Fforest Fawr

Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales

The trail:

  • Location: Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales
  • Categories: Spring / Summer / Autumn / Winter / Human continental / Mountain / Foothill / Marsh / Rural / Lake / Stream
  • Duration: 5-7 hours
  • Distance: 13 miles

Walking the trail:

  • Summary: Enjoy a hike around Fforest Fawr, a remote and exposed region of hills situated between Pen y Fan and the Black Mountain range in the western edges of the national park. Seldom visited with superb views makes this a classic Brecon Beacons experience.

I was invited on this hike by my friend Simon who is steadily completing his national peak bagging. I asked if he could spare some time to do a trail write up which he kindly agreed too. All of the following writeup is his account of this excellent wild Brecon Beacons adventure.

His instagram name is "theapocalypsedude" Give him a follow!

Matt and I first met on a group hike that we saw on Instagram and have since organised our own hikes with other people based in southern England. We decided to squeeze in one last hike on the weekend before Christmas 2021, but this time, it would be in the Brecon Beacons rather than the South Downs where we normally gathered. Being the keenest hillwalker in our group, I was left in charge of the route. I was quick to decide that we would be venturing to deepest darkest Fforest Fawr in the western Brecon Beacons.

Fforest Fawr is the remotest and most seldom visited area within the Brecon Beacons. It had long been an area that I wished to explore as there were four Nuttalls, summits 2,000ft/610m or more with a prominence of at least 50ft/15m, located there. I had already visited every other Nuttall in the Brecon Beacons several times by this point, so now seemed a good opportunity to head to Fforest Fawr. Our route would be based on Walk 13.5 Fan Llia to Fan Gyhirych from John and Anne Nuttall's “The Mountains of England and Wales Volume 1: Wales”.

I travelled up to the Brecon Beacons a day early to hike with our friend, Stephanie, before we met Matt the next day at the Blaen Llia car park a little later than planned. The ascent onto Fan Llia (2,073ft/632m) was gentle and we were soon at the underwhelming cairn that marked our first summit. We could see a small cloud inversion in the valleys below as we began our direct descent on what appeared to be a suitable path. As is usually the case, we soon drifted from the path and found ourselves making our own way down the grassy hillside, picking up the tracks left by sheep or other wayward hillwalkers, until we joined a country road that forked with a gravel track.

On the other side of this fork was the stile that we needed to cross to begin our direct ascent onto our second summit, Fan Nedd (2,175ft/663m). As ascents go, it was not pretty. We again started on what appeared to be a suitable path before it too seemingly vanished. The grassy hillside was unrelentingly steep and we began to drift northward on what seemed a slightly easier gradient, eventually topping out at an impressive cairn just a little north of the trig point that crowns Fan Nedd.

We stopped for a brief lunch by the trig point, soaking in the sun and marvelling at the fact that we were enjoying summer-esque weather the week before Christmas. From the summit of Fan Need, both Corn Du and Pen y Fan dominated the view eastward, their teeming summits were a stark contrast to the remoteness of Fforest Fawr.

Leaving the summit of Fan Nedd behind, our sights were firmly set on the last two summits. We dropped down to join the Cambrian Way on the northern slopes of Fan Nedd, following its course until we met a gravel road that goes on to weave its way through the heart of Fforest Fawr. The gravel road was a direct route to the last two summits, neatly bringing us right between the two.

We chose to summit Fan Fraith (2,192ft/668m) first. It is hard to be kind to this unremarkable summit and I would wager that if it was not a Nuttall, it would probably never be visited. It was fortunately a short diversion from the gravel road and we quickly retraced our steps to begin the simple walk onto our last summit of the day.

As had been the case with the other summits, we enjoyed having Fan Gyhirych (2,379ft/725m) to ourselves. The view from the trig point over to Black Mountain in the west was particularly incredible, made even more so by the setting sun, whilst the twin peaks of Corn Du and Pen y Fan still dominated the view to the east.

Having reached all four summits, we realised that there would not be enough daylight left to complete the rest of our planned route. We had already walked seven miles and the prospect of walking another seven miles by heading further into Fforest Fawr via the gravel road before following the Beacons Way back to the Blaen Llia car park did not appeal, so we wisely opted to take the Cambrian Way from the summit of Fan Gyhirych instead. Doing so brought us along the sweeping curved escarpment of Fan Gyhirych, over the gravel road and along the northern slopes of Fan Nedd.

Whilst cutting across Fan Nedd, we bore witness to an extraordinary moonrise. There were times where we stood bewildered by the sight, for it looked like the Death Star was looming on the horizon. I have never seen a spectacle like this before and it is likely we would have missed it if we had not been so wise in shortening our route. We were relived when the Cambrian Way finally met the country road at the Devil's Elbow. It was now just a simple case of walking down the country road to the Blaen Llia car park, passing Maen Llia, a standing stone dating back to the Bronze Age, along the way.

A few months later, I ventured back to Fforest Fawr to reattempt the route in full. The only tweaks that I made were the descent from Fan Llia and the connecting ascent onto Fan Nedd, neither of which I had been thrilled with the first time around.

As I enjoyed lunch on Fan Nedd during the original hike, I had spotted a clear path that beelined down the side of Fan Llia. It was certainly worth backtracking the small distance from the summit of Fan Llia to take this clear path during my second hike, as I made my way down in half the time that it took for our direct descent from the summit.

As for the ascent onto Fan Nedd, this time around I headed up the country road and crossed the stile opposite Maen Llia. Although the gradient was less severe than what we encountered on the original hike, it was still tough going up the grassy hillside.

The second half of the route that Stephanie, Matt and I had to forgo was really fascinating and all throughout, there was a strong sense of remoteness. It would have been folly to have attempted this on our original hike, as despite the fact the moonlight had been very bright, navigating would have been very difficult along the Beacons Way.

When I decide to complete this route for the third time, I will be making another change to the ascent onto Fan Nedd. Next time, I will continue all the way up the country road to the Devil's Elbow before following what I know is a clear path up the escarpment to the summit of Fan Nedd. Despite adding another mile or so onto the route, I know that I will be able to cover this so much quicker than another stomp up the grassy hillside.

GPX File available on request.