The Cambrian Way 2000

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 3 - Days 5 to 7 - Crickhowell to Llandeusant via Brecon Beacons and Carmarthen Fans

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Day 5 - Sunday 4th June - 13.3 miles - 1,808 ft ascent - B&B 24

Crickhowell to Talybont-on-Usk via Mynydd Llangattock

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Bridge over Usk at Crickhowell
Bridge over Usk at Crickhowell

Despite the forecast of bad weather for the next few days, I woke up to bright sunshine and lots of blue sky. It was perhaps a bit premature to think that the forecast was wrong, but then you need to be an optimist in this game or you would soon pack up and go home. Anyhow, the day's walk was not at such a high level as that of the past few days, making it less likely that I would be in cloud.

My left foot was still painful at times and I could now see some bruising, but once I got going I could often walk for a few miles without much pain, then have a few miles where it was very painful, only to find that the pain went away again for a while. I had a very good breakfast and then went into town to get a few things for lunch and send off some postcards. The bright weather earlier had now given way to a lot of cloud but not yet rain. At about 9.30 I made my way across the River Usk towards the Llangattock Escarpment where it started raining, making me resort to waterproofs. I took a wrong path up the escarpment and ended up scrambling through bracken and fallen trees until I eventually found a gate and regained the proper path, which then climbed steeply up the escarpment.

There are numerous caves in this area and I took a look at some of the entrances but did not go in, as they were all very wet. By this time, the rain had eased off to occasional drizzle and the cloud was above 2,000 ft making the summit of Sugar Loaf visible but not the Black Mountains ridge of the previous day's walk. I had a very pleasant walk along the escarpment bringing back memories of 30 years ago when I had visited the area with my brother and explored a few miles of underground passages in Ogen Allwedd, a very extensive cave system.

As the weather improved it was so good to be able to take off my waterproofs again and dry out a bit. After dropping down from the escarpment towards the road I decided to regain some height earlier than the route suggested by following a track up the hillside. This was a bit of a mistake, as I eventually ended up on open moorland and the only real option was to follow a faint track to the highest point, then another faint path and sheep tracks over the open moor to the trig point. The only thing I achieved was to gain a slightly better view by seeing a full panorama a little earlier, but I had to contend with slower and harder going and about an extra half-mile of walking for the privilege.

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Used to store arms
Chartists' Cave

Now that the cloud had lifted and broken up even more, there were some very good distant views, with Ebbw Vale and Tredegar to the south, the Black Mountains to the north east and the Brecon Beacons to the west. There was a good path from the trig point westwards and I was taking great care so as not to miss the Chartists' Cave which, according to Tony Drake's book, was easy to miss. When I thought I was in the right area I stopped to take compass bearings, then walked twenty yards further on where I found the cave entrance right by the side of the path and almost impossible to miss. I can only assume that it has become much more of a well-trodden path since the book was written. The cave was used by the Chartists, as stated on a plaque by the entrance, to store arms prior to the uprising of 1839.

I had not made rapid progress, having reached the cave at 2.45 p.m., but I had been taking it fairly steadily knowing that I did not have a very long distance to walk that day. When planning the walk, I had decided against trying to walk the length of the Brecon Beacons the same day and instead settled on an accommodation detour to Abercynafon Lodge near the head of the Talybont Reservoir, to make two easier stages. This was all the more necessary when I found that the LLwyn-y-celin Youth Hostel was full, necessitating a further seven mile walk to Ystradfellte the next day.

From the Chartists' Cave, I followed the well-defined path for a while until I realised that it was taking me too far south and I had to follow a number of sheep tracks to take me down to meet the road and rejoin the proper route. A short walk along the roadway led to an old tramway round the head of a valley, with lovely views down its length now that the weather had much improved. Unfortunately, the tramway degenerated into a quagmire with little opportunity for avoiding the mud. It continued like this for some distance before improving, and eventually joined a forestry track up onto the ridge and down to the next valley containing the Talybont Reservoir.

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View towards Brecon Beacons
Talybont Reservoir near Talybont on Usk

Just when everything seemed easy, I reached the point where there should have been a bridge across the river, only to find that it still had not been rebuilt, having been washed away in 1999. There was no option but to walk across with the water well above my boot tops ensuring that I ended the day with soaking wet feet.

I received a very warm welcome from the couple at Abercynafon Lodge. There was a pot of tea with cake on arrival, my wet and dirty things were taken away to be washed and dried and, despite of the immaculately cared for accommodation, walkers are made to feel extremely welcome. The owners have to generate their own electricity and, apart from their next door neighbours, are three and a half miles from the nearest habitation in the village of Aber. They used to do evening meals but found that it was getting to be a bit too much for them, so they now offer free lifts to and from one of the pubs in Talybont-on-Usk, about five miles away. I was taken to the White Hart Inn which had a good selection of real ales and good bar meals and, on my return, was offered another pot of tea.

