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My Favourite Hike: the Big Beacons Horseshoe

Craig Taylor at the summit of Pen y Fan
(Image credit: Craig Taylor)

The Big Beacons Horseshoe

In this edition of our My Favourite Hike series, Advnture contributor Craig Taylor takes us on an epic day-hike up over the UK’s highest peaks south of Snowdonia. But not for the first time – growing up just south of the Brecon Beacons National Park, it’s a walk he knows like the back of his hand, and one he never grows tired of, no matter how many times he hikes it. 

“I simply love coming home to the Brecon Beacons,” says Craig. “It doesn’t matter where I’ve been or how long I’ve been away, the beauty of the place continues to surprise me. The diversity of the landscape and the breathtaking views make for an unforgettable day – every time I come back.”

The route

  • Start/finish: Blaen y Glyn Uchaf
  • Distance: 14.2 miles / 23 km
  • Elevation gain: 3,000ft / 920m
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Duration: ~8 hours

A longer version of the classic Beacons Horeshoe, the route is just under 23 km long and takes in all of the six peaks of the Central Beacons Ridge –those being Waun Rydd, Bwlch y Ddwyallt, Fan y Big, Cribyn, Pen y Fan and Corn Du. And while this makes for a challenging hike, the different views awarded at the top of each summit makes each climb worth it. A diverse route that that takes you to the prettiest parts of the park, this hike takes you past glistening waterfalls, through sweeping valleys, across the exhilarating Central Beacons ridge and even past a Llyn or two.

The view from Pen y Fan on a particularly wintery day in 2021

The view from Pen y Fan on a particularly wintery day in 2021  (Image credit: Craig Taylor)

The Big Beacons Horseshoe: why I love it

The Beacons Horeshoe is a true showcase route, taking you to the most impressive corners of the Brecon Beacons National Park. It has waterfalls in spades, epic climbs, stunning panoramic views out over Powys and South Wales, and – to me – is a perfect representation of the beauty of the Welsh landscape. In fact, every time I get a visitor and they want to see some of Wales, I drag them along this walk with pride. And it hasn’t disappointed yet.

What’s more, the route can be easily adapted to suit different needs/abilities. If you want to cut out some of the climbs, four of the six can be removed entirely – you just need to stick to the paths that cut across the ascents (instead of up and over them). And if the day’s growing too long and you want to head back to the car early, that’s also easy to do thanks to all of the different paths that connect back to the Blaen y Gwyn car park.

The start of the Blaen y Gwyn falls

The start of the Blaen y Gwyn falls  (Image credit: Craig Taylor)

Which gets us on to our starting point: Blaen y Glyn Uchaf, a convenient free car park that’s rarely so busy that you’ll struggle to find a space. I’ve arrived during peak times on many a bank holiday and have always found a spot, but aim to get here before 10 am if you want to be on the safe side. From here, you start the walk by taking the trail to the south of the cattle grid that follows the Nant Bwrefwr waterfall trail down to the Caerfanell river.

As you go, you’ll have ample opportunity to go for a dip in rockpools, dunk your head under waterfalls or fill up your water bottles for the day ahead. To see the best of the falls, stick to the trail along the north side of the river until you arrive at the area’s namesake: The Blaen-Y-Glyn waterfall. From there, take the footbridge across the river and follow the trail through the valley until you see the imposing plateau of Waun Rydd and Bwlch y Ddwyallt come into view.

Craig Taylor at the top of Waun Rydd

The trig point atop of Waun Rydd (Image credit: Craig Taylor)

From here, it’s a straight shot up to the trig point and the start of one of the steepest climbs of the day. And the reward for your efforts? A beautiful meander along the Central Ridge into one of the most impressive sights in the United Kingdom. Here, you’ll skip across to Fan y Big (and take in the famous diving board), Cribyn and Pen y Fan to take in the last peak of the day, Corn Du. Just be prepared: once you leave the relative seclusion of Fan y Big behind, the next 90 minutes or so may get a little busy. This section of the Beacons Way comprises  some of the most highly-trafficked trails in the country. But it’s easy to see why. Once you come back down from Corn Du and head south along the ridgeline, the seclusion will increase with every passing step, and before you know it you’ll have the Beacons all to yourself again.

The peaks of Cribyn, Pen y Fan and Corn du

Looking out over the imposing peaks of Cribyn, Pen y Fan and Corn du (Image credit: Craig Taylor)

For the best views and the most fun, I’d recommend doing this hike on a clear summer’s day. I’ve done it in all four seasons and – while it’s always enjoyable – the wind can be brutal along the Central Beacons ridge. The views more than make up for the hardships, however, so try and find a day when the weather’s fine (or there’s at least a chance of the surrounding landscape being visible).

Highlight: the Central Beacons Ridge

The Central Beacons Ridge

The Central Beacons ridge is a stunning undulating section with expansive views of the northern edge of the park and over to the peaks to come (Image credit: Craig Taylor)

My personal highlight along this route is the Central Beacons Ridge from Bwlch y Ddwyallt to Fan y Big. A quiet section of trail, it offers epic views towards to the imposing peaks of Cribyn, Pen y Fan and Corn Du in the distance. As you skip along the ridgeline, you’ll feel as though you’re walking on clouds while the views whet your appetite for things to come.

My Favourite Hike Collection

To view the other hikes in the My Favourite HIke series on komoot, click on the Collection below...

My Favourite Hike

(Image credit: Future)

Growing up just south of the glorious Brecon Beacons National Park, Craig spent his childhood walking uphill. As he got older, the hills got bigger, and his passion for spending quality time in the great outdoors only grew - falling in love with wild camping, long-distance hiking, bikepacking and fastpacking. Having recently returned to the UK after almost a decade in Germany, he now focuses on regular micro-adventures in nearby Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons, as well as frequent trips to the Alps and beyond. You can follow his adventures over on komoot (opens in new tab), or visit www.craigtaylor.co (opens in new tab) for more info.