Backpacking the Fforest Fawr hills from Ystradfellte

by backpackingbongos

Right next door to the very popular central peaks of the Brecon Beacons lies the less visited Fforest Fawr range of hills.  They have been a glaring omission from my tick list of 2000ft hills for a long time now, so time to set out to rectify this.  I did the usual routine of setting off after work on a Friday night with the plan to park up in a remote spot to sleep in the Bongo.  I picked a moorland road located between the A470 and the A4059 with the hope that it would be a quiet but scenic out of the way spot.  However I soon found my self once again being disgusted with the human race.  There were several areas that would make great parking spots just past the forest, however they were a flytippers paradise.  Bags of rubbish and twisted metal.  What makes people drive out of their way to a beauty spot to dump large amounts of waste?

I moved on and finally found a pull in just after the road descended from the moors, no vehicle passed to disturb me all night.  I was awoken early by the sounds of a quad bike and the chatter of sheep.  Raising the blinds I found that I was surrounded by the fluffy creatures as they were being herded by a farmer.  Time to move off and park up to start a couple of days backpacking.

Day 1 – 11.8 miles with 825 metres ascent


The tiny village of Ystradfellte has a large car park that is out of proportion to the size of the village, thankfully there are no restrictions on leaving a vehicle overnight.  Although early the heat was building and there was not a breath of wind to cool things down, it was going to be a hot slog along the valley.  A bridleway leads along the left bank of the Afon Dringarth where I heard the familiar noise of a buzzard, looking up there were two circling just above my head looking like they were being bothered by a crow.  As the bridleway started its descent towards the river I could make out the dam of the Ystradfellte reservoir up ahead.  All along the valley the noise of sheep with their lambs was the loudest I have ever heard whilst walking in the countryside.  The din was pretty impressive!

A track on the other side of the river leads to the reservoir where you are greeted with a  large sign that shouts out DANGER.  I am glad that it was there as without it I am sure that I would have drowned myself or caught some nasty disease.

At the dam I got chatting to a guy who had already walked further than I had planned to walk all day.  He had done a long circuit after setting off from his house at 5.30am and was heading back to the Storey arms.  He was then thinking of popping up Pen y Fan.  Someday I feel such a slackpacker.  The ascent of Fan Fawr from the reservoir is a real slog, featureless slopes that go on for what feel like miles.  Whilst ascending I suddenly heard a large amount of chatter, spotting a huge strung out group which is one of my pet hates in the hills.  They were heading my way so I sat to have some food let them pass.  The view was big and bleak.

With the group disappearing onto the horizon I continued up the slopes to the trig point.  This is one hill you would not want to ascend in the mist as there are no real features to identify coming up from the reservoir.  From the trig it is a short walk to the true summit where the views open out to the highest peaks of the Breacon Beacons.  Much of the views were lost in a hazy murk.

A descent of steep grassy slopes took me down the north side of Fan Fawr and across what would probably normally be boggy ground.  A lack of rain however meant that there was a bit of a crunch to the bogs and my boots remained dry.

The summit of Craig Cerrig-gleisiad was occupied by two army guys packing up their tent into very large rucksacks.  The cliffs that line the edge of the nature reserve here were pretty impressive but unfortunately what would normally be a grand view of Pen Y Fan was lost in the haze.  A quick there and back to the trig on Fan Frynych and I took the line of the Beacons way towards Fan Lila.

I started to worry about finding a suitable water source high on the hill as all of the streams I had passed had dried up.  It was a hot thirsty walk as I started a traverse under the northern slopes of Fan Dringarth.  There was one final watercourse marked on the map, if it was empty I would have to descend into the valley below and probably camp there.  Luckily the stream under the crags of Fan Dringarth was coming from a running spring and I was able to collect cold, clear and tasty water.  A short climb above and I was in a strange world of drumlins and landslips which reminded me a little of Alport Castles in the Peak District.  The wind had now picked up and I found good shelter amongst one of the many hummocks.

After a brew and dinner I climbed onto the ridge above and walked the short distance to the summit of Fan Lila to get a view of the sun setting through the murk.  It felt like there was a change of weather in the air.


