Pen Y Fan

Pen Y Fan is the highest point in South Wales (and Southern England). From its near central location in the Brecon Beacons National Park, the views can be stunning. Don't be put off by its description as the highest point, as the A470 start point is already half way between peak and sea level. In the winter, it is regularly below freezing on the peaks, so check the weather forecast and current conditions before going in order to be prepared. During the winter of 2010/2011 there were 20m long icicles within 500m walking distance of the car park.

Map: OS (1:25K) Explorer 12 Brecon Beacons West and Central (1:50K) Landranger 160 Brecon Beacons

Non-Circular walk, although variations can be circular.

Suggested Start Point: Car Park at SN987199

Distance: 17.0km Ascent: 887m Descent: 1196m

Walking Directions

Although this walk is in the mountains, this is a relatively straightforward to navigate except for one or two sticky bits. Starting in the wooded car park, head through the gate and across the bridge. The path is clear, all the way until the Summit of Pen Y Fan. If you wish, you can head up the rocky path to Corn Du at SO006209. Beware that this can be slippy in high wind and rain. Otherwise, simply take the gentler path along the ridge which goes around Corn Du and up onto Pen Y Fan. You could always double back and take the much wider path onto Corn Du from the Pen Y Fan direction too.

To continue towards Cribyn, take the recently widened path off of Pen Y Fan, and continue along the ridge. The hiking club typically has lunch between Cribyn and Fan Y Big, whereever the wind is reduced. If you wish to avoid the summits of Cribyn and Fan Y Big, there are paths for both. The path bypassing Cribyn follows the contours, keeping essentially level. The path for Fan Y Big doesn't avoid all of the climb, but does make the climb less steep.

After Fan Y Big, it is straightforward to follow the ridge for a number of kilometers, until you get to SO057205. Here, there is a drop off of both sides and a plateau in front of you. This is possibly a tricky bit to navigate, unless you're careful. Don't descend, and head onto the plateau in the direction of Carn Pica. At least on the Explorer map I have, at least one path at this junction is not on the map. Don't be fooled by having two paths on the map, and two options in front of you (made that mistake on my 2008 trip). Watch the terrain and match it to where you want to go, or better yet take a compass bearing for safety. The path from here to Carn Pica is not really clear, although there are a number of routes/sheep tracks across this plateau.

When coming off of the plateau make sure you get the right spur. Carn Pica marks the ridge you wish to take. Carn Pica is a well built dome of rocks, arranged brickwork fashion into a gherkin shape, 7m or so high. The positioning of the reservoir relative to your direction of travel is also a good point to note (nearly made that mistake in 2010)

You keep following the ridge as it descends to SO097206 where you get to the fence. This section is a typically a little boggy. From here you follow the route to the minor road at SO103209. Taking the minor road down into Aber village, turn left and continue along the road until the footpath off to the right at SO105217. It is opposite Aber Farm. Cross the footbridge and once on the dismantled railway (SO108218), turn left and follow it to Tal-y-bont on Usk.

Hike Profile

Hike Gradient


If driving, then a circular route is obviously desired. Although the terrain is access land, the geography does limit the choice of circular routes. A short option is available, taking in Corn Du and Pen Y Fan. Head up the route outlined above to Pen Y Fan, before heading onto Corn Du, and then descending off in a North-West direction. Follow the Craig Cwm Llwch ridgeline before cutting westwards. You can either follow the stream (Blaen Taf Fawr) back down to the bridge or continue towards Storey Arms. The Storey Arms variant is 8.1km and 514m ascent/descent, which should take about 4 hours.

The final option is to simply walk however far you wish along the ridge and turn around and head back!

Maps provided by OpenStreetMap under a creative commons license

Hiking History

This walk is typically undertaken by the Swansea University Hiking Club as one of their induction walks each year. As such I've undertaken this walk quite a few times!

Notable Features and Highlights

Pen Y Fan

At 886m this is the highest peak in South Wales. It is in good company with Corn Du (873m), Cribyn (795m) and Fan Y Big (719m). It is common to see army training on this walk, with special forces using the terrain as part of the selection process.

Waun Rydd

This peatbog, at an altitude of approximately 760m provides quite a change of pace to the walk. Although generally level terrain on the map, this is certainly uneven and lots of bog jumping can be enjoyed.

Wellington Memorial

Although not directly on the hike (unless you walk around the edge of the plateau following Cwar Y Gigfran), this is a memorial to a World War II crash site. Wellington Bomber R1645 crashed on July 6th, 1942 killing all five Canadian crewmembers.

Tommy Jones Obelisk

If following the circular variation walk, then you will come across an obelisk which is certainly useful for navigation if there is low visability. The obelisk was erected to remember Tommy Jones, who was five years old when he died in August 1900. He got lost while visiting family. His body was found 29 days later on the spot where the obelisk was erected.

© Rhodri L T Bevan