My Favourite Hike: Pontsticill Reservoir in the Brecon Beacons

Pontsticill Reservoir
The serene waters of Pontsticill Reservoir are gorgeous on a still day, and home to a wide range of wildlife (Image credit: gazadavies93 / Shutterstock)

Next in our My Favourite Hike, Advnture editor Cat Ellis takes you on a relaxed tour around the stunning Pontsticill Reservoir (or Taf Fechan) in the Brecon Beacons. It’s a relaxing route with great opportunities for wildlife watching. 

“The water and woodland are bustling habitats for birds,” Cat says. “Keep your binoculars handy – if you’re really lucky, you might even catch sight of a rare black kite.”

Pontsticill Reservoir/Taf Fechan

The route

  • Start / Finish: Pant
  • Distance:  ~18km/11 miles
  • Elevation gain: 312 metres/1,025 feet
  • Difficulty level: Intermediate
  • Duration: ~5 hours

If you’ve just tackled Pen y Fan, this hike around the reservoir will make a welcome break. The difficulty level is intermediate, and the reservoir and nearby steam railway make navigation straightforward. Make sure you take a compass and map though, plus a waterproof jacket and sturdy hiking boots for the temperamental Welsh weather.

You’ll enjoy some beautiful scenery just two miles in, and the reservoir itself is stunning in good weather. You might also want to take a pair of binoculars to help you catch sight of some uncommon waterbirds. 

Spotted wood butterfly near Pontsticill Reservoir

Keep your eyes open for birds, animals, and insects like this spotted wood butterfly (Image credit: Cat Ellis)

Why I love Pontsticill Reservoir

This is a relaxed route that gives you the opportunity to absorb the sights and sounds of the Welsh countryside, and spot some unusual flora and fauna if you keep your eyes peeled. I’d recommend allowing a full day so you can take your time and soak the experience. There’s a lot to take in, particularly if you choose to pause for a spot of birdwatching, and you won’t want to hurry,

The hike begins in the little village of Pant on the northern edge of Merthyr Tydfil, which is also the start of the Brecon Mountain Railway (something that’s well worth trying on another occasion). Whether you start within the village itself or at the station car park, begin by heading west, past the cemetery, and make your way downstream to the route’s first highlight: Pontsarn Blue Pool, or Pwll Glas - part of Taf Fechan Nature Reserve. There is a section of railway line here, but it’s long abandoned, and the area has been reclaimed by nature.

Ancient woodland near Pontsticill Reservoir

You’ll pass through ancient woodland above the reservoir (Image credit: G-Dog / Shutterstock)

From here, head northwest until you meet the Taff Trail, and follow it westward until you hit the picturesque Pontsarn viaduct with its seven arches. It’s then a simple matter of following the trail alongside the river until you’re within sight of Pontsticill Reservoir itself. There’s a particularly good viewing point about halfway up the reservoir where the trail meets a small bridge. 

Once you reach the main crossing (there was once a good pub here, but it’s now sadly closed) head east towards Dol-y-Gaer, then follow the train south between the water and the railway. You’ll lose sight of the reservoir through the trees at points, but there are points when you can drop down for a better look. 

Once you’re 7.4 miles in, you can either continue following the railway all the way back to the start, or make things more interesting with a climb through the ancient woodland before heading back down to Pant.

Steam train on Brecon Mountain Railway

On the return leg you’ll walk parallel to the Brecon Mountain Railway, so look out for passing steam engines (Image credit: Jon Drew / Shutterstock)

Pontsticill Reservoir highlight: The Blue Pool

Only a few short miles from Pant, you’ll come across the Taf Fechan Gorge, where the water gushes and eddies into a deep pool. The surrounding area is densely wooded, and a haven for wildlife.

Taf Fechan falls into Blue Pool

In the Taf Fechan Gorge, water cascades into the Blue Pool. Image used under Creative Commons Attribution license (Image credit: Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project)

My Favourite Hike Collection

To see the other hikes in the series on komoot, click on the Collection below...

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.