First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The Brecon Beacons may have changed their name to Bannau Brycheiniog, ‘the peaks of Brychan’s Kingdom’, but the allure of these sharply profiled Welsh mountain remains, as it always was, irresistible to walkers. The wedge-shaped summit of Pen y fan, tallest of the range, was bristling with tiny figures on this warm summer afternoon. Nearer at hand, the gentle green dome of Pen y Bryn, a north-easterly outlier, held only a scattered flock of Welsh mountain ewes and lambs, very wary of intruders onto their hill.
The church of St Meugan stood among trees in a dip of ground above the village of Pencelli. In the cool, musty interior a wall plaque commemorated John Jones (1875-1942), a much-travelled cleric, ‘priest and missionary to the Natives of Australia’. Outside, the windowless north wall of the tower was used in times past as a goal by Pencelli’s handball players. Other locals would gather round the nearby cockpit, nowadays a bushy dingle, to wager and bicker as their game birds battled it out.
Beyond the church we crossed fields where the hazel hedges sheltered lines of sheep as yet unshorn, all panting in the heat. A green lane led away uphill, a grassy track indented in the ground that steepened past twisted thorn trees.
On the southwest skyline the canted top of Pen y fan stood tall and shadowed, lord of steep ridges and valleys. Below the path a stream was flowing underground, its subterranean trickling a guide for our footsteps as we neared the top of Pen y Bryn. A side turning over trackless ground and we were standing by the summit cairn with a magnificent panorama opening north and east, the long snouts of the Black Mountain ridges descending to green patchwork farmlands.
With views like these, who would ever want to take the downward path? Eventually we did, scooting down across a long grass upland towards the oakwoods of Allt Feigan, where cuckoos were calling. A shady track beside a mossy wall; then a long descent on a dusty red cart road under enormous, bulbous old oaks, looking out across newly mown meadows where the River Usk glinted and curved in extravagant bends like a monster eel caught in a trap.
How hard is it? 6 miles; moderate hill walk; some upland paths faintly marked on ground. Avoid in mist.
Start: Pencelli, near Talybont-on-Usk LD3 7LX (OS ref SO 092250)
Getting there: Signed from Talybont-on-Usk (A40, Crickhowell-Brecon). At entrance to village, left (‘Plas Pencelli’) to parking place by canal bridge.
Walk (OS Explorer OL12): Up lane opposite (‘Llanfeigan Church’). In ½ mile at parking place, fork right for church (087245), left to continue walk. Right at Ty’r Eglwys; steps down to footbridge (086245); up under trees, then across 2 fields (yellow arrows/YAs) to road (083246). Left; in 300m, right up green lane (081244, YAs, yellow-topped post). In ½ mile, where ground levels off (074238 approx), fork left off stony path onto grassy one. Continue climb on clear path for ¾ miles till ground levels again at top of climb (070227 approx). Left over open ground to summit cairn of Pen y Bryn (073227). From here descend ENE for 1½ miles on clear path across open grassland, at first aiming for left edge of forestry, then for angle where coniferous and broadleaved woodlands meet. Left here over stile (094237); follow track beside wall. In 500m fork left downhill (099237), following Usk Valley Walk back to Pencelli.
Lunch: Royal Oak, Pencelli (01874-665396, theroyaloakpencelli.com)
Accommodation: Peterstone Court, Llanhamlach, Brecon LD3 7YB (01874-665387, peterstone-court.com) – comfortable, friendly stopover