An exacting expedition that penetrates some of the Brecon Beacons National Park's most spectacular and remote scenery.
Distance 7.5 miles (12.1km)
Minimum time 4hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 2,000ft (610m)
Level of difficulty Hard
Paths Faint paths, trackless sections over open moorland, no stiles
Landscape Imposing mountains, hidden lakes, wild and remote moorland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL12 Brecon Beacons National Park Western & Central areas
Start/finish SN 798238
Dog friendliness Care needed near livestock and steep drops
Parking At end of small unclassified road, south east of Llanddeusant
Public toilets None on route
Notes Best not undertaken in poor visibility
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1 From the car park at the end of the unclassified road, head back towards Llanddeusant and after about 100yds (91m) turn sharp right, almost doubling back on yourself, to continue on a faint track that contours eastwards around the hillside. Follow this track as it then veers north east into the small valley carved out by the Sychnant Brook.
2 The track becomes clear for a short period, but don't be drawn uphill to the north, instead remain true to the course of the stream, keeping left at the confluence with another distinct valley, this one belonging to the Nant Melyn.
3 The track is faint but the going reasonably easy as you continue up the valley, crossing a small tributary and following the bank above the Sychnant. Numerous paths and sheep tracks cross your way, but continue unhindered upwards, aiming for the shallow saddle on the blunt ridge above. The stream eventually swings to the right and peters out. At this stage, bear right and head along the ridge.
4 You're now aiming for the steep and obvious spur of Fan Foel, which lies south east of you, approximately 1½ miles (2.4km) away. Follow whatever tracks you can find over Waun Lwyd and, as the ridge starts to narrow, keep to the crest where you'll meet a path coming up from the north east.
5 Climb steeply up the narrow path on to the escarpment and keep right to follow the escarpment along. The path becomes clearer as it drops steeply into Bwlch Blaen-Twrch. From here, climb up on to Bannau Sir Gaer and continue to the summit cairn.
6 Stay with the main footpath and follow the edge of the escarpment above the precipitous cliffs into a small saddle or col and up again above Llyn y Fan Fach. Continue walking, around the lake, with the steep drop to your right-hand side and you'll see a good path dropping down a grassy spur to the outflow of the lake.
7 Follow this obvious footpath and then, when you reach the dam, pick up the well-surfaced track that heads back downhill. This will lead you to the right of the waterworks filter beds and back to the car park.
The view eastwards from the flanks of Bannau Sir Gaer across Llyn y Fan Fach to the steepest section of the Carmarthen Fan is one of my favourites. There's something intangibly special about the broody black waters, their shimmering surface reflecting skywards a rippled mirror image of the impenetrable, shattered crags of the escarpment. Ravens, buzzards and even the occasional red kite ride high on the updraughts and the picture becomes all the more sinister for the addition of a little light cloud, drifting in and out of the summits.
I'm not the first to become bewitched by this lavish scene. The lake was visited regularly long ago by a local shepherd boy known as Rhiwallon. He encountered a mystical lady, as beautiful as the reflection in the lake that she'd risen from. Her wisdom matched her beauty and she possessed the ability to make healing potions from herbs and flowers. Rhiwallon was captivated, so much so that he proposed marriage and she agreed, but only on the condition that he should never strike her with iron.
Rhiwallon and his wife had a son before the inevitable happened, perhaps by accident, and the lady returned to the dark waters, taking with her all of their worldly goods, including the animals they tended. Fortunately, before she left, she had passed on all of her medicinal skills to her son, who went on to become a local healer. Far fetched? Maybe, but it's perhaps possible to see where the roots of the tale lie. The encroachment of the Iron Age would have certainly been treated with some suspicion by the local population. More interesting, however, is the fact that much later on, the area did actually become renowned for its healers and there followed a long line of successful practitioners known as the Physicians of Myddfai (a small village north of the lake).
From the narrow summit of Fan Foel, your grapple with gravity is rewarded by huge views across the bleak uplands of the Black Mountain (singular), not to be confused with the Black Mountains (plural) which are some 30 miles (48km) east of here and visible on a clear day. This is the westernmost mountain range of the National Park and, without doubt, the wildest and most remote. The majority of the land is made up of barren, windswept moorland that possesses an austere beauty with few equals. Unusually, a large percentage is actually owned by the National Park Authority.
To the south of the escarpment, the old red sandstone which acts as a spine for most of the high ground in the Brecon Beacons, slips beneath a layer of much younger limestone. The distinctive light-coloured outcrops can easily be seen from this walk, especially looking south east from the summit of Bannau Sir Gaer. What aren't so easy to spot are the pot-holes and caves that typify this environment, but if you look at the suggested Ordnance Survey map for this area you will see that it is pockmarked all the way to the Tawe Valley.
The Dan-yr-Ogof Showcaves, on the A4067 near Glyntawe, are approximately 10 miles (16.1km) from the start of the walk. Claiming to be the largest cave system in Europe, the huge caverns are certainly spectacular. There are no guided tours, you simply walk yourself around, following a clear path between the stalactites and stalagmites, while listening to a recorded commentary. Other attractions on the site include a dinosaur park, Iron-Age farm, a museum, shire horse centre and a covered children's play area. Open April to September, daily from 10am, certain days in October.
The Cross Inn in Llanddeusant is the nearest pub to the start. It's a cosy little place with a roaring log fire and offers a choice of real ales as well as excellent food, including gorgeous local black steak. The pub has also set up a feeding station for local red kites.