The weather had steadily improved throughout the day, culminating in a beautiful evening, and this had made up for the foul weather of the previous day, although higher up in the Black Mountains the cloud had only lifted by mid-afternoon. I was also pleased to find that my left foot had been generally less painful - previously it had been quite painful when I started to walk on it in the evening, but now it was not giving much trouble at all, so it looked like it was on the mend. No doubt a doctor would have prescribed plenty of rest for it, but that was hardly possible in the circumstances - the only worry with such things is whether the lack of rest could have resulted in making matters worse.

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Day 6 - Monday 5th June - 15.8 miles - 4,440 ft ascent - YHA bed only 8.10

Talybont-on-Usk to Ystradfellte Youth Hostel via Brecon Beacons

Abercynafon Lodge really was first rate. In the morning I had a superb breakfast at 8.30 with marmalade and jam served in cut crystal pots and with bone china crockery. As well as washing some of my things, my boots had also been cleaned and even the laces had been washed. At 24 for bed and breakfast, this is more expensive than many places, but Mrs. Carr would not accept any extra payment for the lifts to the pub and the washing. With all that and the exceptional quality of everything else it was very good value.

I set off at 9.35, by which time a band of cloud had obscured the beautiful sunshine at breakfast time. However, it stopped me from getting too hot on the steep climb up the road and up the Torpantau Pass onto the Brecon Beacons. There were quite a number of people out walking, as this is a very popular area. The dark cloud gave way to lighter cloud with sunny patches as I walked up the ridge of Craig y Fan Ddu, and I was so absorbed with the beautiful view down into the valley that I forgot to head off left towards Craig Cwareli, so added about a mile by going along Graig Fan Las. However, the walk and the views were so marvellous that the extra distance didn't matter. The walking was generally easy ridge walking but with a few steep ascents and descents between major peaks.

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West from Fan y Big
Cribyn and Pen y Fan from Fan y Big
Highest summit of Brecons
Pen y Fan and Corn Du from Cribyn
East from Pen y Fan
Cribyn from Pen y Fan

I stopped on Cribyn for lunch at 12.45 looking across at Pen y Fan and Corn Du, with views for miles in all directions. After the steep descent and ascent of Pen y Fan, the panorama was complete with views opening up to the west from this the highest point in the Beacons. The cloud thinned out to add much more sunshine to the landscape and to highlight the rock strata which protrudes through the steep grassy slopes and is characteristic of the scenery of this area. After the distinctive summit of Pen y Fan, which does not quite make it into the 3,000 ft league, comes the slightly lower but equally distinctive peak of Corn Du, followed by the descent to the Storey Arms. There have been a lot of problems with footpath erosion, as in many popular walking areas, but many path repairs have already been undertaken, and more are in progress. I descended via the Tommy Jones memorial, as recommended in the book and then down to the Storey Arms, where I had a refreshing cup of tea from a van in the lay-by.

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Corn Du from Pen y Fan
Corn Du from Pen y Fan

Lower down it was very hot in the sunshine and, after a short rest, I started to make my way up the last real ascent of the day to Rhos Dringarth. The route here is not defined and it is just a matter of heading over the moorland towards the far side of the valley by the best track, if any, that one can find. The book shows a route fairly high up the head of the valley and I assume that this is because there are several streams to cross and, therefore, the higher up they are crossed the easier it becomes. Several small paths run here and there but most of them are sheep tracks which, whilst making walking a little easier, do not always lead in the right direction. There are good views of the Ystradfellte Reservoir from the head of this remote valley and, in fact, all the way along. I was very glad when I eventually reached a proper footpath for the last mile or so into Ystradfellte as it is quite wearing following poorly defined tracks for several miles.

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Looking NE towards Fan Fawr
Ystradfellte Reservoir and Dam

At last I reached the village and passed the pub where I was planning to have a meal. The Youth Hostel, which I reached at 6.20 p.m. is about half a mile further on and is self catering, so I was relying on the pub to get something to eat and possibly buy a snack for the morning. However, as I booked into the hostel I asked the warden if they would be doing meals in the pub, only to be told that it was closed as the landlord gone down to Plymouth because of a family bereavement. This put me in a bit of a quandary as I had not brought any provisions for self-catering and there wasn't a shop anywhere nearby. Very kindly, the Warden's wife agreed to make me an evening meal and also breakfast, so that saved me from my predicament.

After my meal I had a short walk down to Porth yr Ogof cave which has a huge horizontal entrance, one of the largest in Europe, into which the river runs when in full flow. The bed is often dry, but there was a lot of water flowing in when I was there. By the entrance I met a chap from Castleford who was waiting for a party of youngsters to return from an expedition into the depths of the cave. I chatted for a while before returning to the hostel, leaving him there still waiting for them to return.

