Date walked: 14/10/2019
Time taken: 11.5 hours
Leaving the Blaen y Glyn Uchaf car park an hour before sunrise and heading north up the steps towards Craig y Fan-ddu provided a feeling of frustration, the only source of visibility was the limited number of candles from my head torch which gave enough illumination for me to see where I was going but not enough to see the numerous deafening waterfalls that were crashing down hill as part of the Nant Bwrefwr only a few yards to my left. Wales has been in full monsoon season for the past few weeks (October 2019) so the volume of water eventually flowing into the Talybont Reservoir was huge so I made a note that a return visit on a sunny day with the camera was definitely required.
The path heading up the hill was never in doubt even in the dark, when daylight did eventually come the visibility wasn’t much better, being well and truly clagged in, I couldn’t even tell where the sun was supposed to be. Unable to cast any influence over the sun I pressed on soon reaching the first top of the day. The summit at Craig y Fan-ddu at 2241ft, was today quite unremarkable, there are a couple of tuffs of grass that seem marginally higher than their surroundings but other than that nothing to write home about. Continuing along, the path crosses the Blaen Caerfanell, another stream that finds an alternative route tumbling down towards the Talybont Reservoir, easily crossed, the path keeps on going along the edge of the escarpment, there are several spots along the route where slabs of rock jut out from the ridge overhanging the cwm below and on any other day would make a great photo opportunity, today though staring into a bowl of soup doesn’t have the same appeal.
Just over 2 miles from the car park, a faint grassy path bears off right heading around the head of the cwm below. Soon, out of the mist the large memorial cairn to a fallen aircraft and it’s crew appears. The memorial site commemorates the Canadian Wellington bomber R1465 which in heavy cloud in July 1942 descended to confirm their location, crashed into the mountainside killing all 5 crew. If only they’d have delayed their descent by a matter of seconds they may have cleared the hill and lived to tell of a near miss. The mangled wreckage remains mostly in two piles decorated by a number of poppies and wooden crosses left over the years as a mark of respect. The large solid cairn is inscribed with the names of the crew.
Heading north slightly to the left of the crags above the cairn, the path heads up to the plateau top of Waun Rydd. Once at the top, the grassy path leading to Waun Rydd south top becomes very faint and easy to miss. The summit stones at 2500ft sit a few yards west of a small pool of water. With the clouds still blocking out any views, it is another underwhelming summit.
The route now heads due east for ¼ mile along a clear if not water logged path soon reaching the massive beehive cairn of Carn Pica. The cairn sits on the eastern shoulder of the Waun Rydd massif overlooking the cwms below, the cloud that has been following me all morning shows signs of breaking up and there are peeks of the valleys below filtering through the mist. The cairn is unfortunately showing a few signs of decay on its eastern corner, which is surprising as I understand it had a significant rebuild circa 2007, seems it may be time to get the glue out again.
From Carn Pica, retrace your steps back to Waun Rydd south top. At the time of writing there are dozens of jumbo bags full of shale dropped by helicopter along this stretch, the path is in much need of some attention and I’m glad to say it looks like that will be underway very soon. Back at south top, bear right along the path and after about a ¼ mile bear right again onto a faint path which after another ¼ mile arrives at the summit stones of Waun Rydd, at 2523ft this is the first of the days three Hewitts, another flat topped summit, the views today are very much stymied by the clouds, no dramatic cliff edge views from here.
Leaving the collection of stones marking the summit behind, another faint grassy track heads south which shortly arrives back at the main path where a right turn is required. This is now the main path that follows the main escarpment ridge for the next 5 miles. It is in my opinion the best stretch of footpath south of Snowdonia, the ridge along the top of Picws Du in the Carmarthen Fans running a close second. The path passes a number of cairns on the way, Bwlch y Ddwyallt, Craig Cwareli, Gwaun Cerrig Llwydion some more obvious than others. The clag clears occasionally, showing a few dramatic drops to the valley floor below.
Soon the main path bears right and heads on up to Fan y Big south top, from here the path dips slightly before rising again, passing a large wind shelter before arriving at the ever so dramatic Fan y Big. The approach to Fan y Big tells a lie, it’s a wide ridge and doesn’t give much away, yes the view into the cwm to the right is beautiful, but the real drama isn’t revealed until the end of the path is reached. Once standing on the rocky edge it really is a breath-taking moment, another step and the air below is big and the drop is sheer. The 2351ft summit is made even more intense by the legendary diving board, a slab of rock about 3 – 4ft wide jutting out from the mountainside and if it wasn’t for the weather it would be easy to imagine being in Acapulco!
To the north west, Cribyn awaits with its head in the clouds, the mist is slowly lifting so I’m hoping by the time I get to the top it may just be clear, anyway its off the top of Fan y Big down the winding path to the col at the bottom followed immediately by the rise up the southern flank of Cribyn.
