Brecon Beacons National Park
The Brecon Beacons Horseshoe Ridge Walk is a challenging and stunning mountain hike taking you to the summits of four peaks – Corn Du, Pen y Fan, Cribyn and Fan y Big
Hiking to Four Brecon Beacons Peaks
I have climbed Pen y Fan on numerous occasions over the years. These Pen y Fan walks have typically started from the two most popular locations just off the A470 to the west. These are the car parks opposite the Storey Arms Outdoor Education Centre and the Pont ar Daf Car Park a short distance to the south.
If you are looking for the easiest route up Pen y Fan, either of these two will be suitable. However, neither is particularly challenging and they are both typically busy hiking trails, especially on weekends.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I head out into nature, I certainly don’t want to be part of a long train of people heading to my destination. For the most part, I want to focus my attention on the beauty that surrounds me and not on the backpack of the individual walking a few metres ahead of me.
“The Pen y Fan walk from the Nant Cwm Llwch car park is also well worth trying”
Additionally, walking up Pen y Fan from either of these locations is pleasant enough but neither are the most exhilarating hikes. What’s more, you go up and back on the same trail, so there is limited variation too.
In April 2019, with a weekend of beautiful weather expected, I went searching for a Brecon Beacons walk that offered that little bit more. Not only was I looking for a hike that offered a significant challenge, but one that served up spectacular scenery as well.
What’s more, I fancied a circular hiking route that would help add that element of variety to the day’s adventure and of course, be a little less trafficked! When I came across the Brecon Beacons Horseshoe Walk, it appeared to be precisely what I was looking for.
Neuadd Reservoir Car Park
My sister, Marianne and Nephew, William decided to join me on this adventure. Perhaps I wasn’t totally forthcoming about the distance or precisely how challenging this hike was. Naughty me! Having advised them just how beautiful the weather was going to be, they really didn’t need much convincing.
So, we headed to the Neuadd car park in the Taf Fechan Forest, just a few miles to the southeast of the highest peaks in the Brecon Beacons. This was the starting point of our hike.
Directions to help you get there
Grid reference: SO036170
Neuadd Reservoir postcode (Nearest): CF48 2UT
Brecon Beacons Horseshoe – The Hike
The Brecon Beacons Horseshoe Ridge Walk or Pen y Fan Horseshoe Walk, as it is sometimes known, starts from the Neuadd car park and leads northwest along a narrow paved road.
Shortly, the roadside trees to the left-hand side end and you are treated (weather permitting) to a magnificent view up the Taf Fechan valley to the peaks of Corn Du and Pen y Fan.
After just under a 1 mile (1.6 km) you will reach the Lower Neuadd Reservoir. Go through the gate and head west (left) along the front ridge of the reservoir before passing through another gate.
Follow the obvious trail up the steep incline to the top of Craig Fan Ddu ridge. This section of the path starts fairly gently but as it progresses, so does the steepness. Just ask Marianne, you had to take a horizontal breather for 10 minutes during the climb!
Upon reaching the top, you will almost certainly want to catch your breath while appreciating the climb that you have just made.
At this point, turn right and follow the trail that now hugs the very edge of the ridge as it winds its way north. You will almost certainly find yourself mesmerised by the majesty and enormity of the Taf Fechan glacial valley that leads to the summits of Corn Du and Pen y Fan.
As you progress, the ridge narrows and you now get to enjoy the shallow sweeping Nant Crew valley that descends southwesterly towards the Cantref Reservoir.
Approaching Corn Du at Bwlch Duwynt, the Brecon Beacons Horseshoe Ridge Walk intercepts the Pen y Fan route from Pont ar Daf Car Park on the A470. You will now experience a significant rise in the volume of hikers heading mainly to the summit of Pen y Fan.
Where the paths join, there is also a fork in the trail leading right to Pen y Fan or left and up the steep incline to the summit of Corn Du. Take this left trail and shortly you will be at the top of the second-highest peak in South Wales at 873 m (2,864 ft).
Pen y Fan
From Corn Du, climbing Pen y Fan takes little more than 15 minutes. Firstly, you drop down into the saddle that joins the two peaks and then make the relatively gentle climb to the Brecon Beacons’ highest peak at 886 metres (2,907 ft). In fact, it is the highest British peak south of Cadair Idris in Snowdonia National Park.
The views from the summit of Pen y Fan are spectacular but only on a clear day can they truly be appreciated in all their glory. In every direction lay examples of the destructive, yet creative power of the last ice age.
