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.