Day 2 – 6.5 miles with 320 metres ascent

I awoke to the familiar sound of rain falling on the flysheet of my tent, even the yellow inner failed to brighten up the inside.  I snuggled back into my sleeping bag and fell asleep for another hour.  I was only putting off the inevitable and finally got up and stuck my head outside.  I was greeted by swirling mist and a light drizzle.  I have never been that keen on packing up when it is raining, at least I was not camping tonight so I could stuff everything in my pack without worrying what would get wet.

It was a misty low visibility walk west to the highest point of the minor road.  I kept myself entertained by not taking a compass bearing and was pretty pleased with myself for nearly getting it right.  A quick bit of adjustment and I was crossing the road and following the wall up the slopes of Fan Nedd the cloud now just skimming above my head.

The plan had been to do a circuit over to Fan Gyhirych but as I got to the trig point on Fan Nedd I knew that it would be pointless.  These hills are not the most exciting to walk in thick mist, best to leave for another day when I could savour the fine views.  Instead I descended the south ridge again without bothering with the compass and started to doubt my position after about ten minutes!  I did get down eventually to the lower part of the road I had crossed earlier for a good half mile stomp.  Again I was disappointed with the rubbish that had been thrown out of vehicles onto the verge.  McDonald’s seemed to be the main culprit, maybe they should introduce an idiot tax on their products.  It seems like idiots buy their food.

A quick mental rant to myself and I was soon on a green lane onto a lovely stretch of limestone country.  Green grass, rocky outcrops, and some limestone pavements made a great contrast to the bleak moors.  Even so the cloud was down to less than 400 metres and bursts of rain would often bring it down lower.

Another minor lane brought me back to the near empty car park in Ystradfellte.  Weather wise this had definitely been a walk of two halves.  It just a shame that lovely wild countryside had been spoilt by visitors / locals who feel that it is ok to dispose of their rubbish via the car window.

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8 Comments to “Backpacking the Fforest Fawr hills from Ystradfellte”

  1. Fforest Fawr usually sees very few people, I too hate those crocodiles of walkers!. Those slopes of Fan Fawr would suggest a descent route, I can imagine the slog upwards.
    I think you were wise to forego Fan Gyhirych, I think it’s the best of that group and deserves better conditions.
    So there was more rubbish about, evidence of the great unwashed – I must say I’ve noticed that in south Wales.

    • I think that the good weather must have brought the Masses out. Fan Gyhirych will fit in nicely to another backpack I am sure. The rubbish thing is beginning to become a bit of an anoyance I have to say. The Beacons are pretty close to the citys and Valleys of South Wales.

  2. I did the more popular penyfan horseshoe on friday and at 7am in the morning it was pretty busy! This looks a nice walk. may have to return to bag the quieter hills. I stopped over in the car by neuadd reservoir, I was amazed at how much mess there was, doesn’t seem as bad in north wales?

    • Hi Ruth. I have only been up Penyfan the once and it was exceptionally busy even with the mist down. Have to say 7am is a little early for me to be up on the hills, much prefer being in the hills later on in the day (would say something about the light etc but mostly come down to being lazy!). North Wales does seem to have less of a litter problem.

  3. nice spot for a wildcamp, was there myself recently. did you catch the crazy undulations on the top of fan dringarth? you do have to be careful with the water situation becasue although there are plenty of streams in the valleys (obviously!) the plateaus can be a bit devoid.

    you were a bit fortunate to park your bongo at Ystradfellte and come back to find it in one piece. Its a well known car thief/local scrote hotspot in the area and I certainly wouldnt leave my car there even for a day walk 😦

    • Hey Dave it was a great spot, high up but tucked away and sheltered. The top of Fan Dringarth is great with all those drumlins / undulations. Did not realise that Ystradfellte was a bad place to leave a vehicle, looks like I was lucky. It looked like such a nice village too!

  4. Nice looking not busy backpacking hills. I always think it is sad we have to worry about where we leave our cars in the hills. Is nothing safe from crime.

    • Its a sad fact that not much is safe from crime these days. Even that remote cottage I stay in in Wales got broken into and windows shot at until shutters were put up. I tend to look for villages these days to leave my bongo, just feel sorry for the person who’s house I park right in front of!

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