THE LUCKY HORSESHOE
Three hours west from the hustle of London, thrust from South Wales soil, is Pen y Fan.
Before you go embarrassing yourself at the local pub — the Welsh pronounce it as 'Pen a Van', so chew the vowels and familiarise yourself with their foreign taste before spitting them at anyone. And while we’re talking language — a fun fact on the origins: The 'Pen' means 'head of the place', 'top peak', 'top of the place', or 'end of the place', the 'y' is 'the', and 'Fan' is a bastardised form of 'ban', which means 'summit', 'crest', 'peak', 'beacon', 'hill' or 'mountain'.
All that 'peak' redundancy should give you a hint as to what you’ll find here — and that’s the highest point in the South of Wales. Rising a respectable 2,939 feet, Pen y Fan tops a horseshoe-shaped ridge in the centre of Brecon Beacons National Park.
Now, all this background makes for a fine bit of flavour, but before you go considering a trip there’s really just two things you need to know:
1. The closeness to London makes it ideal for a quick weekend wander.
2. It’s really, really pretty.
The hike itself is an easy up-and-over, achievable by even the most amateur adventurer. The trails are well marked, and well maintained. There’s several routes, but the most popular is around 8.5 kilometres, and takes around 4 hours if you’re scampering along at a reasonable clip. For those more inclined toward a steeper incline, there’s a number of climbing routes along the horseshoe ridge — so choose a spot and take shoes to it like a farrier on Sunday.
As for our experience — we arrived on a 'should’ve been here yesterday' day — with 50 shades of rain hammering the hills, and mist for miles. On that day, even the path most travelled was adventure enough.
It’s probably responsible of us to mention here, that this is not a walk for foul weather. The exposure of the peak means that a breeze at the base can be a gale at the summit, and conditions have a perverse proclivity to change from calm to John McEnroe in no time at all. Pack and prepare for anything. Be sensible. Be cautious.
We’re rarely sensible, and we’re seldom cautious. We’ve certainly never followed our own advice. Despite arriving at the carpark at Merthyr Tydfil to a turgid sky, we slid from the car like snails to the trails.
And the hike? We’d like to tell you of rolling green across a vast glacial valley, or the glint of gold on the Bristol Channel. We’d like to tell you of each new step giving us a new perspective on an age-old landscape. But all we took away was a new appreciation for the subtleties of grey. Views for feet — views of feet. A wet and windy glimpse of Pen y Fan at her beautiful worst.
So go ahead, roll the dice — come see what weather Pen y throws at you.