One Minute Mountain: Pen y Fan

In our series of bite-sized intros to Britain's favourite hills, Ash Routen pays tribute to the highest point in southern Britain and the crowning glory of the Brecon Beacons national park, Pen y Fan.

Brecon Beacons, 166 kb
Brecon Beacons
© Tim Gardner

Height: 886m

Character: A bit of a split personality - imposing and proud from the north east, but much more welcoming from other angles. Forged by a ferocious glacier in the last ice age, you can't fail to be impressed by the near vertical scoop of the north east face as it smacks you around the chops as you pootle along the A470.

What's in a name? Breaking up its name, Pen translates from welsh as 'peak' or summit, y as 'the' and fan as 'mountain, or 'beacon'. There is some debate, but possible translations are 'the mountains peak' or 'the beacons summit'.

Who does it? Being very accessible from the road and the highest peak in southern Britain, it does inevitably see a great deal of traffic. You'll meet all kinds of folk, from over-equipped walkers to a kilted stag party lugging up a plastic table and bottles of champagne (if memory serves me correctly!). Of course you might also bump into a member of her majesty's finest infantryman motoring past you whilst carrying the weight of a baby elephant – the area is famously used for Special Forces selection exercises.

Greatest Route? The most popular route is the 'motorway' or Storey Arms outdoor centre start which crosses open moorland to approach Pen y Fan by its slightly junior neighbor Corn Du. Head a few hundred meters further along the A470 and you'll find another less physically arduous autobahn which starts to the right of a small woodland. Perhaps the quietest and most spectacular route however is the Cwm Llwch circuit. This route ascends the Cefn Cwm Lwch ridge, and drops down the valley of the same name to form a classic horsehoe outing. Along this ancient path you'll be met by the imposing north east scoop, view the sparkling waters of Llyn Cwm Llwch, and also take in Corn Du and the famous Tommy Jones Obelisk.

On the Pen Y Fan horseshoe, 228 kb
On the Pen Y Fan horseshoe
© Andy Merrick, Feb 2013

What's the story of the obelisk? Standing near the trail from the Storey Arms, it is a memorial to five-year-old Tommy Jones, whose body was found here in 1900 after a search lasting 29 days. He'd got lost on the way home from visiting grandparents in Cwm Llwch, and is presumed to have died from exposure.

A spot of trivia: Far from being the usual collection of stones formed by enthusiastic walkers, the cairn on this proud peak's summit was a Bronze Age burial chamber. Upon excavation in 1991 a bronze brooch and spearhead were found inside.

Where to stay? There are a host of hotels and B&Bs in Brecon, but you would be hard pushed to beat the YHA Brecon Beacons situated in a restored 19th Century farmhouse only two miles from the Storey Arms.

Nearest watering hole? Alas the Storey Arms is only an outdoor centre (what a tease!), so you'll have to make the short journey into Brecon to find a suitable boozer. The Markets Tavern or the Wellington are your best bet.

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