Crossing Fforest Fawr 2010
The neglected range of the Brecon Beacons.
Although I had made a preliminary visit to the area's mountains and several walks to the waterfalls and caves that the southern part of the range is famous for, so far I had only done a single walk up any of the Fforest Fawr mountains themselves. This walk covers the rest of the main group, from Fan Llia to Fan Gyhirych. It follows the first part of the route described in the Nuttalls' guide, starting from the same place, but ending after descending from the last mountain. The total ascent is about 800 metres.
Do not underestimate walks in this area. It all looks like easy walking on gentle rolling hillsides, but there's a good reason why there are so few visitors to the area and why it is popular for military training; it is basically a large expanse of bog, with almost no paths that go anywhere useful. Crossing the mountains means walking in a random direction across a bog, and hoping you locate somewhere good to walk. This was done intentionally when the area was granted very restrictive access after serving as a royal hunting forest (not the type of forest that consists of trees). The rights of way shown on some older maps do not in any way relate to real paths on the ground.
Our walk began on a miserably raining day after weeks of sunshine. The forecast said the layer of overcast clouds may lift a little, and could possibly show the odd bit of sunshine, but would return to rain later. As a result, my sun protection was left behind. Within half an hour of starting, the clouds dispersed, with the repeated sun and clouds creating dramatic views and ever-changing challenges for photography - a panorama could change from cloudy to sunny between frames. The cloud and wind hid us from the realisation that it was now very sunny, and we failed to apply Nicola's supply of sun protection. This is the first time I can say that I got sunburn because it was raining.
The haze was terrible so I began the walk with my polarising filter applied - big mistake for panoramas, since it causes each frame to fade from one tint to another tint across the photo, making stitching extremely hard. Thankfully the clouds allowed me to hide most of the problems, but that's a mistake I don't want to make again. For the tiny gains the polariser gives, it ruins too many panoramas to be worthwhile. It should be applied only to pictures that need it, and not left on all the time.
- Looking up Cwm Du towards Craig Cwm-du, the crags on the right. The haze and rain nearly obliterates the view, which would have been really disappointing if it had remained that way all day.
- Our starting point at the Blaen Llia car park. From here we followed (or tried to follow) the Beacons Way, over the footbridge, turn left, before crossing a stile into the open land.
- One of the soldiers training in the area with their highly visible packs and rifles - it's all about camouflage, you know. This stile is the way onwards, but despite being the major Beacons Way, the path disappears almost immediately. We lost sight of it a few times on the way up, and just walked in the right direction to find it again - note that it is not where the map shows it; it is slightly lower down in the field.
- Then the sun cleared the cloud, and Fan Nedd (663 metres) stood proud, with the smaller hills of Yr Allt (604 metres) and Fan Bwlch Chwyth (603 metres) in the middle, and Fan Llia (632 metres) being our first target on the right. The valley between Fan Nedd and Fan Llia is the Afon Llia, which joins the Afon Dringarth to become the Afon Mellte, which then flows through the Porth-yr-Ogof cave system, and onwards down the famous Four Waterfalls trail.
- On the other side of the ridge is the tallest of the Fforest Fawr mountains; Fan Fawr (734 metres), with Corn Du (873 metres), the second tallest of the Brecon Beacons, peering over the left edge of it. The top of Fan Llia is about 400 metres beyond the cairn that can be seen on the left. The valley between Fan Fawr and Fan Llia is the Afon Dringarth, with the tip of the Ystradfellte Reservoir just visible.
- Tremendous view from the summit. On the left is Fan Nedd, with Fan Ghyirych (725 metres), Yr Allt and Fan Bwlch Chwyth behind it, and Fan Hir (761 metres) and Fan Brycheiniog (802 metres) behind them. In the middle, the ridge continues over a 617 metre bump called Fan Dringarth, with Fan Frynych (629 metres) and Craig Cerrig-gleisiad (629 metres) beyond it. On the right are Corn Du and Fan Fawr, with Pen y Fan (886 metres) peering around Corn Du.
- Wild ponies on Fan Dringarth. The route now leaves the path and crosses the moorland down into the head of the Afon Llia.
- Meadow pipit.
- An old Roman road. The route crosses it and ignores it completely.
- A few stream crossings lead us to Maen Llia, a standing stone from the Bronze age. Just past this, a stile takes us onto the the mountain road.
- Towards the Fan Dringarth ridge.
- A turn left on the road and short walk down it reaches a stile over onto Fan Nedd. There is no path at all here, and the only way up is to invent a path over the wimberries and bog grasses. An alternative is to head in the other direction aloing the road to the edge of the pass, then take the poorly defined path heading up on the left which goes up the edge of the scarp, via the cairn.
