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.

Hiking Pen Y Fan

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.

Trail Marker in Brecon Beacons National Park

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.

Brecon Beacons National Park

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.

Stone Church in Wales

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.

Red Phone Box 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.

Blackberry Bush

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.

Dog on Pen y Fan

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.

View from Pen y Fan

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.

Hikers on Pen y Fan

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.

Path to Pen y Fan

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).

View from Cribyn

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.

Pen y Fan

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.

Sheep in Brecon Beacons National Park

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?

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Hiking Pen Y Fan

24 Comments on Lady’s Guide to Hiking Pen y Fan, the Highest Peak in South Wales

  1. I climbed Pen Y Fan at the end of a 10 peak challenge a few years ago. It’s so steep but so satisfying when you reach the top! The views over the Brecon Beacons are stunning and this has totally made me want to go back!

  2. A 19-mile hike?! Yikes. I just did a 13 mile up in the Santa Monica Mountains and that was arduous.
    I’m wondering if you have other hikes you’d recommend in the outer regions of London, Paris, or other big cities.

    • Wow, that hike in Santa Monica sounds like a good one! I don’t know of any hikes super close to London or Paris, but there’s great hiking in Muir Woods near San Francisco if you’re ever out that way.

  3. I’ve walked this area many times but still haven’t been to the top of Pen y Fan! The views up there always look incredible.
    Enjoy the rest of your time in Wales – waterfall country is a lovely area to explore too! 🙂

  4. How ironic as some of co-workers and I were discussing today the easy access to hiking trails from Reno into the Sierra Nevada! But, we are lacking castles and berry bushes here 🙂 Your photos were absolutely beautiful, Julie!! I’m so curious as to what breed of dog that is?? Have a great week! 🙂

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