Pen-Y-Fan The Highest Peak in South Wales
Ever since doing my very first mountain hiking up Mount Snowdow, North Wales, in July/15 I felt compelled to hike again and so Brian surprised me by organising a trip for my birthday.
There is something very inspiring about hiking up high places and the challenge of pushing oneself physically. After climbing Mount Snowdon I felt a great sense of accomplishment, exhilaration and gratitude to be alive… although half way up I was already regretting it and thinking of excuses to turn around and give up.
Pen-Y-Fan is the highest peak in South Wales at 886 metres (2, 907 feet) situated in the Breacon Beacon National Park. I hiked up Pen-Y-Fan on a wet, windy and fresh Autumn day in late October 2015, few days after my birthday with my son James and my husband Brian by my side cheering me on.
We were staying for the weekend just over the border in England at Ross on Wye, in a charming and very old hotel by the River Wye, that used to be a Court House in the 16th Century and it is now a fully restored, very comfortable 4 star Hotel. The owner was a lovely and friendly lady who told us that next door it used to be a prison (now a Pub), so prisoners would get their sentence at the Court House and immediately be taken away and locked up next door.
We started our climb from Pont ar Daf car park, situated in a lay by off the A470 (there are public toilets here and a van selling food and drinks), from this point we are already at an elevation of about 440 m, so let’s just say we cheated a little bit. We walked across a wooden footbridge over the River and followed a stone pitched footpath. Pen-Y-Fan is used by the British military as training ground and often as part of their selection process for the special forces, as they make the poor souls run up the Mountain path as an endurance exercise to show how tough they are.
We would not be doing any running, in fact my lungs were burning and I felt a little bit light headed at the start of the climb since Jamie was enthusiastically speeding ahead and I struggled to catch up with him. I was relieved when he finally realised that I could not keep up with his fast pace and he did slow down to avoid me having a heart attack.
The weather was not cooperating and as we climbed higher we reached the clouds and could not see much of what was in front of us, I felt a little scared and disoriented, so I was glad to have them both with me, although we were not alone and there were few others going up the same path. It was such a shame not to have the soaring views in front of us but on a positive note there were no scary drops to see either, although we did know that they were there.
My legs were starting to ache when we reached Bwlch Duwunt, meaning windy in Welsh and they are not kidding I felt like I could easily be blown over the top. Soon after we arrived at what they call the saddle between Cord Du and Pen-Y-Fan, we thought we had reached the summit, but in fact there is a bit more to climb and so we continued along the path for the last push to the Summit of Pen-Y-Fan at 886 meters. Success!
Unfortunately we could not see the views and I had a strange feeling that any wrong footing would mean a disaster, we took the obligatory photo at the cairn of the summit, which I later found out to be the site was a Bronze Age burial chamber. It was excavated in 1991 and a Bronze Brooch and Spear Head were found inside the burial chamber.
We retraced our steps back and scrambled carefully down some rocks and into a different path downwards.
We went past an obelisk that was placed there to mark the place were the remains of little Tommy Jones, who at age 5 got lost on the 4th of August 1900 and died from exhaustion and hypothermia up in this mountain, his remains were found 29 days later. Tommy was the son of William, a coal miner and they were both on a holiday visit to Tommy’s Grand Father who lived in the Breacon Beacon area.
I did not know about this tragic event until we come across this Obelisk, I took the rest of the climb to reflect on this awful event and how desperate it must have felt for his family and in particular his mother and father. It made me treasure even more the time spent with my son and husband doing this hike.
We also found ourselves lost soon after we passed the Obelisk as we were heading down in totally the wrong direction and away from the car park where our car was waiting for us. Luckily Brian’s GPS soon pointed us in the right direction, although my heart sunk when I realised that In order for us to get back on the right path we had to climb up the hill again and go over the top to the other side. It was very hard and we had to walk over some wet and sinking bog, but at last the sun was out now and the views were lovely.
Altogether it took us about 4 hours to complete the hike and although the weather was not great and it was very hard at times with the cold wind, mist and lack of views, I have really enjoyed it. I greatly value this precious times we have together as a family ( although our family was not complete and we did miss Chloe who could not take time off from her University in Brighton), since now that both my children are at University there are fewer opportunities to spend time together, bonding, talking and laughing.
Getting back to the hotel was nice and my sore limbs enjoyed a good soak in the bath. The Hotel had a great Restaurant, which is well known locally for its delicious food and friendly staff, we walked downstairs into the bar area and were greeted with drinks and appetizers, after all that effort and fresh air we were all absolutely ravenous hungry. The meal did not disappoint and afterwards we finished the evening with coffee and drinks in a little cosy and most charming room, which they called “The Library” the log fire was burning and it was the most perfect ending to our challenging day.
Next day, we woke up to a very sunny day and decided to do some more exploring by going on a River Cruise and visiting the Symonds Yat Rock in the Forest of Dean. The Autumn colours were stunning, it was a great way of seeing the River Wye which winds its way through the Symonds Yat Gorge and Village dividing it into East and West. The river cruise lasted about 40 minutes as we sipped on tea and hot chocolate whilst hearing the commentary by the boat’s captain about the local history and salmon fishing competitions along the banks of this river.
The Forest of Dean was alive with the Autumn colours and wildlife, this is a special area of conservation. We walked up to the view point at Symonds Yat Rock, situated in the upper Wye Gorge, it is an Iron Age Hill and it’s claim to fame is that it was the location for the filming of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows – Part 1. It is a great place for bird watching lovers who want to spot Peregrine Falcons that came here to nest.
After our exploits in the Forest we said our good byes to our son Jamie, since he was going back to his University in Birmingham and we would be heading back South.
On our way back home Brian and I did one last stop to visit the old ruins of Tintern Abbey, a Cistercian Monastry that was once home to 400 Monks. The Abbey was founded by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow in 1131, it was the first Cistercian Foundation in Wales, situated next to the Village of Tintern in Monmouthshire on the Welsh bank of the River Wye.
These amazing building fell into disrepair after the “Dissolution of the Monasteries” under Henry VIII in the 16th Century. From the 18th Century it became fashionable to visit this area and the ruins have since been preserved. In 1984 Cadw took over responsibility for the up keeping of the site. It is visited by thousands of tourists every year.
And so the weekend ended. It had been lovely, and already on the drive home I was dreaming of the next little adventure.