THE CARMARTHEN FAN
Already missing the Crickhowell Walking Festival and don’t want to wait until October for the Hay-on-Wye Walking Festival? Well here’s a memorable walk, where you’ll get to see some of the best peaks in the Brecon Beacons National Park. By the legendary hiker and guide, Kevin Walker.
A classic hill walk in the western wilds of the National Park. Choose a day with kind weather, and take map & compass, plus full hit kit! If you don’t know how to use a map & compass, or don’t know what is meant by full hill kit, consider going on one of Kevin’s navigation or hill-skills courses first!
DISTANCE – 13kms (8 miles)
HEIGHT GAIN – 700 metres (2300 feet).
START POINT – Rough parking area at end of public road from Llanddeusant.
GRID REFERENCE – SN/797239.
MAPS – OS Explorer OL12. OS Landranger 160.
DESCRIPTION: One of the classic walks of the area, with atmospheric surroundings and truly stunning views. Although reasonably straightforward, there are some steep ascents and descents, and the return journey crosses some rough ground and can be difficult in unkind weather.
PARKING: The isolated hamlet of Llanddeusant is best reached along narrow roads from the A40 to the east or west of Llandovery, or from the A4069 between Brynaman & Llangadog. Once in the village, head east along the No Through Road signposted to “Llyn y Fan”. The lane soon deteriorates into a rough track with deep potholes, then curves around to the right of a house before ending at a metal barrier where there is ample room to park.
Your onward route is obvious along the continuation of the rough track, climbing steadily through a deeply incised valley towards the mountains looming ahead, and soon reaching old water-works buildings, now used as a trout hatchery. The track continues on the far side, and leads past some picturesque cascades to the dam at Llyn y Fan Fach, where there is a rescue shelter. There is also a huge metal notice warning of the dangers of swimming in the lake – a stark and somehow intrusive reminder of the Nanny State.
Head to the right and climb slightly to reach the shores of the lake – a stunning spot where the views really start to impress. The place is steeped in legend, and has a close association with the Physicians of Myddfai, the true history of whom has become inextricably linked with the legend of the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach, a famous Welsh folk tale. According to the legend, the Physicians of Myddfai were descended from a beautiful fairy who lived in the lake. This fairy was wooed by a local shepherd boy, and they eventually married and set up home at Esgair Llaethdy, a farm near the village of Myddfai, where they raised three sons. Following three “unjust blows”, the Lady left her husband and returned to the depths of the Lake, but before she went she taught her three sons the arts of healing and showed them where to find the necessary herbs, all of which grew in profusion in the area. According to one version of the legend, her eldest son was named Rhiwallon.
So much for the legend. What is certain is that, in the early 13th century, a man named Rhiwallon Feddyg was the personal physician of Rhys Gryg, Lord of Dinefwr and the warrior son of the Welsh Prince, Rhys ap Gruffydd. Rhiwallon had three sons, Cadwgan, Gruffydd and Einion, and they and all their descendants became famous for their skill as doctors, not only in Wales, but throughout the UK and Europe. Their medical wisdom is recorded in the Red Book of Hergest, which dates back to the 13th century, and several of their original manuscripts are held in the British Museum. These show that their healing powers were based upon a materia medica of about 175 herbs, all of which grew locally, and many of which still thrive in the area. The last named “Physician of Myddfai” died in 1842, and his tombstone lies in the porch of the village church.
Follow the rough path that climbs towards the top of the headwall in front, curving to the left around the lake and onto a low summit above Waun Lefrith. Now head easily east along the top of the staggeringly awesome escarpment of Bannau Sir Gaer, eventually reaching a low cairn at the summit of Picws Du. All along this section, the wilderness of the Black Mountain is obvious to the right, whilst the broad patchwork of the Tywi Valley lies to the left. Stunning!
From Picws Du, continue along the path, first descending steeply to Bwlch Blaen-Twrch, then climbing equally steeply towards Fan Foel on the far side. The climb seems daunting as you descend towards the bwlch, but it is not too bad if taken steadily! It is certainly far more pleasant than it used to be, for the National Park are repairing the path, which had effectively deteriorated into a steep, deep, peaty morass!
Once the ground begins to level out, trend to the right to reach the summit of Fan Foel, where the views start to open out to the east, then trend right again and follow the top of the spectacular east-facing escarpment towards an obvious cairn on a highpoint beyond a deep gully. Fan Brycheiniog, the highest point in the Carmarthen Fan, lies just beyond this cairn, its summit marked by a trig point. There is a stone shelter here which makes a great spot to stop for some refreshment. On a clear day there is a fantastic view all the way to the distant Brecon Beacons and beyond.
Have gazed your fill, retrace your steps to Fan Foel, then head north along the top of the escarpment, trending slightly right to reach Tro’r Fan Foel. Carefully approach the edge until you can see a reasonable path that makes its unlikely way down the steep slopes that mark the end of the spur (potentially fraught with difficulty in poor visibility!), then follow this down the steep slopes to reach more level ground below. A faint path (the route of the Beacons Way) soon heads off to the left. Follow this across Cefn Bryn y Fuwch, running parallel to the steep ground above until you are directly below Bwlch Blaen Twrch, then trend right across open and often boggy hillside towards the right-hand side of the valley of the Afon Sychlwch. You will eventually come to an old leat that channels water towards Llyn y Fan Fach.
You now have a choice of routes. You can turn left along the leat, and follow it all the way to Llyn y Fan Fach, from where it is but an easy downhill stroll back to your car. Alternatively, you can continue straight ahead along the shallow but boggy spur of Bryn y Fuwch to intersect the outward track lower down. If you do this, aim to reach the track at or below the waterworks buildings in order to avoid a potentially difficult stream crossing, and be aware that it can be tricky to find an easy way down the final steep slopes!
This is one of the walks followed on Kevin’s astonishing walking breaks. Check out these and his navigation and hill-skills courses at www.mountainacts.co.uk