which sports bra to wear for hiking? Well we’ve answered that too in this handy blog.
Has this been a useful guide? Let us know in the comments below…