The best things about my home town in California are the hiking trails within a minute’s walk of my front door. They’re the things I miss most now that I’m a city dweller. But thankfully I don’t have to travel far from London to find the same setup. In fact, I’m in Wales now hiking Pen y Fan—the highest peak in south Wales—right from my doorstep.
Brecon Beacons National Park
I’m staying with friends near Talybont-on-Usk, a town in the Brecon Beacons National Park (you may remember it from my winter weekend in Wales earlier this year). It’s a great base for walking and other outdoor activities, and the perfect place to start a day hike to Pen y Fan.
Hiking Pen y Fan
We start our walk just after 9am, all of us excited to be outdoors on a sunny day. Our backpacks are loaded with food and water, and we have a trusty canine companion to keep us company on the 19-mile journey.
An ordinance map guides us to the beginning of our walk, and soon we’re traversing pastures and waving hello to sheep as we go.
It’s a relatively flat three-hour walk from Talybont-on-Usk to the base of Pen y Fan, so we’re all in good spirits. Blackberry bushes feed us their fruits, and we even spot a red phone box that’s been converted into a library.
We reach the base of the peak around 12pm, stopping for tea and biscuits (as good Brits and their naturalized counterparts do) before tackling the 2,907-foot summit.
It’s a steep two-hour climb from the base to the peak, and as we go I realize why hiking Pen y Fan is a serious achievement. My out-of-shape legs burn, but my eyes drink in the increasingly breathtaking views.
By the time we reach the top of Pen y Fan I’m won over by the 360-degree vistas. From patchwork farms to green gorges, this part of Wales has amazing scenery.
We have lunch on the summit, watching day-trippers from other parts of the Brecon Beacons queue up for photos as our hungry stomachs welcome homemade sandwiches.
As soon as we’re done, we start the steep descent between Pen y Fan and pointy Cribyn, the next peak over. Then it’s another climb to Cribyn’s summit, where more views await.
Down and up again, our third peak of the day is Fan y Big, which despite its giggle-inducing name has great views of the other two summits (as well as Corn Du behind Pen y Fan).
After Fan y Big it’s a long walk along a ridge where the four peaks look increasingly like giant submarines emerging from the valley. The late afternoon sun lights up the path with its golden glow, and even though my feet ache my smile is unstoppable.
Soon it’s back through fields and beside sheep, and before long we’re home again. Hiking Pen y Fan has taken over 9 hours, and we’ve finished shortly before sunset.
My legs feel like noodles and my soles need a rest, but my spirit is soaring with a sense of accomplishment. 19 miles is the longest hike I’ve ever done, and reaching the highest peak in south Wales is a big achievement. But above all, I’m happy to have done the hike right from my front door. Opening it is a homecoming in more ways than one.
Have you done a big hike? Where did you go and how did it feel?