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The Western Brecons / 3 days / 46 miles (74km)

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Fan Gyhirych partial pan > Pan

Date: 17 May 2004
Start / Finish: Ystradowen on the A4068.
Maps: Outdoor Leisure 12: Brecon Beacons West & Central.

Day 1Garreg Lwyd to Fan Brycheiniog12 miles / 3500 feet (19.3km / 1066m)
Day 2Fforest Fawr19 miles / 3660 feet (30.6km / 1115m)
Day 3South Carmarthen Fan15 miles / 2170 feet (24.2km / 661m)

A fine circuit of Carmarthen Fan (Mynydd Du) and Fforest Fawr. Good circular routes of backpack length are not easy to devise in the western Brecons as return paths tend to cut across the grain of the landscape, but this walk uses the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu Nature Reserve and the wild expanses of the Afon Haffes and Afon Twrch to complete a superb round.

Note:- the Cnewr estate encompassing Fforest Fawr is officially closed from 15th. April to 10th. May each year. This may be affected by the new 'right to roam' legislation.

Day 1 - Garreg Lwyd to Fan Brycheiniog

The bridleway starting at 749125 leads N to Ty-gwyn farm, where it has been diverted L just before the buildings and ascends a farm track to follow the L side of a small plantation to 753134. Just beyond the point where a footpath branches off R, it crosses the Nant Llynfell and ascends to a gate. Here we turned L across the field to a footbridge and sharp R (NE) to a sort of gate. Ascending N with no trace of a path we then reached a gate in the intake wall at 754146 and a reassuring sign on the far side. From here, a compass bearing is in order as it is easy to ascend towards the wrong peak. It is a long, steady climb NNW at a civilised angle over easy but trackless grass to the upper Aman Fawr, where it is a case of picking the easiest line to strike out W for the bouldery summit and trig point of Garreg Lwyd, which sports a huge cairn. The views were thick and hazy today.

Garreg Lwyd
Garreg Lwyd (17 May 2004__13:05:52)

A thin path descends ENE and climbs to Foel Fraith. Descending amid shake holes to the S end of Garreg Las, a short climb brought us onto the extensive rocky slabs of the W ridge. Ascending NNE along the rocky edge, the large twin cairns of the summit are soon reached. The easiest descent is N to the comfort of grass and the bwlch, where a good path heads E to the infant Twrch Fechan, which was flowing well and provided very good water. Following the stream NE and climbing E, the highlight of the day burst into view at the small rise of Waun Lefrith - the superb view of Llyn y Fan Fach and the escarpment ahead. Walking round the edge, an easy climb rises to the summit of Picws Du on the brink of the drop. A steep descent to Bwlch Blaen-Twrch revealed a bone-dry gully but we had collected water earlier. A good path climbs to the cairn on the promontory of Fan Foel where Llyn y Fan Fawr comes into view. A short walk to the trig point of Fan Brycheiniog gave us our first pitch. There were several large building bags of aggregate nearby, presumably in readiness for a hard path.

View N from Garreg Las ridge
View N from Garreg Las ridge (17 May 2004__14:33:43)
Picws Du & Llyn y Fan Fach
Picws Du & Llyn y Fan Fach (17 May 2004__16:45:08)
Bannau Sir Gaer & Llyn y Fan Fach
Bannau Sir Gaer & Llyn y Fan Fach (17 May 2004__16:53:28)
Fan Brycheiniog
Fan Brycheiniog (17 May 2004__17:23:14)
Fan Foel spur & Llyn y Fan Fawr
Fan Foel spur & Llyn y Fan Fawr (17 May 2004__17:54:19)

Day 2 - Fforest Fawr

This morning was a lot clearer as the sun rose and we continued to the small rise of Fan Hir, which was a grand and easy high morning promenade. The long descent follows a clear path, with Fan Gyhirych across the valley looming larger every minute, and eventually drops steeply to prominent sheep pens at Ty Hendrey (848174). Behind the pens, a short lane gives access to the riverside path and a footbridge to the A4067 by the Tafarn-y-Garreg pub.

The route sometimes described for a Brecons traverse is a 2-mile tramp up the fast A4067 followed by an excruciating near-vertical ascent of the grass and bilberry W face of Fan Gyhirych. Our route is not much longer but is very much better, approaching from the S. Turning R along the road, a short way past the church, a bridleway goes SE to Pwllcoediog Farm, where a well signed path climbs the fields and crosses to the lane at Penwyllt. Turning L up the lane to the quarry, a track bends back R behind the old tramway to some cottages screened by trees. Just before these, the obvious footpath sign (diverted) goes through a new gate and heads E on a track to meet an old inclined tramway. Turning L up the tramway to a cutting on the skyline, this is very easy walking on a good track with great views across to Fan Hir. Near the E edge of the forest, a side track crosses the shallow valley and climbs the other side offering more good views E. Shortly after a gate and stile, we struck out N for the last short climb to the summit trig point. Just a few steps W there is a fine view across the valley with Cray reservoir below, and of the daunting route just avoided.