The initial climb is steep for a while but soon levels out near the top with the last couple of hundred yards being nothing more than a gentle slope. At the top there is a nicely placed block of rock to park on and a chance for a well-earned rest while admiring the view back towards Fan y Big without the interruption of the clouds which have now lifted just enough to make the moment even better. Cribyn is the second Hewitt of the day which tops out at 2608ft and after sampling the lofty air it’s time to head down Cribyn’s western shoulder in order start the ascent on the big fella.
The path from the col at the bottom of Cribyn is steady and at times steep although bearing in mind Pen y Fan is the highest point south of Cadair Idris it’s far from a calf buster, near the top is a short scramble and then its straight onto the flat top with the large flattened cairn taking centre stage. Cloud comes and goes, views appear then hide and people mingle, take their pics and move on. I’m now 6 hours into the walk and until now I’ve seen only one other person all morning which was on the summit of Cribyn. Now there are several people milling around, if it wasn’t for the iffy weather I’m sure the numbers on the summit would be well into the dozens at any one time. From 2907ft the top of Pen y Fan on any other day offers fantastic views, today however it’s a bit hit and miss, glimpses of Cribyn are grabbed though the cloud as are a snippets of the cwm’s below and to the north. The next port of call Corn Du, is only just over a ¼ mile away but as it’s a similar height it’s not showing itself from up here.
Heading off towards Corn Du, the clag seems to fall even more, once at Corn Du, the cairn is similar to that at Pen y Fan, large and squashed with a fair amount of eroded ground surrounding the cairn. From the summit at 2864ft the visibility has dropped to as little as 50ft so there’s no time wasted admiring the invisible views and I head off west down the path towards somewhere that I may be able to see!
Eventually I drop low enough to be able to see the route ahead. Llyn Cwm Llwch is down to the right and open moorland to the left.
Continuing along the path, the next point of interest is the Tommy Jones memorial, a granite obelisk marking the spot where the body of the 5 year old that was lost on the mountainside in the summer of 1900 was found, despite every effort by numerous search parties his remains were not found for 29 days, a very sombre tale indeed.
Finally it’s time to leave the path and head west away from the escarpment and out onto the featureless moorland. The next target, the smaller flat hill of Y Gyrn can be seen in the distance and soon a path of sorts is picked up heading in a northerly arc before turning south and meeting the remains of a stone wall and a wire fence. Over the stile spanning the wire fence and turning left following the route of the fence and the wall remains to the south. A couple of hundred yards further on, and a selection of stones on the eastern side of the fence mark the summit of Y Gyrn. At 2031ft Y Gyrn is another underwhelming hill top, nothing to see here other than huge expanses of moorland.
Continuing south along the route of the fence on a not very dry path it eventually meets the main path from The Storey Arms leading up to Pen y Fan. Turning left at the junction and through the gate, the path is now good and heads down to the Blaen Taf Fawr, through the stream and up the path the other side back towards Corn Du and back into the clag, again not overly steep, but now into the 12th mile the toll is now being felt. Just under ¾ of a mile after crossing the stream it’s time to veer off the main path to the right eventually reaching the cairn of Craig Gwaun Taf. This point I’m glad to say also marks the last of any serious uphill slogs. The path now heads south along the wide ridge of Graig Fan Ddu, very slowly losing height and very slowly some margin of visibility is restored.
Several cairns are passed along the rocky ridge path which runs for about 2½ miles eventually ending at the trig point of Twyn Mwyalchod. After a final rest up at the trig point, it was time to come down off the ridge, back tracking for approx. 100 yards back to the steep path that heads down to the Lower Neuadd Reservoir. Currently the footpath through to the reservoir is closed while extensive maintenance and repair work is carried out to the reservoir. The footpath is currently diverted to the south but unfortunately is a bit of a mess in places especially the last 100 yards between Taf Fechan stream that is fed by the reservoir and the road, it’s nothing short of a quagmire and it’s not even winter yet. The footpath was only supposed to be closed for 6 months from April through the dry season, so hopefully it will be open again before too long. Once back on the road it’s a two mile trek back to the car park, initially following the road, bearing off left along part of the Taff Trail, this then merges with a gravel road which in turn meets the main Talybont to Pontsticill road, turn left here, head over a rise in the road and then the entrance to the car park is on the left. Now it’s time to savour the removal of the boots!
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- Location: Hampshire, miles from the nearest mountain!
- Activity: Munro compleatist
- Mountain: Helvellyn
- Gear: Camera
- Munros: 14
- Corbetts: 5
- Grahams: 1
- Wainwrights: 22
- Hewitts: 50
- Sub 2000: 1
- Islands: 2
- Filter reports
- Trips: 21
- Distance: 310.15 km
- Ascent: 15800m
- Munros: 4
- Corbetts: 4
- Sub2000s: 1
- Hewitts: 26
- Joined: May 04, 2017
- Last visited: Oct 07, 2020
- Total posts: 26 | Search posts