(Every mountain has multiple personalities – this post
only relates to a summer walk in good weather.)
I’m exhausted — it’s been a week of driving and hospitals and I’m barely functioning as I type, but I wanted to share a walk.
We’ve just been up to Corn Du and Pen y Fan, the highest point in the Brecon Beacons, and it was a really child-friendly walk (in summer and good weather) so I thought I’d share.
I’ve been here before, I think, as a teenager – but back then we were all about long horseshoe-shaped treks with heavy packs. We probably staggered up four or five peaks and all I would have noticed was my boyfriend.
Walking as a mum of young children is very different. After a hectic couple of days in Bristol (games stores, aquarium, SS Great Britain, zoo), we scuttled west to the nearest mountains — this time in SOUTH Wales.
Booking a hotel in mid August in the Brecon Beacons is best done some months before, not at short notice – but we were working with what we had, so we ended up in Neath, in a little hotel with bins and rats out the front, limited parking (cue a parking ticket the first night and being blocked in the second), and a restaurant that felt anything but child-friendly. This was all fine: it’s great for kids to learn to adapt. But this also meant that when we rolled up at the start of the walk, none of us had eaten breakfast and I hadn’t had dinner the night before, either. Cue a ravenous raid on my boot muesli. (I keep muesli and UHT milk in the boot of my car on walking holidays because it allows dawn hikes and breakfast on the mountains: honestly, it’s nicer than it sounds.)
Because we were all a bit jaded, and new to the place, I’d picked the easiest possible route to the summit: from Pont ar Daf.
Pont ar Daf is a car park and despite turning up at 11am, we found a couple of spaces and parked easily.
So we set off up the path and it was very much like the Llanberis path of Yr Wyddfa in the sense that lots of families were trailing along a well-constructed and clearly-defined path up the mountain. Only, unlike Yr Wyddfa, this is a short walk.
From Pont ar Daf, we walked northeast for a couple of km to the top of Corn Du, then the extra few hundred yards over to Pen y Fan next door (and just a little further to look at a possible future hike to Cribyn and more specifically Fan y Big because the kids can’t resist the name), then back to Corn Du, where we zigzagged around a bit to explore before returning west/southwest on the slightly more northern path down to the Storey Arms, and then back to Pont ar Daf by road.
All in, it was an easy 9 km – and no one felt tired.
This is by far the easiest summit walk I’ve done with children, including hills. It’s all walking and no scrambling. You can take children of pretty much any age because it’s easy to carry kids over the well-maintained paths, and anyone able-bodied over the age of five, in summer and with good weather and the right kit, will probably find it a doable walk.
The views are very lovely at the top: lots of rolling, green moorlands stretching away to the horizon, with some striking ridges slicing the landscape into sunshine and shadow, and a couple of lakes in the distance. We were lucky to find ourselves walking on a sunny day with bright blue skies interspersed with clouds hurtling by on a stiff west/southwesterly wind.
I recommend taking a paper map on this (or any) walk – my phone didn’t connect at all on the approach and even when it did, I could receive Netflix emails long before OS maps gave me workable pixels. Unusually for us, we didn’t have a paper map today (it’s on order) so we’d downloaded a static jpg map and had that on each of three phones. For a short walk and using fully charged, waterproof phones this was OK, but the screens can be hard to read in sunlight.
I made it to the bottom feeling physically and mentally refreshed but still starving. Youngest had found the week’s varying diet a bit taxing, so he’d eaten his lunch half way up, and my lunch at the top. So in 36 hours, I’d barely eaten more than a bowl of muesli. I’ve said before that mountains are NOT the place to stint on food and I really meant it. They’re not. I gnawed at a bashed old Eccles cake from the bottom of one of our packs and tried not to panic about caffeine deficiency (I should drink less coffee…)
Half an hour later we were in the Neath Subway ordering meatball and cheese flatbread toasties with sweet chilli sauce, and double chocolate cookies and soda, then we walked back to the hotel to squeeze some caffeine out of paper sachets while someone blocked my car into a corner and two local girls shrieked “Fuck!” at one another below our window.
It didn’t matter. The girls looked OK, we were all together and safe and warm, and like I said, we’d had meatballs and hill walks today.
Children, meatballs and hills. That’ll do, Wales, that’ll do.