The northern slopes of Pen y Fan drop sharply into the sweeping glacial valleys of Nant Sere and Nant Cwm Llwch separated by the Cefn Cwm Llwch ridge. To the west is the glacial lake of Llyn Cwm Llwch, whilst to the east sit the dramatic northern slopes of Cribyn.
The next section of the Brecon Beacons horseshoe ridge walk takes you in a westerly direction, sharply down Craig Cwm Sere. Beware, this section is slippery enough even when totally dry, so be extra careful if hiking in wet conditions.
Once you reach the dip between the two peaks, the steep ascent to the summit commences. Cribyn, the 3rd peak on the hike sits at 795 metres (2,608 ft).
Take some time to gaze back and you can see the almost vertical north-east face of Pen y Fan which slides dramatically into the Cwm Sere valley below.
Fan y Bîg
Now it’s time to make your way to the fourth and final peak on the Brecon Beacons Horseshoe walk. Head west along the northern ridge of the Cwm Cynwyn valley.
This leads you down to the Gap Road, a track first used to enable horse-drawn carriages the ability to pass through the Brecon Beacons. Nowadays, the Gap Road is a popular route for mountain bikers.
Once across the road, you can start your final ascent up the fairly steep incline to the summit of Fan y Big which sits at 719 metres (2,359 ft). Here, you simply must take that obligatory diving board photo with the three peaks that you have already ascended posing perfectly in the background.
The Fan y Big diving board is a flat rock that juts out over the ridge, sort of resembling a diving board. If you haven’t got a head for heights, you may just struggle with this one!
From Fan y Big, head south along the Craig Cwm Oergwm ridge, until it starts to veer off to the east (left). You will notice a large area of small rocks just off to the right of the path at this point.
Head straight on, diagonally down the slope until you intercept the Gap Road. Then, simply continue until the road veers to the right and joins the tarmac road adjacent to the Lower Neuadd Reservoir.
Follow this road back to your starting point at the Neuadd car park.
Brecon Beacons Horseshoe Ridge Walk – Q & As
How long is the Brecon Beacons Horseshoe Walk?
14.63 km (9.09 miles). Measured using our ViewRanger hiking app.
How long does the hike take?
We took a fairly leisurely 6 hours and 42 minutes to complete the horseshoe walk which included a number of stops, including lunch. Operating at a slightly brisker pace and with less time spent on rest breaks, I believe this time would be somewhere between 5 and 6 hours.
How difficult is the hike?
This is definitely a challenging hike and only suitable for those who are in decent physical shape. It is not only a long hike but there are some steep ascents thrown in for good measure too!
We found this to be a tough hike and we had the best possible weather conditions. Heaven knows how tough this would be with wind and rain thrown into the mix!
What should you take with you?
You should suitably prepare for any Brecon Beacons walks that you are planning. The horseshoe hike is not only long but high up and extremely exposed. The weather has a habit of changing rapidly in the Beacons, so wearing and carrying suitable hiking layers is a must.
Make sure you carry your waterproofs with you and of course wear a decent pair of hiking boots. You may think this is obvious advice but I am always stunned by the number of individuals who wear totally inappropriate footwear, even when hiking in the Brecon Beacons.
Of course, you need to carry a decent amount of water and a sufficient quantity of energy snacks. I always like to carry a plentiful supply of dried fruit and nuts because just a handful of these help give me that extra boost as and when I require it.
Brecon Beacons Horseshoe Ridge Walk – Our Thoughts
This really is a stunning hike! If like me, you are on the lookout for interesting Brecon Beacons circular walks, this is without doubt one to add to the list. There are plenty of Pen y Fan walking routes but this will challenge you and enchant you in equal measure.
Do try and pick a day when visibility is good as you will be blessed with views that will last long in your memory!
If you would you like to hear what others are saying about the Brecon Beacons Horseshoe Ridge Walk, head on over to TripAdvisor.
If you have any questions about the walk, or would simply like to share your experience, please do so in the comment box below…
Like Our Article? Please Pin it!
Brian Jones says
A good account but why is it called the “horseshoe” ridge?
Gavin Evans says
Thanks for the comment Brian. It is called the Horseshoe ridge walk because the trail follows the ridges that wrap around the Blaen Taf Fechan Valley. Firstly, you climb up to the Craig Fan Ddu ridge (westerly section), then cross the head of the valley from Corn Du to Pen y Fan (northerly section) and then head southeasterly along the ridges of Crain Swm Sere & Craig Cwm Cynwyn to Fan y Big. Granted, it’s a crudely shaped horseshoe.