Hiking in the Brecon Beacons, Wales
Recently, I’ve been on a mission to find exciting places to walk in Wales. I was lucky enough to organise a walking festival across Wales during September 2021 for Ramblers Cymru, which helped me on my way to discovering new places across the Offa's Dyke Path. This time, I wanted another new hike somewhere closer to home.
Using the Ramblers app, I saw a route in the Brecon Beacons I’d previously heard about but had never ventured. The 16km (10mile) circular route in the central Beacons was too tempting for me to ignore. Hearing the calls from the mountains, I got in my car and drove an hour and a half to the start of the route.
I’d heard from others that this walk wouldn't be a breeze. However, I felt assured that this was a challenge I could achieve. It was September 22nd and I had already walked 418km (260 miles) since the beginning of the month. My legs felt strong, my mind focused and I was confident of tackling the steep mountain climbs. After all, I still had Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), Wales’ highest mountain to conquer at the end of the month.
A Majestic Red Kite
Leaving the car park, I was stopped by a Brecon Beacons Mountain Rescue warden barely a minute before starting. He told me to look to the sky in the distance, towards a peak of the mountain in front. I was confused with the lack of explanation but had learned when hiking to trust others when in the mountains. You never know what stories or experiences might change your life.
I stood and listened, glaring to the blue sky above with the peaks of Fan y Big in the distance. Suddenly, a Red Kite appeared, soaring majestically above. I hadn’t seen one in quite a few years. They are common in my old home of Aberystwyth in west Wales, but not at all in the south where I now live.
An 'Intentional' Slip...
45 minutes of walking had passed, and I reached a small walkway which signaled that I’d reached the river and waterfalls. I almost fell on several occasions as the steep path turned into a Slip ‘n Slide. Using tree trunks and branches to keep myself from sliding back to the bridge, I eventually reached a water pool with a glorious waterfall. I was in awe of how stunning it was. The cascade, flowing gently, was crystal clear and looked inviting, then it happened.
From the distance came the clatter of falling stones. Instinctively, I looked over. All too swiftly, I lost my balance and slipped, heading straight for the pool welcoming me below. It all must have happened within a few seconds, but it seemed to never end as I slipped down the bank to the water. I even managed to get my backpack off in time before my thoughts of “oh no” (or something a bit more colourful), turned into “this is bloody cold”!
I planned to take a dip before I continued my journey away from the cascades. I had not planned, however, to swim in my walking boots and clothes. Luckily, I always take spare socks on a hike and after an hour of imitating a seal by bathing on the rocks, drying my boots the best I could, I headed up a steep incline to reach a flat opening. The 360-degree view was breathtaking and I temporarily forgot about my wet feet.
A Memorial on Waun Rydd
I looked ahead and stared up to the 750m Waun Rydd plateau. A steep 1.5km incline that transformed into a mini rock-climbing exercise towards the top. Each step, I felt my calves burning, but I was determined to reach the top without stopping. Blue skies disappeared behind thick black clouds. Rain teased me with welcome spots, cooling me down as I reached the top.
Breathless, I sat on the cairn for some time as the clouds departed and the sun met my gaze once more and a cold breeze hit my back. I’m not sure how long I was there as I stared across the horizon. After some time, I continued my hike down to the wreckage of the Wellington bomber and memorial.
The Memorial is to five Canadian airmen who died when their Wellington Bomber, R1465, crashed there on the 6th of July 1942. It is believed the pilot descended from the advised 10,000ft to check the Wellington's location through thick cloud, and struck the top of Waun Rydd. Unfortunately, all five of the crew were killed and are buried in Hereford. Those crew members were Sgt J B Kemp, pilot, Sgt E E Mitell, observer, Sgt K F Yull, bomb aimer, Sgt H C Beatty, wireless operator, Sgt J P Hayes, air gunner.
It was eerie spending time next to the plane wreckage. I felt a shiver. Was it the thought of the tragic event, or the wind announcing itself once again?
A View Across the Country
Continuing up a small climb, I stopped with the sound of trotting behind me. Turning around, two wild horses made their way towards me. They seemed to take no notice of me as I watched them descend majestically into the valley below.
Along the ridgeline, the scenery was incredible. Looking down the steep path, the town of Brecon was in the distance and looked small. To the left, 100m above where I stood and about 5km away, Pen y Fan. The peak of South Wales’ highest mountain was covered with white cloud, but I could still see the swarm of people climbing the mountain below. Although I’ve climbed Pen y Fan on a dozen occasions over the years, I wondered how I was alone on this path. I was just 100m below the mountain opposite, watching as people overtook each other and waited in line as if in a major supermarket, but the views before me, were arguably better.
4km later, I had descended to the bottom of the mountains, reaching a forest of dead trees that lay opposite a disused dam. I was suddenly in the middle of a bog, jumping from a small patch of dry grass to another, trying to avoid getting my socks wet for the second time that day.
A Walk With the Stars
Soon after walking through a forest and a kilometre away from my parked car at Pont Cwmfedwen, my route was blocked. A film crew up ahead were in the middle of the forest and were the first people I’d seen since the warden at the beginning of my walk. As I continued towards them, a security guard approached me and questioned me as if I’d just committed a crime.
Realising he’d be making me walk another 7km if he didn’t let me through, he announced to the film crew that I was heading past. They stopped filming and all stared as I thanked them profusely as any typical Welshman would.
As I reached my car, I could safely close the Ramblers app, with good timing too as the autumn wind grew stronger and the rain began once more.
© 2022 Rhys Russell