Everything you Need to Know About Walking up Pen y Fan
Pen y Fan is the highest mountain in Wales outside of Snowdonia National Park. It is the most popular hike in the 520 square mile landscape of the Brecon Beacons. Walking up Pen y Fan is something of a ritual for most Southerners and it should be your next hike too!
Pen y Fan is part of a series of red sandstone peaks in the centre of the National Park. The landscape is marked by many stunning glacial features such as U-shaped valleys, arêtes, and hanging valleys. To equip you for your adventure, here are some tips and advice for walking up Pen y Fan.
How to Reach Pen y Fan?
As with many National Parks, the Brecon Beacons are limited in public transport access. The nearest airport is in Cardiff and the train stations in the surrounding towns are few and far between. The best way to reach Pen y Fan is by road. The A470 runs along the western foot of the mountain with many car parks en route to act as a springboard for your hike.
Pen y Fan is fringed by two towns: Merthyr Tydfil to the south and Brecon to the north. If you’re walking up Pen y Fan and want to take the bus, the T4B public bus has a fairly regular schedule linking these two destinations. Unfortunately, it isn’t active on the weekend.
How to Navigate on Pen y Fan?
The Brecon Beacons are relatively lacking in signage. Paths are well-maintained and easy to follow but there is still a chance of getting lost. Many of the car parks have signposts pointing towards the trail. You can also find the occasional cairn or signpost on the path once you get going, but they aren’t a regular occurrence!
Most of the main paths are clear cut but due to high levels of erosion, it can become confusing to follow the “official” route. If you want to navigate with ease, try buying a GPS device or downloading one on your phone instead. Alternatively, purchase a map and navigate the old-school method! That way, you are covered on all bases and don’t have to worry about getting lost.
If you’re walking up Pen y Fan, there are multiple trails you can take to the summit. Depending on your hiking ability and chosen starting location, there are a few routes to choose from. If you want a quick, no-nonsense route to the peak, head over to the Storey Arms or the Pont ar Daf trailheads for the short and snappy circular route.
If you want to make the most of the views and spend a few hours hiking in the hills, try out the Brecon Beacons Horseshoe which begins near Torpantau. If you want a peaceful trail that’s all to yourself, head to the northern side of the mountain and embark on the Pen y Fan, Corn Du, and Cwm-IIwch Circular.
As another tip, make sure you summit Pen y Fan’s accompanying peak, Corn Du (873). This mountain is only a short hike from Pen y Fan and together they make the formation “Cadair Arthur” or “Arthur’s Seat”.
Recommended Kit list
Unfortunately, as with many areas in the UK, Wales is known for its rain. Mist and drizzle are common occurrences when walking up Pen y Fan. Make sure you come prepared with waterproof layers. The rocky trail is often slippery underfoot so wear some good-quality waterproof hiking boots.
The weather can be very mixed in the Brecon Beacons. In winter and late into the fringe seasons, the peaks can be topped with ice, snow, and sleet. Be ready for these cold conditions by packing hats, gloves, and spare warm layers. Even if it’s warm down in the car park, the wind chill and altitude can cause the temperature to drop rapidly so don’t forget your jacket!
Food & Drink
When you are walking up Pen y Fan, there are no refreshments available on the trail. You need to be self-sufficient on this hiking route so don’t expect any facilities once you’re already in the peaks! Bring plenty of water (1.5-2 litres per person) and a good selection of snacks for the journey.
Before you set off on your hike there are a scattering of cafes selling cakes and hot drinks for you to sample! The Old Barn Tea Room is a quaint café in Torpantau known for its wonderful scones and exceptional cream tea. Storey Arms Refreshments is a small kiosk offering hot drinks and snacks in the car park.
For a more substantial meal, the YHA Brecon Beacons makes classic pub grub and a tasty full English to top up on calories before you hit the trail! If you’re gasping for a pint after your day hiking in the hills, check out the Royal Oak, the Tai’r Bull Inn or the Red Cow Inn.
Walking up Pen y Fan – Bonus Tips
Try to time your visit to Pen y Fan to coincide with good weather. Obviously, it’s not possible to control the climate but keep an eye on the forecast. If you walk up Pen y Fan on a sunny day, you will be able to fully appreciate the stunning scenery.
Sadly, Pen y Fan is suffering a bit of a crisis from overuse. The relatively soft sandstone is prone to weathering and erosion. Therefore, if too many people wander off the trail, the mountain will become damaged. Make sure you stick to the official footpaths where you can as these trails are reinforced and well-maintained to cope with the high activity.
As mentioned, walking up Pen y Fan is a popular pastime. That has given this trail the unenviable nickname “The Motorway”. To avoid these crowds, try walking up Pen y Fan early in the morning, mid-week, or in Autumn/Spring. However, even if the hiking paths are busy, you’re sure to have a fantastic time exploring one of Britain’s best trails.