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Hiking Wales: Brecon Beacons National Park

Cross a sprawling preserve of broad mountains, lonely ridgelines, and lush river valleys.
brecon beacons national park walesBrecon Beacons National Park. (Berne Broudy)

With 519 square miles of rolling grassland and massive mountains pocked with caves, waterfalls, lakes, and wooded gorges, this park contains some of the wildest and least-traveled high country in Wales. Indeed, the military uses the park to train soldiers (and, purportedly, to test applicants to the British Special Air Services). The Beacons Way, a 101-mile hiking path, connects widely varied topography, dips into centuries-old villages, and climbs to several of the park’s tallest summits. Here are two of its most spectacular segments.

[Excalibur’s source]
The Black Mountain Traverse

The far western heights of Brecon Beacons are dominated by The Black Mountain and a landscape steeped in Arthurian legend. Trek through the best of it on this 11-mile route, which starts in  Llanddeusant. The path meanders along farm lanes before climbing steeply to Llyn y Fan Fach (“Lake of the Small Peak”), famous for its Lady of the Lake, a powerful figure in Welsh mythology. According to legend, she gave King Arthur the sword Excalibur.

From here, the path climbs onto the long, steep ridgeline of Fan Brycheiniog, with its four 2,000-foot summits. Walk along the gabled top for 3.3 miles, with dizzying views a thousand feet down into lake-filled cirques, then drop back down to Llyn y Fan Fawr (“Lake of the Big Peak”). Follow the outlet stream for 2.5 miles as it cascades through dozens of rapids and waterfalls to emerge at the old Tafarn y Garreg pub. You’ll find another pub, the Gwyn Arms, as well as a campground, in the village of Glyntawe, a quarter-mile south.

[high point]
Pen-y-Fan Loop

Tag the Brecon Beacons’ highest summit (2,907 feet), then descend one of the park’s wild, water-filled canyons on this five-mile loop. Begin at the Storey Arms Outdoor Education Centre and climb through forest and across a bridge before beelining steeply northeast. Gain 1,450 feet in 1.6 miles to reach the summit of Corn Du. You’re now atop the point that 10th-century Welsh writers called Cadair Arthur, or “Arthur’s Seat.” From Corn Du, walk east along the wide ridge to Pen-y-Fan (the true high point). For the best views, however, continue on to Cribyn, lowest of the three summits, then return (it’s 2.5 miles round-trip from Corn Du, the first peak, to Cribyn).

Descend by dropping due south of Corn Du down faint Neuadd Ridge, then bear right (southwest) and drop into Cwm Crew, the waterfall-laced valley cut by the Nant Crew stream. Near the bottom, follow sheep trails right (west), past a pine forest and over a ridgeline, to a car pullout along the A470T (1.7 miles south of Storey Arms).


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