Day One - Llandeuasent to Carreg Cadno
The planned last minute weather check wasn’t possible. No service. We were deep in the National Park already. The good forecast of an earlier check gave me the confidence to leave my rain jacket and bivvy where we were. We hastily donned our face masks and jumped in the taxi for the hour long journey to the start of our hike.
Travelling along a dual carriageway, as I peered through the plastic sheet separating us from the driver to check the speed of the taxi, 90mph, I realised just how far away we were from the finish and wondered if we’d been too optimistic with our plans. We soon pulled up to our start point and our first Beacons Way waymarker. No sooner had we left the taxi had each of us confessed our afflictions we’d been hiding up to now, but not wanted to admit earlier, for fear of triggering the cancellation of the trip.
We were heading to Llandeuasent in the North East of the Brecon Beacons, South Wales, where we would start our walk back to the van where we had just left it in Llangynidr. It was late September 2020, covid social restrictions were briefly relaxed, Wales was open to visitors and virus cases were low. The three of us, each a dad of two, get together a few times a year for a multi-day hike with wild camping. We had 3 days available for this trip so we were keen to get into dramatic scenery and having long wanted to walk the length of the Beacons Way we settled for an A to B hike covering its most dramatic section.
We were to walk the middle 39 miles of the 99 mile waymarked path covering its highest peaks and most remote spaces. Designated long after the establishment of the National Park in 1957, the Beacons Way is a relatively new trail having been developed in 2005. Choosing the middle section meant we’d cross mountain ridges, pass natural lakes, cross a UNESCO Global Geopark, spot rare wildlife, see waterfalls, and more, all in near-perfect weather. The same year that the Beacons Way was developed the Western half of the National Park was designated a Geopark - the first in Wales. We’d spend most of our weekend in the park from right now until the morning of day 3, our final day.
The first 300m of our route followed the River Sawdde before heading up steeply to the 667m peak of Waun Lefrith overlooking Llyn y Fan Fach lake. As the strong winds threatened to topple us we walked around the top sneaking views over the edge whenever there was a gap in the gusts.
We continued on the ridge of Bannau Sir Gaer, the shelter from an occasional nearby peak bringing some respite from the winds. As we walked further from the road other visitors began to thin out, an experience we’d get to know well.
We had no plan as to where we were going to set up camp in the evening but knew from scoping OS maps in the pub a few weeks back that once we’d left the peak of Fan Hir at the end of the ridgeline there was no flat ground until the village of Glyntawe. We’d want to get a considerable distance past the village before setting up camp so we kept moving. As we turned south and the lake of Llyn y Fan Fawr came into view, the wind began to slow and we enjoyed the leisurely descent into the village.
A quick bowl of chips and a pint of local ale in the pub garden and we were back on our feet. After negotiating several kissing gates built with no thought toward those carrying 45 litre packs we briefly found ourselves alongside the River Tawe before turning away and heading East through farm fields and following the well-constructed path. As the sun was going down, we were heading up and it wasn’t long before we passed a former limestone quarry and entered the moorland of Ogof Ffynnon Du Nature Reserve. We’d see the expanse tomorrow but right now needed somewhere to set up camp.
We settled into a recess in the limestone a few hundred metres off the trail. Looking back toward the ridge we’d walked earlier that day we enjoyed rehydrated chilli con carne watching as the darkness enveloped the mountains, twice being disturbed by Brad’s setup collapsing due to the wind we weren’t able to hide from, an issue with camping on rocky ground and not being able to secure pegs in to the ground. Soon after eating we each climbed into our tarp tents.