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Day 7 - Tuesday 6th June - 17 miles - 3,500 ft ascent - Caravan 16

Ystradfellte to Talsarn via the Carmarthen Fans

I had breakfast at 8 a.m. and got everything ready to be off by 8.45 but the rain started coming down in stair rods, so I delayed my start a bit to see if it would ease off. By 9 a.m. it had improved somewhat and I set off wearing my waterproofs, which I took off after about a mile as it seemed to be improving. However, after another mile I had to put them on again and they were most definitely needed for another five miles as the rain became quite heavy.

I lost my way towards Blaen-nedd-Isaf whilst navigating round fields and stiles and ended up, as it turned out, about a quarter of a mile further north than I should have been when I reached the river. Instead of a footbridge over the river there was a ford. At this point in time I was not sure of where I was, except that I knew I needed to cross the river so, having looked for better crossing points and not found any, I decided to make a dash across the ford with the water lapping over the tops of my boots. My feet were going to get wet anyway so it didn't make much difference - it just meant that they got wet sooner and they didn't even get totally saturated because I crossed very quickly.

Soon afterwards I was able to find my bearings and realised that I had missed one of the checkpoints of the way, but I think I could be forgiven for this minor deviation from the route. I soon regained the path that I should have taken, which turned into a well-defined track over the moors. Visibility was poor but I don't think that I missed too much in the way of scenery, as this was moorland without too many features about.

As I dropped down into Glyntawe I could see brighter weather in the distance and it wasn't too long before patches of sunshine began to appear enabling me to take off my waterproofs at last and start drying out. As I approached the Tafarn-y-Garreg roadside tavern, I was tempted and went in for a pint of Usher's, which I drank sitting outside in the much improved weather. I don't often drink beer in the middle of a day's walk as it tends to sap the will power when facing the next steep climb but it looked as if the ascent of the Black Mountain (not to be confused with the Black Mountains earlier in the walk and comprising most of the Carmarthen Fans) was fairly gradual and that one pint would not do much harm.

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Fan Hir can be seen from this viewpoint
Glyntawe and Carmarthen Fans

Correction - the ascent is not gradual - the first several hundred feet are steep and then it becomes gradual, so it was a good job that I only had one pint. However, there were some marvellous views, especially further up where the escarpment gets very steep - the visibility was very good all round with clear views across to the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains.

I met a couple of other walkers on the way to the trig point on Fan Brycheiniog - they were just going to the summit and then retracing their route back down. I made my way onto the rounded hill of Fan Foel, the most northerly point on the ridge and, as I then made my way round to the west, the most breathtaking mountain view came into sight with Picws Du to the left and Llyn y Fan Fach surrounded by steep sided ridges with all the stony outcrops highlighted in the sunshine. I waited on the edge of the hill in a strong and bitterly cold wind hoping that I could capture the best lighting conditions for a superb photograph. Unfortunately, although patches of sunlight kept racing across the scenery they didn't quite fall everywhere that I wanted so I had to make do with a couple of photographs that were not quite as good as I had hoped for. All the way around the ridge there were stunning views until I finally dropped down past Llyn y Fan Fach and thence down the access road to the lake. The views were still very good but lacked the bird's eye perspective of the previous ones.

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With better lighting this would be a fantastic view
Picws Du and Llyn y Fan Fach
Picws Du
Picws Du looking West
Fan Brycheiniog left, Bannau Sir Gaer right
Carmarthen Fans from Talsarn

The rest of the way was an easy walk down the track and minor road to Llandeusant - I had tried to book into the Youth Hostel there but it was full with a school party, so I had to go about a mile further on to Talsarn where I had booked a static caravan for the night at the Black Mountain Caravan Park. Unfortunately this involved a steep drop down into the valley followed by a steep ascent up the road at the other side - never a good thing at the end of a day's walk.

The owners of the caravan park were very friendly and helpful - they had reduced the normal price of a night's caravan hire from 24 to 16 as I was on my own and they also loaned me some bedding as I was not carrying a sleeping bag with me. They had a small shop where I was able to buy things for my breakfast and they even gave me a few slices of bread and butter to save me having to buy a loaf. The caravan was quite spacious and had everything that I needed including a shower.

After washing out a few things I went to the pub next door for a very reasonably priced meal of steak pie, chips and peas accompanied by some very pleasant Buckley's dark beer. It had now turned into a very pleasant evening and there was a fine view from the pub car park of the Black Mountain several miles away.

After a rather bad start to the day it had turned out to be a really good walk, all the more so because I had no idea that there would be such magnificent views to be found. I had barely heard of the Carmarthen Fans before and, therefore, assumed that they would not be particularly impressive, so it was all the more gratifying to find what, to my mind, is one of the most breathtaking mountain views in the whole of Wales. The steep mountains rising above the lake have strata of red rock protruding through the greenery, and this was highlighted by the sunshine. There were also dark clouds hovering around to make the view even more dramatic. It is true that many other parts of Wales offer a more spectacular panorama of mountain scenery whereas the best of the view here tends to be mainly in one direction, but this still does not detract from it and it was all the better for being so unexpected.

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