Pen-Y-Fan The Highest Peak in South Wales


James, Brian and I at Pen-Y-Fan Summit

James, Brian and me at the misty Pen-Y-Fan Summit

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.

Our Hotel by the River Wye

Our Hotel by the River Wye in the far distance

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 saw this sign at the starting point

We saw this sign at the starting point

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.

Brian at the edge of Pen-Y-Fan

Brian at the edge on Pen-Y-Fan

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.

The cairn of the summit used to be a Bronze Age burial chamber

The cairn of the summit used to be a Bronze Age 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.

Tommy Jones Obelisk

Tommy Jones Obelisk

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 are following the wrong path and should not be down here

We are following the wrong path and should not be down here

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.

Finally some beautiful views

Finally some beautiful views to inspire us on

Not far now to get back to our car

Not far now to get back to our car

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.

Delicious food

Delicious food at our Hotel’s Restaurant

"The Library" was a very atmospheric 16th Century room with a log burner

“The Library” was a very old and atmospheric room with a log burner

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.

King Fisher canal boat

King Fisher canal boat

Peaceful river cruise

Peaceful river cruise

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.

Views of the river and Autumn colours from the Rock

Views of the river and Autumn colours from the Symonds Yat Rock

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.

Abbey ruins

Tintern Abbey ruins

Old Abbey

Tintern Abbey

And so the weekend ended. It had been lovely, and already on the drive home I was dreaming of the next little adventure.





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  1. Gilda I think you are very brave. I hate hiking when I cant see whats in front of me. I love your life story too. Its inspiring. We started our travels when the youngest of our four sons finished high school and we left for Central America. We lived for six years in Nicaragua and then two years ago began the nomadic life in SE Asia and are loving it! Well worth waiting for and even more appreciated for having done so and after raising children. Nice to read your post and have found your blog.

    • Thank you so much for your lovely comment. Your life is inspiring and my husband and I dream of doing what you are doing.How lovely you have 4 sons and is now living your dream. Thank you for your words of encouragement.

  2. “There is something very inspiring about hiking up high places and the challenge of pushing oneself physically”

    Oh boy! Don’t I know it?! 🙂 This looks as if it was a great hike and the best way to end a hike is with a hot shower, a delicious meal and a warm comfy bed. It doesn’t get much better!

    • Patti you know well what I am talking about here, but 100 times more and you have the blisters to show for it. You would have found Pen-y-fan a walk in the park…too easy hahaha. The warm bath was so lovely, good food and a nice bed made it all perfect 😀

  3. Ha, typical Welsh weather, I always tease Andrew about it 🙂 Despite growing up in Carmarthen, Andrew hasn’t climbed this peak, but he did take me to the Brecon Beacons last summer and I thought the waterfalls were beautiful. The Forest of Dean looks lovely too, gotta love a Harry Potter destination!

    • I love Wales so much and want to climb few more of those lovely peaks, but the weather can be a bit unpredictable. The Forest of Dean had amazing Autumn colors and the Harry Potter conection makes it a popular place, it was quite busy there in October.

  4. You are a special lady Gilda because if I surprised Spanky with a birthday hike she would punch me in the head.
    I’m happy though that he made up for it with a nice dinner, looks very cosy.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Frank, you made me laugh. I have only recently discovered how much I love hiking and I just wish I had more time to go more often. We are taking early retirement next year and perhaps I will then be able to do some serious hiking like you are doing Frank. I am enjoying all your hiking posts, keep them coming 😀

      • That’s great Gilda. I think there’s no better way to appreciate nature and I always feel a sense of peace when I hike. It’s great that you’ve just rediscovered your love for it 🙂

  5. I’ve always rather fancied Ross-on-Wye and I would definitely be doing that boat trip. 🙂 Not so confident of the walk, I have to admit. My head for heights isn’t so great these days. Well done you for tackling it in that weather.

  6. Gilda what a gorgeous hike and area! So sad about the little boy. As a parent one can’t help but be heartbroken a the thought. How lovely that you were able to spend the time with your son and husband. These are the treasures of life aren’t they?

    • Sue Wales has some beautiful mountains to hike and they are not too difficult. The obelisk to little Tommy was poignantly sad and it made me appreciate even more the time spent with my son and my husband. I do feel blessed 😀

  7. Gilda, I can’t imagine how you two could have squeezed much more into a weekend. It looks like a lovely time … well after completing the hike up the mountain. And your post brought back such pleasant memories of our time in the UK. When we lived in London, one of our absolutely favorite weekend activities was to pack an overnight bag, go to Victoria Station, and randomly pick somewhere to go. We’d walk into the village, find an inn, and then just see what unfolded. The freedom of no obligations and the total unknown was liberating, and very relaxing. BTW, you and Brian have a very handsome lad there. ~ James

    • James, during our working life every weekend was so precious, so we definitely always wanted to make the most of our time away. Now that we are retired, we tend to feel less pressure to see everything. I also lived in London when I first moved to the UK in 1987. When were you in London? Thank you for the compliment about my son, I have to agree he is a handsome chap 🙂 I love your comment here, but I wonder if you know of my new blog at It used to be a .com but when I changed to a WordPress paid site I made a mistake of not using the .com to carry my posts over. Many thanks for your comment 🙂

      • Gilda, I didn’t know about the blog change over and have already bookmarked the new blog. I’m looking forward to reading a few posts. And BTW, I like the new theme. Our theme, which we both like, is quite old and is starting to show its age. We’re getting tired of these unpredictable quirks, so we considering a new theme. We have 600 posts, so it’s going to be a big project, so we’re getting our ducks in a row before the change. Best of luck with the new website. ~James

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