With just a week to go until the National Three Peaks Challenge, a few friends and I took it upon ourselves to head to the Breacon Beacons in South Wales early Saturday morning.
The journey into Wales
Having set off at 6:45am, with a quick pit stop at a petrol station we had headed off out of a dry and crisp Wimbledon towards the M4 via Hammersmith.
The journey took 3.5 hours where the majority of the journey was the M4. Several miles later we crossed the Severn Bridge crossing where there was a £5.25 toll to cross over, it’s good to know the toll will disappear this year! Being a little scared of heights, the bridge for me was the worst part of the journey!
Once crossing, the Breacons are around 45 minutes away. The total journey took around 3.5hrs with plenty of service station stops due to the amount of tea I’d had to stay awake during the early drive. Thank you Costa!
For parking we parked at the Neuadd Resevoir Beacons Car Park (Postcode CF48 2UT), there is a Car park potentially 0.5 miles before it but the Horseshoe ridge walk starts from here.
There is a more commercial car park at the Pont Ar Daf Start point and also the Storey Arms Activity Centre. There are easier and shorter trails from there.
The hike began turning left out of the car park, and when coming to a fork taking the right hand path way, we followed this for around a mile before approaching a steep decline, locals ran down it but I took a cautious approach. One thing to be aware of is that the National Trust website states to bring a map but there is signposted trails, we saw the Taff trail at the start and never to be seen again until the end! From the Pont Ar Daf Car park there is a clear path to Corn Du and Pen Y Fan.
Never the less, we used trusty google maps to roughly make a sense of bearings and walk in that direction. After the steep decline (we are supposed to be walking up not down right?) we continued to follow the rough path towards what looked like a big hill over a mountain or valley.
We walked for a good hour or so until we met the base of Pen Y Fan. Having tackled two men and their dog for what appeared to be an OS map, we checked we were headed in the right direction. There appeared to be two trails, with heavy rainfall and wind on our backs we were told the trail on the left was the easier option in terms of the impact of the wind, it wound around Pen Y Fan rather than directly uphill. With that in mind we pushed on up up and up.
The wind was on our faces and me being a princess was adamant to not get my hair wet, I’d straightened it in the morning and didn’t want the frizz for the photos! I walked the entire trail with my hood up, whilst my two friends had almost certainly given up on keeping their hair dry!
The trail continued until we met the marked path up to the peak of Pen Y Fan. You’ll know you are on it as both paths from the base meet here and you’ll be faced with lots more hikers walking in the same direction.
The hike up took roughly half an hour, give or take, and I was expecting beautiful views and the perfect photo for Instagram, but instead due to the weather and the low cloud cover we just saw mist, there was no idea of where the edges of the peak where but we could just see the trails which people emerged from, one from the Storey Arms, and the other from Corn Du.
The wind was fierce so we took our photos, met a group of Lads on a stag do all dressed as characters from Lord of the rings emerging from the mist and then made a decision to continue on to Corn Du rather than turn back to the car park.
There was a nice decline down from Pen Y Fan, and then we were approached with another fork, we took the right path up to Corn Du, the incline felt quite gentle in comparison to Pen Y Fan. Again there was only mist to be seen at the peak and the route down involved some climbing down however as it was so misty we opted against it as we couldn’t see where we would step and climb down, instead we returned the way we came, and then took the other path to follow the trail down to Pont Ar Daf Car park.
This was a lovely walk down and the rain stopped and the sun tried to say hello. Without the map we assumed we just head down and the main road would lead us back to the Neuadd Car Park.
Having followed the trail from Corn Du all the way down to the car park, we looked forward to a hot chocolate and some food. There are two stalls to purchase hot drinks ice creams and hot food, as well as a block of toilets. The toilets weren’t the most pleasant, and my friends contemplated holding it in or using a more natural toilet. I held my breathe and got on with it, it’s all part of the experience right. My clothes were very damp by this point and we all looked forward to getting back by now.
Mapless and clueless we found a map on a board by the block of toilets, by now my phone had died and my friends had little signal. Google maps advised to walk back up corn Du which we wanted to avoid, so we decided the map stated the Taf trail was across the main road and if we followed this it would surely lead us back?
We crossed over with apprehension and soon realised there were no signs or Taf trail so ran back across the main road. It all sounds very safe but cars were speeding past and I recommend not crossing this road! We laughed at the sight of us running across!
With our heads held up high we decided to walk back and check in with someone where we needed to walk. We saw a fewer military men with a map, they made me laugh as couldn’t pronounce the peaks “corn…something and Pen Y whatever” and although holding a map couldn’t work out where they were going. A local describes the route and it involved walking around a mile and a half back up the trail towards Corn Du. At which point we take a right, we contemplated how we could have missed the left turning on the way down, but without a map it’s very easy to miss. The path was through what looked like a grass verge and lead us along a cliff edge for two miles.
I had completely forgotten about my fear of heights, having climbed the inca trail and the Norwegian fjords. But not being able to see the cliff edges with all the mist and the howling winds strong enough to knock little me over, I felt a little uneasy.
We persevered, surely there would be a decline in elevations soon and it came sure enough. Steep steps paved out by large stones, in the wet weather every opportunity to slip was possible. My kind friends held my hand and we carefully walked down together, stopping for snack breaks and photo opportunities of course. The mist had cleared and the views were spectacular.
We navigated our way to the reservoir, and came to a dead end and a dilapidated house, if you followed it to the right we came to the main road and finally found the Taf trail which lead us back to the deserted car park, but to our delight as we could openly change clothes before heading home.
The Breacon Beacons was a fantastic training opportunity despite the weather, but prepared me for the potential hazards which the three peaks may bring. My favourite part was the lack of signal and the technology and social media detox, the hike embraced mindfulness and getting away from the husle and bustle of the city!
N.B. For those of you who’d like the official Horseshoe trail map see below: