10 spectacular circular walks in Bannau Brycheiniog

The best walks in the Bannau, formerly known as the Brecon Beacons

1. Beacons Horseshoe - Explore Pen y Fan the quieter way

Drink in far-reaching views north across the Usk Valley and along dramatic ridges from the range’s tallest mountain. At 886m, Pen y Fan is also the highest point in southern Britain. The site of South Wales’ original beacon, an ancient hilltop signal fire, is hugely popular with walkers. But you’ll find blissful peace and yet more breathtaking vistas on one of the horseshoe routes visiting the neighbouring peaks. From the south, set out on a 9-mile circuit from Cwm Taf Fechan, climbing to the ridge of Graig Fan Ddu. Stride north to reach Pen y Fan, conquering the adjacent summits of Corn Du and Cribyn for a satisfying short day walk. Return along the Gap Road trail beneath Fan y Big, reputedly an old Roman track. There’s a handy carpark in the forest, and buses from Merthyr Tydfil, which is on the train line from Cardiff.

View from Pen y Fan, looking across grassy peaks
View from the top of Pen y Fan

2. Llanthony & the Vale of Ewyas - Discover a secret valley

At the National Park’s’ eastern edge stand the atmospheric ruins of the 12th-century Augustinian priory at Llanthony. It’s the starting point for a wild and romantic circular route through the Black Mountains. The magical Vale of Ewyas leads north to little St Mary’s Chapel at Capel-y-Ffin. From here, lines of hills to west and east offer wonderful routes back south. Our pick is Hatterrall Ridge, on which the historic Offa’s Dyke Path traces the border between Wales and England. After a stiff haul east up sheep-grazed slopes, you’ll enjoy stupendous views across the Olchon Valley into the heart of Herefordshire. At the end of a testing loop covering about 10 miles, refuel with a drink and hearty food at the Llanthony Priory Hotel within the ancient ruins.

Horse standing in front of the ruins of Llanthony Priory in Powys, Wales
Llanthony Priory in Powys, Wales ©Getty

3. Waterfall Country - Cool off at cascades

Three rivers gushing down from the central Bannau meet around the small village of Pontneddfechan. First, though, they tumble over waterfalls including Sgwd Gwladus (‘Lady's Falls’), Sgwd Ddwli Uchaf (‘Upper Gushing Falls’) and Sgwd  yr Eira. At that famed ‘Falls of Snow’, the path runs beneath the shimmering sheet of water. Marked trails run through the lush woods shading these boulder-strewn streams. So it’s easy to follow a relatively gentle 9-mile loop starting in either Pontneddfechan or Cwm Porth. Both are a half-hour drive from Swansea, about an hour from Cardiff.

Autumn leaves at Sgwd Ddwli Uchaf, or Upper Gushing falls. Found on the Nedd Fechan, a river that flows through the Brecon Beacons National Park
Waterfall at Sgwd Ddwli Uchaf ©Getty

4. Waun Rydd - Summit the peaceful peak

Soaring to 769m in the centre of the Bannau Brycheiniog is a peak that enjoys breathtaking views but glorious solitude. Waun Rydd is the highest point on a broad plateau overlooking Talybont Reservoir, a lovely artificial lake south of Brecon. Climb for sweeping views across the reservoir and north to Pen y Fan. Tackle a steep but satisfying 5-mile circuit via the Twyn Du ridge and Carn Pica. You’ll likely meet only wild ponies grazing amid heather-clad slopes.

5. Sugar Loaf - A sweet little challenge

Fittingly, the distinctive 596m summit of Y Fâl, known in English as Sugar Loaf, rises above the renowned foodie town of Abergavenny. It’s the perfect place for topping up on calories before or after an ascent. There are several steep routes up offering various ways to create a fairly straightforward 5-mile-plus circuit. Views from the peak stretch north across the Black Mountains and as far as Pen y Fan. In summer, the hill’s flanks are spangled with wildflowers, too. Direct trains from Cardiff and Newport serve Abergavenny, which is only an hour or so from Bristol.

6. The Carmarthen Fans - Stride the steepest scarp

Bring a head for heights to enjoy one of the most thrilling loops in the Bannau. The Carmarthen Fans is a dramatic line of sheer escarpments at the northern edge of the Black Mountain. At its western end is the enchanting, and reputedly enchanted, lake of Llyn y Fan Fach in the Bannau Sir Gaer amphitheatre. To the east glistens Llyn y Fan Fawr, guarded by the 802m summit of Fan Brycheiniog. Linking them is magnificent ridge-walking along the Beacons Way, past Roman and Iron Age relics. A near-parallel route skirting the lakes provides the return leg of a demanding 10-mile hike. Start from the car-parking area near Llandeusant, where you can admire amazing birds of prey at the red kite feeding centre.

7. Llangorse Three Peaks - Ramble the ridges

Llangorse Lake is best known for its multi-activity centre. But above stretches a series of ridges and summits where hikers and mountain ponies roam freely. Lace your boots for the stiff haul from Llangorse village onto Mynydd Llangorse. Drink in panoramic views over the lake towards Fforest Fawr and back across the Black Mountains. For a wild, windblown, up-and-down 11-mile loop, visit Mynydd Troed and Pen Tir. Still feeling energetic? Continue past the scant ruins of Castell Blaenllynfi to reach the Iron Age hillfort on Allt yr Esgair above the lake. Finish with a cold drink or ice cream from the café, overlooking the replica medieval roundhouse on a 10th-century crannog (artificial island).

8. Ysgyryd Fawr - Be haunted on the shattered hill

Was the jagged split in this distinctive sandstone outcrop north-east of Abergavenny caused by an ice age landslip? Or a thunderous smash at the moment of Christ’s crucifixion? That’s just one of the legends wreathing the Skirrid, as this rugged hill is known. Start at the reputedly haunted Skirrid Mountain Inn to the north in Llanvihangel Crucorney. Climb to the ruined St Michael’s Chapel on the summit, stretching your legs along the ridge. Then return to complete a simple 6-mile out-and-back hike.

9. Craig Cerrig-gleisiad - Nature runs wild

The steep slopes of Craig Cerrig Gleisiad and Fan Frynych National Nature Reserve aren’t just dramatic to look at. Free from grazing sheep, they also host a rich variety of native plants and animals. So this is a wondrous place for a Welsh wildlife safari. Start from a picnic area and layby on the A470, 15 minutes’ drive south of Brecon. Stride through hawthorns to reach a haven for ravens, ring ouzels and peregrines. Wander among bluebells in spring, and rare brown hairstreak butterflies and dainty purple saxifrage in summer. Crown a 3-mile hike by skirting the edge of the ridge to the high moorland summit of Fan Frynych. The nearby National Park Visitor Centre in Libanus has a café and toilets.

10. Y Grib & Waun Fach - Brave the Dragon’s Back

The westerly approach to 811m-tall Waun Fach, tallest in the Black Mountains, is suitably dramatic. This hulking mountain is guarded by the skeletal remains of Norman Castell Dinas, the highest castle in mainland Britain. Built on the site of an Iron Age hillfort, only crumbling walls now remain but it’s a spectacular spot all the same. Follow the grassy ridge of Y Grib, the ‘Dragon’s Back’, to reach the boggy summit of Waun Fach overlooking Grwyne Fawr reservoir. The Dragon’s Back Inn beneath the castle is the spot to toast your adventure after a wild 7-mile circuit.

Explore more

We’ve got ideas for hundreds of wonderful walking routes across England, Scotland and Wales, long and short, easy and challenging. Search for routes on our website.  Or join a guided walk with a local Ramblers group. Find your nearest Ramblers group and choose a walk that suits your pace, fitness and interests

Image (top) ©Getty

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