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By ATWadmin On September 10th, 2010

Some people are city types. The crowds, the buzz, the pizzazz of life among the throng attracts many who find it all so exciting.

Not me.

That’s Pen y Fan in the Brecons Beacons with its sibling Corn Du just behind. It’s where I was this week but I might not have made it. In fact it might never have been in my mind to go anywhere near it but for chance.

You see, dear reader, twenty-odd years ago a mate dragged me up Blencathra in the the Lake District. It wasn’t planned and he wasn’t sure of the route himself, but he’d been there before and nagged me into submission. I was soon cursing the swine every painful step of the way, wondering what on Earth possessed anyone to put themselves through such Hell for no good reason. When I catch up with him at the top, I vowed, I’ll strangle the bugger. Well, not quite. Instead, I had one of those moments, an epiphany of sorts. “Blimey” I would have said if something a little more industrial hadn’t been heard instead.

The swirling clouds cleared and the great, dark bulk of Skiddaw to the right came into view. Laid out far below was Derwentwater with Keswick (where I’d been sat happily with a coffee not two hours before) at its shore and, beyond, the great spread of Lakeland peaks and valleys was laid out before me. Since then many of my most memorable experiences have come from hill-walking. Physically and mentally it gives me a buzz which others find elsewhere.

If I hadn’t been dragged up Blencathra, jeans, trainers and light jacket and all, I don’t know where I’d have been this week but it certainly wouldn’t have been up and around Pen y Fan. The approach is first on a Roman road, now a track known as “the Gap Road”. Since it cuts through the mountains at the Bwlch ar y Fan col I suspect it much pre-dates the Romans who used it practically for their purposes. At the col it was a turn west onto the Craig Cwm Cynwyn, over the Cribyn peak and onto Pen y Fan. When you look back from this, the highest point in southern Britain, you see Cribyn and a spread of Beacons:

Better than being stuck indoors in my book. Then it was over Corn Du and south onto a ridge walk by way of Craig Gwaun Taf and Rhiw yr Ysgyfarnog. (By the way, if you think I’m making up these names, just ask ATW regular marlloy who grew up not far from here).

Halfway along that ridge I spied a likely squaddie walking back my way. Squaddies and special forces are often in these here parts and his stuffed bergen gave the game away when we closed. At a couple of paces away I noticed his maroon Paras t-shirt and that he was in his early twenties. We gave each other a nod and a hello. It was just then I saw his left arm was missing below the elbow. I didn’t ask, you never do intrude, but I wondered about him all the way back, on where he’d been and what he’d seen.

Then, lastly, a drop down from the ridge, through the Twyn y Neuadd bog where I thought I’d be smart, cut the track and ended up with sopping feet when my heroic leap across a stream didn’t go quite as planned. Five hours, ten miles in total and, in my mind, a great day because it was spent doing exactly what I wanted to do.


  1. Looks glorious.

  2. Beautiful, God does exist.

  3. He does, but he's not Welsh. Defo.

    Great story, Pete.

  4. Unfortunately having spent far too long tabbing across these god-forsaken mountains in horizontal rain at night with ludicrously heavy weights on your back – and then having to spend hours "digging in" (when I say digging, there is about an inch of top soil before you hit shale and then rock), I am afraid they hold little, if any attraction.
    I remember doing one particularly gruelling exercise there – and the final checkpoint was at day break in some valley or other. There was a mist – or probably a bloody cloud – and as we did yet another sodding (and sodden) river-crossing we emerged up the side of the river into this open plain. There must have been about a dozen or so what looked like hippies in it. I guess they were looking for magic mushrooms or something.
    They got the fright of their lives as 90 heavily-armed squadies (we actually didn't have any ammo – but they didn't know that) in battle order, face-cam , the lot, emerged from up the river bank and out of the mist. I think they thought we were going to attack them.
    But we just walked past them – wished them a good morning – and left them. They looked utterly shocked.

  5. Jaz –

    You lucky sod.

    I wouldn't expect to be paid for that kind of fun.

  6. Whatever floats your boat.

    Even those pictures bring a chill to my heart.

  7. Great post Pete.

    I've never walked in the Beacons, but have driven through them and the scenery is awesome.

    I also got caught out taking a short-cut across a bog in Northumberland at Easter, only more so.

  8. Good stuff Pete

    If you're still in the region I would recommend Reverand James and Bread of Heaven beers to help recover.

  9. No I can assure you Pete is not making up these names, even though he probably can't pronounce them! Or maybe you can Pete.

    As a child a trip to the Beacons was a regular treat for me and the rest of the family although we never climbed these lofty peaks.

