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Pen Y Fan Walk: The Truth about Hiking to the Summit as a Novice

Pen Y Fan Walk: The Truth about Hiking to the Summit as a Novice

This article will help you better prepare for the Pen Y Fan walk for the first time. It includes route directions, essential safety tips, how to check weather conditions, and what to wear to climb Pen Y Fan.

Pen Y Fan is the highest mountain in South Wales, nestled in the Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) National Park.

The Pen Y Fan walk was at the top of my list of things to do in the Brecon Beacons, as I wanted to experience something out of my comfort zone, and I knew this hike would be challenging.

Pen-Y-Fan is also one of Wales’s most beautiful mountain walks, so it seemed the perfect option.

In this guide, I cover all you need to know about attempting to climb Pen Y Fan as a novice.

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Pen Y Fan Online Resources

Before I started my walk, I eagerly combed hiking websites to learn more about how hard it is to climb Pen Y Fan.

Plenty of online information told me this mountain was easy to navigate and suitable for all ages, from children to golden oldies.

One website even stated it was a mountain walk for softies – I later learned, during my climb up the highest mountain in the Brecon Beacons, that this statement was far from the truth for me.

Pen Y Fan’s height of 886 metres above sea level was only 200 metres shorter than Table Mountain in South Africa, and I managed that ascent with minimal discomfort.

I surmised that walking up this iconic Welsh mountain couldn’t be as challenging as hiking to the top of Table Mountain, so I decided to attempt the ascent to the summit of Pen Y Fan.

I was to be proved wrong, and with every heavy footstep and beating heartbeat, I was reminded that Pen Y Fan was not the easy climb that others had described. Because of this, I have answered questions for my readers that I wish I had found before I did this climb.

It is definitely better for you as a novice to know what is in store before walking up Pen y Fan!

Regardless of how difficult hiking Pen Y Fan was, it gave me a real sense of achievement, and I am delighted I did it.

The rewards for doing it speak for themselves in the form of sensational views along the route and at the summit.

Scroll through to the end, and I think you’ll agree that the photographs speak for themselves.

View of neighbouring mountain peak from Pen-Y-Fan
Incredible landscape views during the walk

Frequently Asked Questions about Pen Y Fan

How high is Pen Y Fan?

The height of Pen Y Fan is 886m above sea level, but at the start of the walking route, it is an ascent of 440m from the Pont ar Daf car park.

Close to the top, you will see what you think is the summit – it’s not! It is Corn Du, the Brecon Beacon’s second-highest peak.

If you are feeling adventurous and your legs haven’t turned to jelly, take the left-hand pathway and see Corn Du.

If, like me, all you want is to stand at the summit of Pen-Y-Fan sooner rather than later, take the right-hand trail and keep going!

Do I have to be fit to climb Pen Y Fan?

This million-dollar question is a hard one to answer.

I found it extremely tough, as did my husband, and by the number of people who had stopped at the side of the trail for a breather, so did plenty of others.

We expected it to be challenging but not as intense as it was.

Our fitness level is OK. We walk a lot but aren’t hill/mountain climbers, which differs significantly from walking on the flat.

But compared to how hard we found the climb, plenty of others didn’t find it nearly as challenging.

In particular, the small child who greeted me at the summit showing me that Pen Y Fan is a suitable walk for children, and the guy running up to the top carrying a huge weighted rucksack.

I later discovered that the SAS used this as a training ground for the world’s oldest Special Forces test, so I didn’t feel quite so feeble!

How difficult is it to walk up Pen y Fan?

No matter what the guidebooks say, Pen Y Fan is a challenging and demanding walk. It is not a stroll in the park as it is often painted out to be!

As I looked up at this imposing mountain, I could never have realised that the walk would push me to my limits and test my mettle.

It proves that you can achieve most things you set your mind to; however, you should never compare your abilities to what others find easy.

If you don’t feel comfortable, it is not a failure to stop; it could be the correct decision for you to make.

Cobbled pathway leading up Pen Y Fan.
The Motorway Route up the mountain

Can I hike the mountain if I am scared of heights?

Absolutely! There are no drops or craggy edges to worry about on the Motorway route. A wide path (as seen in the photograph above) cuts through the mountain’s lush grasslands.

How many Pen Y Fan routes are there to the top?

There are five routes to reach the summit.

The so-called “Easiest” Pen Y Fan Walk (excuse me while I laugh out loud) is 4 miles long – 2 miles up and 2 miles back down (it seriously felt a lot longer than that!).

Locals call this walking route “The Motorway” as it can get hectic. This walk starts at Pont ar Daf car park by the stream and takes between 2 and 3 hours to walk.

A similar 4-mile (7k) circular walk, called the “Military Route”, starts at the Storey Arms Outdoor Education Centre and follows a well-marked path to the summit.

