The Nant Bwrefwr came sparkling down from the heights of Craig y Fan Ddu, chuckling over its gleaming black and red rocks as though at the folly of walkers who’d bust a sweat climbing the Brecon Beacons on a glorious summer morning as hot and sunny as this.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Wild thyme and tiny white flowers of heath bedstraw jewelled the sedgy grass as we went slowly up towards the ridge. Up there a wonderfully welcome breeze was blowing from the precipitous valley of the Afon Caerfanell. We circled the rim to where the infant river tipped over the edge and cascaded down through a clutter of dry boulders. Bog cotton trembled like trapped swansdown over the surface of a pool framed in sphagnum moss as green and cool as a freshly cut lime.
The flat high heads of Fan y Big and Cribyn looked over the moorland to the north-west. We went on along the cliffs, past shaggy hill ponies and newly shorn sheep, to the far side of the valley. Here two jumbles of weather-pitted aluminium and a memorial cairn marked the site of a wartime aeroplane crash. Five Canadian airmen – Sergeants Beatty, Hayes, Mittle and Yuill, and their skipper, Flight-Sergeant JB Kemp – died on 6 July 1942 when their Wellington bomber lost direction on a training flight in low cloud and slammed into this hillside. It couldn’t be a more peaceful place, looking south through the jaws of the cleft to the blue ridges of the South Wales valleys, one behind another till they merge into the sky.
From the cairn at the end of the ridge we dropped steeply off the promontory, making across a grassy upland to descend beside the Afon Caerfanell. Following it down the valley and back to the car in clear hot sunlight we found orchids in the bogs, brilliant blue butterwort under the rocks, and a whole rake of families splashing and swimming and making the most of the cold waterfalls of the hastening, beautiful Caerfanell.
Start: Upper Blaen-y-glyn car park, near Pontstycill, Powys CF48 2UT approx. (OS ref SO 056176)
Getting there: From Merthyr Tydfil (A465, A470), follow ‘Pontstycill’ and ‘Talybont-on-Usk’. After 7 miles, just beyond road summit, left (signed) into car park.
Walk (5½ miles, moderate/hard, OS Explorer OL12. NB: online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): Return across cattle grid, immediately right on stepped path, steeply up to ridge (054183). Where path flattens, bear right; follow rim of valley clockwise for 1½ miles to saddle at head of valley where Blaen y Glyn cleft descends (057206). Right on path to aeroplane crash memorial (062200). Steep path ascends on left of stream gully; right along top of Cwar y Gigfran crags to cairn (067192) Bear half right, steeply down; on across upland plateau to wall; right down to Afon Caerfanell (062183). Left over stile; follow riverside path. In ½ mile, just before valley bends left (east), turn right by footpath fingerpost across footbridge (061174). On through kissing gate; in 50m, left at junction; in another 50m, just before concrete footbridge, right up steep path between 2 streams. At top, where trees open to left, turn left on wider track, which bends right to car park.
Conditions: Several steep climbs and descents; boggy path by Afon Caerfanell.
Lunch: Red Cow, Pontstycill (01685-384828). Several pubs/tearoom in Talybont-on-Usk. Nearest tearoom (March-Oct): Old Barn, Ystradgynwyn (01685-363358), 1½ miles south of car park on Merthyr Tydfil road.
Info: Brecon Beacons National Park (01874-623366; breconbeacons.org)