A magical tour of reservoirs, high ridges and the highest mountains in southern Britain.
Distance 7.5 miles (12.1km)
Minimum time 4hrs
Ascent/gradient 2,000ft (610m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Clear well-trodden paths, small boggy patches, broad rocky track, 1 stile
Landscape Steep rocky escarpments overlooking deep U-shaped valley and two small reservoirs
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL12 Brecon Beacons National Park Western & Central areas
Start/finish SO 032179
Dog friendliness Care needed near livestock, several steep drops
Parking At end of small lane leading north from Pontsticill
Public toilets None on route
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1 Continue up the lane to a small gate, which leads into the grounds of the reservoir. Keep walking straight ahead to drop down a narrow path to a concrete bridge across an outflow. Cross the bridge and climb up on to the bank opposite where you bear left to walk along the top of the bank. This will take you to a gate that leads out on to open moorland.
2 Go through this and keep straight ahead, taking the left-hand of the two tracks, which leads easily uphill towards the edge of a mainly felled forest. Follow the clear track up, with the forest to your left, and then climb steeply up a stony gully to the top of the escarpment.
3 Once there, turn right on to the obvious path and follow the escarpment along for over 2½ miles (4km). You'll eventually drop into a distinct saddle with the flat-topped summit of Corn Du directly ahead. Where the path forks, keep straight ahead and climb easily up on to the summit. Follow the escarpment edge along and then drop down into another saddle, where you take the path up on to the next peak, Pen y Fan.
4 Again, from the summit cairn, follow the escarpment around and drop steeply, on a rocky path, down into a deep col beneath Cribyn. Keep straight ahead to climb steeply up to the cairn on the narrow summit. Note: this climb can be avoided by forking right and following another clear path that contours right around the southern flanks of the mountain and brings you out at Point
5 From the top, bear slightly right and follow the escarpment around to the south east. After a long flat stretch, you'll drop steeply down into to a deep col known as Bwlch ar y Fan.
6 Cross the stile and turn right on to the well-made track that leads easily down the mountain. Follow this for over 1½ miles (2.4km), until it starts to swing slightly to the left and drops steeply into a rocky ravine. Turn right here on to a track and take it down to a gate. Go through this, turn left and follow the track to its end. Turn right on to another track that leads back to the head of the lane. Go through the gate and follow the lane back.
This is a fine way to visit the area's highest ground, particularly if you feel like a longer outing than Walk 30 but are afraid of over-committing yourself, as any, or all, of the big peaks can be by-passed if required. It's also an easy way to gain the tops, as it starts at an altitude over 1,300ft (396m) and, with the exception of two short but stiff sections, the climbing remains gentle to the point of being almost undetectable.
The Taf Fechan has certainly carved itself a beautiful valley. Its grand sweeping architecture doesn't appear any the worse for the addition of the two Neuadd reservoirs. The lower reservoir, nearest the start, opened in 1884 to provide water for Merthyr Tydfil, which during the early days of the Industrial Revolution had become something of a boom town. As the iron and steel production increased, and with it the local population, demand started to outstrip supply and the valley was dammed again, this time higher up.
Once up, the walk cruises easily along the sandstone promenade of Graig Fan Ddu and Craig Gwaun Taf, offering great views across the magnificent cwm to the steep head of the valley, where the two highest peaks in southern Britain preside. It also rewards the walker with some tantalising glimpses of the stunning and seldom visited valley of Cwm Crew, which runs south west from the narrowest section of the ridge at Rhiw yr Ysgyfarnog - the Slope of the Hare. The high peaks need little introduction. Their might and stature are clear from almost any viewpoint, although you may find yourself surprised by the sheer scale of the drop from the north face of Corn Du and the incomparable north east face of Pen y Fan, which falls precipitously down over 1,000ft (305m) to the rolling moorland of Cwm Sere below. Not so surprising are the views from the top which, as you'd expect, are magnificent and matched only by the elation of reaching the summit. Incidentally, the correct pronunciation of the peak's name is 'van'; the 'f' is pronounced as a 'v' in Welsh. As you'd expect, the highest peaks also act as a divide for the watersheds, with the water to the north draining into the Usk and the hills to the south feeding the Taff, which runs south to Cardiff.
Steep and rocky ground leads down from the table-top summit, with the grassy flanks of Cribyn appearing much steeper than they really are up ahead. If you don't think you can manage another climb, sneak around the peak to the right, otherwise, more fine views await you on the cramped summit. This time you can gaze north over Cwm Cynwyn, as fine a natural amphitheatre as you're ever likely to see. With the peaks bagged, you'll drop into the atmospheric rocky saddle of Bwlch ar y Fan and pick up an ancient track, known locally as the 'Gap Road'. Although many claim it be of Roman origin, the exact age of the track isn't known. It does however, afford easy progress for tired legs back down to the reservoirs. The grassy shores of the lower lake make a great sun-trap and an excellent picnic spot from where you can look back up the valley to the impressive outlines of the mountains you've just climbed.
The summits of Pen y Fan, Corn Du and Cribyn were once all crowned with Bronze-Age burial cairns, probably dating back to around 1800 bc. It's clear that the mountains held some significance, even way back then.
Head south to Pant, north of Merthyr Tydfil, and take a ride aboard the Brecon Mountain Railway, a narrow-gauge steam train that takes a 50-minute return trip along the side of the Taf Fechan Reservoir to Dol-y-Gaer. It is great scenery and lots of fun. Open from April to October.
The most popular pubs in the area are at nearby Talybont-on-Usk (follow the narrow lane past the beautiful Talybont Reservoir), where the pick of the bunch is the Traveller's Rest, on the outskirts of the village towards Llangynidr. This has a delightful canal-side garden and a good restaurant. There's also a pleasant tea shop in the village.