The route is relatively steep in places, but the well-maintained trail makes it accessible to most hikers. It takes between 3 and 4 hours to hike.

It includes the smaller mountain (I use the word “smaller” very lightly) Corn Du, which is 873m in height.

Other Pen Y Fan routes include the Horseshoe Ridge Route (10 miles / 5-6 hours)for experienced hikers, the scenic Cefn Cwm Llwch Route (4 miles / 3 hours), and the least visited Cwm Llwch Route (4 miles / 3-4 hours). You won’t do any of these as a novice hiker, but never say never!

What condition is the Motorway route in?

The most manageable Pen Y Fan route for a novice to walk is uneven but in good condition. It is formed with a top layer of broken tiles and has a few incline steps.

How long will it take to reach the summit?

On average, the easy Pen y Fan walk time is one hour each way, but that does depend on your pace.

We managed around 100 steps and then stopped to catch our breath as we approached the summit. Walking Pen Y Fan took us approximately 90 minutes each way.

Green mountain peaks on Pen Y Fan

When should I choose to visit?

You can climb it all year round, but you need to be prepared for when the weather gets bad.

Always check the forecast before your ascent; what might start as a sunny day could quickly turn into fog and rain as you get higher into the clouds.

What time of day should I visit?

We visited at the end of September and arrived in the late afternoon. As we ascended (slowly!), we were met with hoards of visitors on their way down.

If that many walkers had been heading towards the summit at the same time as us, I think we would have given up.

Pen Y Fan gets over 350,000 visitors a year, so it all depends on luck and the weather as to how many other climbers will be on the mountain with you.

Be aware of what time the sunsets during the year. We witnessed visitors starting their climb as we were on our way down (oh, the joy!), and on asking why so many people had suddenly appeared, we were told it was for the sunset.

This works well if you have intentionally planned it, but the last thing you want is to be on the mountain when it gets dark. Always have a torch with you – just in case of emergencies.

Pen Y Fan Weather

Due to the sudden extreme changes in weather conditions that can be experienced, Pen y Fan is considered one of the most dangerous mountains in Wales.

Before starting your hike, take precautions by referring to the Met Office Weather Forecast. This site will tell you if the weather is suitable for climbing Pen Y Fan.

Are there any guided Pen Y Fan walks?

Yes, there are. You can join a guided Pen-Y-Fan walking tour during the day, complete with stories of Brecon Beacons myths and legends, or you can head up the mountain in the evening for a guided sunset hike.

How many peaks are there in the Brecon Beacons?

There are four main peaks in Bannau Brycheiniog National Park. Pen Y Fan (886m), Corn Du (873m), Cribyn (795m), and Fan Y Big (719m), yes, you read correctly. It isn’t a spelling mistake!

Which is easier to hike, Pen Y Fan or Snowdon?

Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) is harder to climb than Pen Y Fan, as it rises to 1085m compared to the height of Pen Y Fan, which is 886m. Snowdon also has drops and inclines that are difficult to navigate.

How do I get to Pen Y Fan by public transport?

If you are coming by public transport from Brecon or Cardiff, you can take the Stagecoach T4 bus to the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre.  

Is there a car park at Pen Y Fan?

If you are coming by car, there are two car parks along the A470. One is at the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre, but the best Pen Y Fan car park is at Pont ar Daf. 

Are there toilets nearby?

Yes, in the Pont ar Daf car park, but none are en route to the summit.

Is there anywhere to get refreshments for the walk?

Yes, a small burger van is in the car park at Pont ar Daf.

However, I recommend you bring snacks and a large water bottle. I particularly like the Super Sparrow range of water bottles.

Can I wear trainers for the climb?

Yes. I had no choice but to wear mine as my walking boots had fallen apart the day before.

The correct footwear is always advisable, and a good grip is essential as the gravel pathway to the summit may prove hazardous in bad weather.

My new walking boots have now arrived, ready for my next adventure.

I would also advise investing in a pair of walking poles – I saw several walkers using them and have since bought myself a pair!

What clothing should I wear to climb Pen Y Fan?

Layers! I started at the bottom with a t-shirt, fleece, ski jacket and woollen hat.

Midway up the mountain, I stripped back my coat and fleece (when I was hot and struggling on the walk), but I left my hat on as my ears were cold.

At the top, all my clothes went back on, plus a pair of gloves as it was very windy and cold.

Don’t forget the importance of breathable walking socks and waterproof walking boots. Also, a small first aid kit is always a good idea to pack on a hike.

Girl Guides motto – Be prepared!

Can I bring my dog?

Yes. Pen y fan is dog-friendly; however, your four-legged friend should be kept on a lead due to the number of sheep grazing on the mountain.

What does Pen Y Fan mean?