    A nice story, nevetheless, concerning the Brecon Beacons. In the early 1900's my maternal grandfather who was a butcher in the Rhondda Valley took his trap to the Brecon market regularly to buy sheep and he drove them back over the Beacons, stopping as the story was told, at the Storey Arms for 'refreshment'. The rest of the journey back over even more hills was apparently only made possible because of the sense of direction of his dog! Strictly true or not it always made for good listening when the family gathered together.

  10. And all these fine places protected for present and future generations by the National Trust.

    Hi Pete!

  11. Pete, like Jaz, I have been up, down, and all around the beacons many times.

    I went to the lake district last year and walked everyday with my wife who is also a keen walker.

    Fresh air and then back for several ales before a hot bath and a nice meal, – hard to beat.

    I have mountaineering in my veins too, Mt Blanc, Kilimanjaro, and Mt McKinley to name a few of the most significant.

    Mt Blanc was the best, I could see all of europe theortically from the summit, which of course, received a union flag and our regimental colours.

    I would recommend the Pyrenees, especially this time of year, weather is just right 😉

  12. marlloy –

    I wouldn't dream of even trying to pronounce any Welsh words. That's until I've had a few and then I can speak the language like a native! I didn't know there was once the opportunity to get "refreshed" at Storey Arms. There's an outdoor centre/youth hostel place there now. Maybe it was converted from where Rhondda Valley butchers used to call in for a sociable chat on their way south. I drove up past the Rhondda Valley the other day. Blimey, it's changed a bit even in the last 10 years or so yet you can still sense the industry which used to go on all over.

    Andy –

    Is Bread of Heavan a Brain's beer?

    Phantom – hi!

    LU –

    You married a very sensible lady. Glad to read the colours were planted firmly on Mt Blanc. Bagging the peak has eluded me so far, mainly because when I've been in the Chamonix Valley I've had my skis with me.

  13. Peter –

    Whereabouts in Northumberland were you?

  14. Chamonix is cool, we stayed in a camp site, with our tents, there was 8 climbers and 4 support staff, I was with a BA expedition, and we went into town to buy some groceries etc.

    On the way back, we couldnt find where on earth we were going, due to the place having nearly as many roundabouts as lurgan (lol) so we stopped to ask directions to two hikers walking along the road.

    I rolled down the window and asked them in French where the campsite was and so on.

    They looked at me in belwiderment, and then at each other as I repeated myself. Eventually one of them turned to the other and said, " what the f**k's he on about?"

    Yep, they were English…..

    The two colleagues with me nearly pissed themselves laughing, but we gave the two englishmen a lift as they knew where we were meant to be going.

  15. Pete, If you Google Storey Arms, you'll see an old photograph of how it was as an inn, demolished in 1924 – even before my time!!

  16. marlloy –

    I found this page which shows it:


    It looks like a coaching inn of some kind, particularly handy during the winter.

    Much has changed yet so much is still the same.

  17. LU
    our regimental colours
    Were you an Irish Ranger? Faugh A Ballagh and all that?

  18. No 🙂

  19. Whereabouts in Northumberland were you?


    We stayed in Alnwick. I think the hill was Great Cheviot. Let me tell you, it's a tougher walk than it looks from the base, and in the end we had to give up. But great scenery.

  20. Looks like a beautiful place, Pete. It's a pity you found the names so unpronouncable. The language is basically the same as Gaelic, seperated by a mere couple of thousand years. 'Pen' is 'Ceann' in Irish, meaning 'head', but I can't figure out the rest.

    Though Corn Du is easy (I think!) Any Welsh speakers confirm that it means – Black Stack/Black Hill…?

    I just returned from the Rhondda. My daughter was singing in a festival there. It was my second time in that particular village, but my first time seeing the rhondda in daylight. It is a beautiful area, but so heavily industrialised now, that it has a new 'seam' – the road and apparently continuous town that runs through it.

  21. Séimí –

    Corn Du means Black Horn. You pick up the geographical features in no time ("pen" is a top, "llyn" is a lake etc), but how on Earth do you pronounce Rhiw yr Ysgyfarnog?!

    Peter –

    That would be The Cheviot, a lonely, desolate, windswept place that is.

  22. Pete,

    You've picked up quite a bit of Welsh! Finally, if you really want to pronounce Rhiw yr Ysgyfarnog here goes – Rhiw (rhymes with view) yr (rhymes with er) Ysgyfarnog (rhymes with usgivearnog). Now you can show off next time you are there!

  23. Thanks marlloy, a piece of cake!