Fan Hir from the tramway
Fan Hir from the tramway (18 May 2004__09:56:31)
Cray reservoir from Fan Gyhirych
Cray reservoir from Fan Gyhirych (18 May 2004__11:12:15)
Fan Nedd & The Brecons from Fan Gyhirych
Fan Nedd & The Brecons from Fan Gyhirych (18 May 2004__11:21:21)

A thin path heads E, but we left it to get to the edge quickly for a great view of the N cwm. Following the edge, the path eventually rejoins the track near the waymark for the onward path to Fan Nedd. A descent to the bwlch and a stiff pull up the NW ridge path leads to a cairn at the N end, then there is an easy walk S to the trig point. Descending NE, the line of the permitted path is totally trackless and it may well be better to return to the N cairn and descend from there, but the stile in the barbed wire fence at the bottom is just R of the standing stone Maen Llia. The siting of this large stone seems odd at first, but walking S by the Afon Llia on the verge of the lane to Ystradfellte gives a new perspective: looking back from the valley as far as 2 miles S, Maen Llia is seen edge-on and is very conspicuous indeed, like a black exclamation mark on the skyline exactly at the bottom of the saddle in the hills.

View North from Fan Nedd
View North from Fan Nedd (18 May 2004__12:46:31)
Maen Llia standing stone & Fan Llia
Maen Llia standing stone & Fan Llia (18 May 2004__14:16:25)

From Ystradfellte (public toilets), a bridleway climbs NW to a 3-way junction. The middle one crosses a wide pasture to a gate and descends to a farm on the Nedd Fechan. Through the farm and climbing W to a finger post, we detoured R down Sarn Helen to the river and collected water. A track from the post gently ascends to moorland where we made our second pitch.

Fan Nedd & the Nedd Fechan
Fan Nedd & the Nedd Fechan (18 May 2004__16:56:09)

Day 3 - South Carmarthen Fan

A clear dawn was quickly blotted out by rising vapours from the valley. Continuing NW into the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu Nature Reserve, the clear track curves round and meets the inclined tramway of yesterday. Returning around the quarry track to the lane, a bridleway descends right to another lane. Turning R past the houses and passing through the gate on the L, a track leads to a footbridge and large stepping stones across the river. Just after, there is a large attractive pond that appears well managed as a wildlife habitat. Arriving on the road a little NE of the map position, a path opposite goes around the Shire Horse centre and camp site, then climbs NW to the moor. This is a lovely route, with expansive views over rock encrusted knolls and the skyline L adorned with little rocky cliffs and outcrops. To the R, the Mynydd Du peaks are seen deceptively with Fan Hir appearing the dominant mountain. Passing several small pools, the dark peaty wastes of Waun Fignen Felen are seen R and the track descends to Pwll y Cig, where a circular pool suddenly delights the eye immediately L. A very short way higher up and completely hidden from the track is a larger and very attractive pool.

Waun Fignen Felen
Waun Fignen Felen (19 May 2004__10:12:23)
Pwll y Cig upper pool & Disgwylfa
Pwll y Cig upper pool & Disgwylfa (19 May 2004__10:44:54)
Dry valley of the Afon Giedd
Dry valley of the Afon Giedd (19 May 2004__10:52:38)

Crossing a ford, a dry red bouldery river bed lies L in a ravine but a little further on the water flows well and requires another ford. Approaching the Afon Twrch, the good track gives up and a faint wet line is all that remains at the next ford. Climbing NW to avoid a boggy traverse, a path appears L that contours reliably high above the river, giving good views on the way, and becomes intermittent as it descends SSW to a confluence. Fording the Twrch Fechan to the W side, a stony path appears that contours above the Afon Twrch valley and skirts R around a boggy area to the top of a ravine at 776174, where it gives up. Contouring on across a dip, we saw the start of the line of the bridleway flanking Carn Fadog. This started well but very soon became horrendous, with deep bilberry and hidden rocks which took a long tiring time to negotiate. Emerging on the shoulder, there was no trace of it and eventually we followed a faint line above and fairly close to the river, aiming L of a tall chimney at the end of the high ground to avoid bogs, to emerge at the track junction at 761141. From here, a good track and path leads SW to Ystradowen.

View from Brest Twrch
View from Brest Twrch (19 May 2004__12:16:33)
The upper Afon Twrch gorge
The upper Afon Twrch gorge (19 May 2004__13:42:38)
The Afon Twrch gorge
The Afon Twrch gorge (19 May 2004__14:30:50)