A rough translation means “Top One” or “Top of the Summit.” Fitting as this is the highest peak in Bannau Brycheiniog.

How is Pen Y Fan Pronounced?

Being English, I pronounced it ‘Penny Fan’ until I was corrected by a lovely Welsh lady who told me it was ‘Pen er Van’. So make sure you say it the right way!

Why is there a stone pile at the summit?

The stone pile indicates a burial place from the Bronze Age. A National Trust plaque sits on the stack, marking the summit. While this is an ancient burial site several people have died on Pen Y Fan in recent times from heat exhaustion and being struck by lightening!

My moment of glory – I made it to the summit!

What can you see from the summit?

The most stunning views of the Bristol Channel, the Gower Peninsula, the Black Mountains, Exmoor, the Cambrian Mountains, Brecon, and much of Mid-Wales and the South Wales valleys. It is truly breathtaking.

Views from the summit

Where can I stay in the area?

Nant Ddu in Merthyr Tydfil is one of the closest country hotels to the mountain.

YHA Libanus and YHA Danywenallt are in the Brecon Beacons and are excellent bases for all outdoor activities.

Photographs of the Pen y Fan Walk

View of Pen-Y-Fan from the roadside
View of the twin peaks of Pen y Fan and Corn Du
Bridge Over Stream
Wooden bridge at the start of the “Motorway” route up the mountain
Sign saying Bannau Brycheiniog
National Trust marker Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons)
View over trees and shrubs on the slopes of Pen-Y-Fan
Views of the surrounding landscape walking route
More sheep grazing on the slopes of Pen-Y-Fan
Sheep grazing on the slopes of Pen-Y-Fan
Horse and sheep grazing on the slopes of Pen-Y-Fan
View of valley from Pen-Y-Fan
Almost at the summit of Pen y Fan
View from the summit of Pen-Y-Fan
View from the summit of Pen-Y-Fan
Views from the summit
Pen Y Fan Summit marker and pile of stones
National Trust marker at the summit of Pen y Fan

Book Guided Tours of Pen Y Fan

 Conclusion

So, that’s it! Everything you need to know about the Pen Y Fan walk. 

Pen y Fan was a challenging mountain walk; however, the effort was worth it, as the views are breathtaking!

South Wales is a stunning part of the world, and the sense of achievement when reaching the summit far outweighs any struggles to get there.

What do you think? Would you hike to the top?

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Do you need to arrange travel insurance, car hire, or accommodation? Please visit my resources page for help planning your trip.

Andrew

Saturday 17th of June 2023

Thanks for this information im sure it will come in handy for many people

Chris

Monday 10th of April 2023

Fantastic review. I walked it with the dog a couple of days ago. I thought I was fit from my regular, long dog walks, well , how I was humbled and schooled in realising that it's a different walk altogether than flat ground walking! I've done it before but this time seemed harder.......maybe because 25 years ago I was much fitter and in the army lol.

WhereAngieWanders

Monday 10th of April 2023

Hi Chris, I am so glad you enjoyed reading the review. As you say, it s a completely different experience to walking on flat terrain and isn't the leisurely stroll others make it out to be! I'm glad you made it, and I hope it was clear at the top to give you those beautiful views as a reward.

Latitude Adjustment

Thursday 13th of October 2022

How fantastic. Inspiring.

Aalia

Thursday 15th of September 2022

I'm glad I found this article, I hiked Pen Y Ghent with a group and whilst it was an amazing experience it most definitely was not easy, not for me anyway. Was thinking of joining them to hike Pen Y Fan but it seems it wil be just as 'easy' so I think I'll give it a miss until I've built up my fitness.

WhereAngieWanders

Saturday 17th of September 2022

I am glad that you found my information useful. I am sure you will get to climb Pen-Y-Fan one day, and I am sure you will enjoy it more when you know your fitness level will be able to cope with it.

Stephen Sykes

Wednesday 17th of August 2022

We had planned this trip a couple of weeks ago. Myself daughter and granddaughter . It was a challenge me being 69 but we did it in three and a half hours including lunch at the top . It was funny though because we were looking for the summit plaque. Only to find out we were on the wrong one lol you can tell it was foggy , couldn’t see a thing but we did find the right one and got the obligatory photo. Just that we have to do it again when the weather is better so we can get some photos. Learning curve I suppose but I need to let my knees cool down before we again venture into the wilderness.

WhereAngieWanders

Wednesday 17th of August 2022

Hi Stephen, well done for getting up there in the fog. I bet that was quite scary in places. So lovely that you got to do the hike with your daughter and granddaughter making some great memories together. I think we were really lucky that the weather was good for us as it can turn on a sixpence and one minute it can be sunny and the next its blowing a gale! I hope you get to climb it again and get those epic photographs on a clear day.