IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF TOMMY JONES… AND BEYOND!
A great Walking Wednesday, covering a tragic tale along a challenging route. Kevin Walker the saviour of Walking Wednesday is back to give detailed account of a great walk!
The poignant story of little Tommy Jones is a well-known local tale. This walk follows what is presumed to be his most likely route, then climbs the two highest peaks of the central Beacons.
DISTANCE – 14kms (8½ miles)
HEIGHT GAIN – 650 metres (2150 feet).
START POINT – Rough car park near Llwynbedw.
GRID REFERENCE – SO/006245.
MAPS – OS Explorer OL12. OS Landranger 160. Harvey Superwalker – Brecon Beacons East. Harvey/BMC British Mountain Map – Brecon Beacons.
A stunningly scenic hill walk, taking on the two highest summits of the Central Brecon Beacons, with some steep ground on the descent.
From the western edge of Brecon, follow the lane opposite the Drovers pub, and keep straight on at all junctions. Park in the field beyond the gate where the lane deteriorates into a track.
Although there is insufficient space to tell the full story here, a brief outline will set the scene.
Tommy Jones was a five year old boy who lived in the Rhondda. On August Bank Holiday 1900, he came to visit his grandparents, who farmed in the Cwm Llwch valley. Having walked from Brecon, Tommy and his father arrived at The Login, less than 500 metres from Cwm Llwch farmhouse, where they stopped for a drink. Tommy continued towards the farmhouse with his cousin, but soon became frightened and started to cry. His cousin carried on to the farmhouse leaving Tommy to return to the Login, less than 250 metres away. He never arrived! Despite numerous searches, no trace of him could be found until, almost a month later, his remains were found on the high ridge at the head of the valley, some 400 metres higher, and almost 3kms distant.
1. Although it will be necessary to retrace some of your steps, it will be useful to get to the Login if only to set the scene, so continue along the obvious track until you reach a ford and modern footbridge – a replacement of one of the original plank bridges that Tommy crossed. To the left at this point is a black corrugated iron barn – this marks the site of the Login, where Tommy and his father stopped for refreshments. Originally there was another footbridge crossing the main stream immediately downstream of the modern footbridge, and if you look carefully, you will see the remains of a stone buttress on the far bank. Coming from the Login, Tommy and his cousin crossed the (now missing) plank bridge, immediately turned left, crossed another plank bridge (where the modern bridge now is), then continue along the track towards Cwm Llwch Farm, less than 500 metres away.
2. Now retrace your steps for a short distance to where the track reaches a level area with a high embankment to the left. It is between here and the Login that Tommy’s route becomes impossible to guess or to follow, for the paths are now markedly different to how they were 100 years ago. Having been told that his grandparents “lived on a mountain”, it is most likely that he found his way onto the quarry track leading up Pen Milan. In order to reach this nowadays, follow the track up the embankment and head across the field with the wooded area to your left, to reach an obvious stile. Cross this
and the ditch beyond, and continue to a second stile directly in front. Cross this and follow the field boundary around the left side of the field beyond, around the right of the building, and on to a further stile with a double step, beyond which you walk straight across the field to cross yet another stile. Carry straight on with a line of trees to your right, descending to a final stile and a stream, with a building (Clwydwaunhir) beyond. Cross the stream and turn left along a well-defined if somewhat wet track to reach a gate and the open hillside of Pen Milan at a National Trust marker. Keep your eyes open for buzzards all along this section.
3. The route is now less obvious for a short while, but just keep straight on up the centre of the spur ahead, eventually making for the line of gorse at the base of the long slope that runs down left from the rounded high point of Pen Milan. The quarry track is obvious from this point, running into a shallow cutting overgrown with clumps of gorse, eventually arriving at the lowest of two zigzag bends – a fine viewpoint. Continue to follow the track, more steeply now as it swings back to the right, the views increasing all the time, then swing back left at the top zigzag, soon emerging from the cutting as the track becomes a shelf across the mountainside. Around you at this point are the remains of extensive tilestone quarries – the rocks here break easily and naturally into slabs, and were quarried for roofing tiles and flagstones. These quarries would have been active at the turn of the century, and the quarry track would have been far better defined than it is today.
4. Continue along the quarry track, eventually reaching the top of the spur where the views open out to the west (right). Further on the track becomes less well defined, but you should keep straight on (trending slightly left) towards the obvious flat summit in the distance (Corn Du). At a point where you can see almost the entire route to the summit, trend left towards the edge of the steep drops where you will find a good path coming up from the lake. Turn right onto this path, and a short distance further on you will come to a large granite obelisk, which marks the spot at which Tommy’s body was found. The inscription reads… “This obelisk marks the spot where the body of Tommy Jones, aged 5, was found. He lost his way between Cwm Llwch Farm and the Login, on the night of August 4th, 1900. After an anxious search of 29 days his remains were discovered September 2nd. Erected by voluntary subscriptions. W Powell Price, Mayor of Brecon 1901”.
5. Your onward route is obvious, following a good path up to the summit of Corn Du (although it is easy to take a short-cut down to the lake if time or weather is against you). From the top of Corn Du, continue east across the broad saddle, and thence to the top of Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in southern Britain. Leave by scrambling carefully down the loose north ridge with increasingly good views to the right, across the north-east face of Pen y Fan. Where the angle eases to an almost level shoulder, just after another path cuts left and back to the saddle between Pen y Fan and Corn Du, turn hard left and start to descend the pathless and sometimes very steep hillside, heading directly towards Llyn Cwm Llwch. The angle soon eases, but the final approach to the lake is blocked by a nasty boggy area – avoid this to the left, and follow the right side of the shallow valley beyond. There are several legends associated with the lake, most involving fairies or hoards of Celtic gold!
6. Leave the lake via the outflow, and descend steeply at first on a well-defined path which leads past a cairn, and after a further steep section to a fence with a stile and a National Trust boundary stone. To the left at this point, some distance away in the centre of the valley, you will see four black “boxes”; these are the remains of the targets of the rifle range mentioned earlier (it is only a short detour to visit them, should you so wish). Climb the stile and continue down the obvious path, soon entering a sparsely wooded section where the path becomes a track, eventually reaching a low, white building. This is Cwm Llwch Farmhouse, where Tommy’s grandparents once lived. It is now used as a mountain hut for walking groups.
7. Pass to the left of the farmhouse by crossing the two obvious stiles, then follow the stone wall on the right to rejoin the track on the far side of the buildings. As you walk along, consider the fact that Tommy’s cousin ran up this track to warn Tommy’s grandmother of the imminent arrival of guests, then ran back to the Login. You are now following in his footsteps, and you will soon arrive at the footbridge by the Login. Cross the footbridge and continue along the track to reach the car park.
If you want to learn more about the story and local legends, you can find full details in my book “Undiscovered Wales”, in my forthcoming Heritage Guide, “In the Footsteps of Tommy Jones”, or by coming on one of my walking breaks.
For full details visit www.mountainacts.co.uk. Kevin Walker does a number of different courses in the Brecon Beacons including Navigational Training, Map Interpretation, Poor Visibility Techniques and Mountain and Moorland Navigation. For more information on his courses click here.