- Highlights on Maen Llia with Fan Frynych.
- After a false top, the final slope of Fan Nedd appears. This is marked on the old maps as the right of way, but clearly there is nothing resembling a path.
- View over to Fan Llia with Fan Fawr and Corn Du behind it, and Fan Frynych on the left.
- Climbing above the tiny outcrops on Fan Nedd.
- On the other side of the Fan Nedd ridge are Fan Fraith (668 metres) and Fan Gyhirych, with Fan Hir and Fan Brycheiniog behind them in the Black Mountain range.
- A herd of local cows (looks like Gascon to me, but I'm not a cattle farmer) had beaten us to the summit. So had some soldiers in a tent, and a group of teenagers on a Duke of Edinburgh training walk. Mountain sheep, ponies, even goats, sure. But cattle? Very uncommon.
- After touching top, we followed a path to the end of the right, where a cairn sits at the edge of the scarp. From there, a reasonably well defined path heads to the left, down the far rim of the scarp.
- Another tremendous view, from the rim of Blaen Senni. On the left are Fan Fraith, Fan Gyhirych, a distant Fan Hir, Fan Brycheiniog and Moel Feity (591 metres), then the long ridge of Yr Allt and Fan Bwlch Chwyth, and the glacial Senni valley. On the right are Fan Frynych, Craig Cerrig-gleisiad, Pen y Fan and Corn Du, and the ridges of Fan Fawr, Fan Dringarth and Fan Nedd. Our route heads down the path and back up to Bwlch y Duwynt, the long pass between Fan Gyhirych and Yr Allt.
- The scarp of Fan Nedd, with the Fan Dringarth, Fan Fawr and Corn Du ridges behind it.
- The pass brings yet another superb view. On the left are Fan Fraith and the impressive scarp of Fan Gyhirych. In the middle are Fan Hir and Fan Brycheiniog, with the hills of Cefn Cul (562 metres) and Moel Feity at their feet. On the right is the Cray Reservoir.
- The back of Fan Bwlch Chwyth and Yr Allt.
- View over the Nedd Fechan valley, with Fan Bwlch Chwyth and Yr Allt on the left, then Fan Frynych, Craig Cerrig-gleisiad, Y Gyrn (619 metres), Pen y Fan, Corn Du, Fan Fawr, Fan Dringarth and Fan Nedd. The Nedd Fechan passes through the Little Neath River Cave and associated caves, before continuing down the Elidir Trail waterfalls.
- Following the track from the pass up to the next pass between Fan Fraith and the larger peak beside it, a quick detour over the bog reaches Fan Fraith. It's only 16 metres (according to the Nuttalls' book; 53 feet) of ascent to the summit, and it looks and feels like nothing at all. Barely a mountain, and barely significant.
- Haggs on Fan Fraith.
- View over the summit stone of Fan Fraith, to the tops of the hills and valleys at the southern edge of the national park. On the left are the Rhigos Mountains, the group of South Wales Valleys hills around Hirwaun of which the largest is Craig y Llyn (600 metres). After that are Hirfynydd (481 metres) and Mynydd Marchywel (418 metres) separating the Neath and Tawe valleys. On the right are the distant Foel Fraith (602 metres) and Garreg Lwyd (616 metres) in the Black Mountain, and then the slopes of our next peak on the right.
- On the back of Foel Fraith is the Pant Mawr Moor, home of Pant Mawr Pot. Near the right edge of the moor are the two black marks of the Pwll Byfre sinks, under which lies the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu cave system.
- The route now crosses back over the track, and climbs without a path onto the top of Fan Gyhirych - quite an anticlimax after its impressive scarp. There are a trig point and cairn on the top, of which the trig point is supposedly the highest point, but the land between them appears even higher.
- The view from the edge easily makes up for the mundane summit; distant Garreg Lwyd and Foel Fraith, Fan Hir, Fan Brycheiniog, Moel Feity and Cefn Cul overlooking the Cray Reservoir, with Sennybridge and the flatlands of Mid Wales beyond it.
- The Nant y Llyn stream running out of Llyn y Fan Fawr in the Black Mountain contains a number of good waterfalls, of which the largest are under 10 metres in height. There is a dedicated path running beside them from the road running beside the Afon Tawe, but all of the good ones can be seen from here.
- The photographer earning a sunburn.
- From the summit, an extremely steep path drops off the side of the mountain into the valley.
- This might give you a better idea of the slope - it's about 45° at the top, and after a gentle section, drops down at the same angle again to reach the road at the pass. There is no proper path for the last section.
- The old tower at Bwlch Bryn-rhudd, where the car was waiting.
- The Craig-y-nos crags on Cribarth (426 metres).