For many years I have ventured away from the conventional paths to seek out new views, discover hidden waterfalls, gorges and gullies and sadly, also, bogs and couch grass when I might have regretted the decision to wander.
I have worked as a voluntary lengthsman with the National Trust for sixteen years so the Pont ar Daf path, Storey Arms path and the Cribyn contour path are a bit of a busman’s holiday for me (except under snow of course) and people are amazed when I tell them my destination for the day might be the gullies of Pen Milan or the glacial features of Cwm Crew etc.
The source of the Taf Fawr is such an “off piste” sort of place.I generally refrain from using the English “Taff” because of it’s association with labels (I went to an English University) – anyway what’s wrong with using the original language as the OS does to it’s credit? It is an indistinct sort of place and exactly which pool is the source is best left to the experts-grid reference 220993. At least, unlike the Taf Fechan, you can pinpoint the gully or slight depression in the surface. It is a very wet place also and great care is needed where you place your feet.
Only a few metres to the north, over the brow of the col (bwlch in Welsh) connecting Y Gyrn with Pen Milan is the watershed where the streams flow to the Tarell and hence to the Usk which empties into the Hafren (Severn) or Bristol Channel at Newport instead of the Taf Fawr at Cardiff.
b. A fascinating area of “moon country” below the Tommy Jones obelisk although it is not as extensive or treacherous as it’s cousin at the head of Caerfanell.
c. The history of the obelisk mentioned is recorded in detail elsewhere and remains a great magnet for walkers and the curious alike. It is a magnificent viewpoint for the Beacons and west to Fforest Fawr.
e. The Taf Fawr separates the two main access points to Pen y Fan, Pont ar Daf and Storey Arms, which both reflect the tremendous work of the NT rangers and volunteers. Sadly appeals galore are made with respect to the pathwork in Eryri and the Lake District but the Beacons rarely get the limelight.
The Taf Fechan has a number of firsts for me.
It was the first place from where I saw the Beacons close up when a driver took a group of youngsters from our church on a tour of South Wales. We made our way over Gelligaer Common to the Lower Neuadd.
Soon afterwards,as a consequence, a group of friends on our motorbikes parked at the Neuadd and walked the Gap road and on up to Cribyn and it’s false summits.
The Taf Fechan is also where I started work as a NT volunteer in February 1998, walking the Gap road, Cribyn contour path, Craig Cwm Sere and Cribyn’s west ridge. This is also where I first developed tennis elbow as a result of carrying a heavy spade so far.
Photos of the incomparable view of the peaks around the Neuadd horseshoe from Dol y Gaer bridge were the basis of my first home-grown calendar.
This walk has always been a delight over the years especially after periods of heavy rain. I tried my utmost to stick to what, on the ground at least, looked to be the main stream on a NW bearing. The OS map suggests that a stream and gully near to the Pen y Fan pyramid goes further North but, on the ground, the main stream appears to flow slightly West of that below the Corn Du/Pen y Fan contour path. Many people stop at that point to have a sandwich also-not that this has any geographical significance. When in amongst the gullied slopes the Pen y Fan gully gives the impression of being a tributary not a main stream. When I struggled up the main gully (grid ref’212011) there were crowds of walkers on the contour path above appearing as if in the upper tier of a theatre-did they notice me barely 100 metres away?
What did they think if they did? Why take such a hard route? No one would regret tracing the Taf Fechan to it’s source. Strangely on my last visit I found a full size Mitre football 200 metres below the contour path which someone had rolled down the steep slope from the contour path. The parties which visit Pen y Fan for all sorts of bizarre reasons are now becoming a serious issue for erosion and access.
Guide book writers have condemned these grassy slopes as bland but I challenge that as the gullies, cascades and outcrops together with the western ramparts of Craig Gwaun Taf and Rhiw yr Ysgyfarnog are so impressive.
Within a mile or so of the source are the Gap road, Bwlch ar y Fan and the terraced ramparts of Graig Fan Ddu. The Gap road, despite being closed to all vehicles, remains the target of unscrupulous motorbike riders and still the occasional four wheel driver.
The twin beacon summits separate the two sources described.Much has been written about them (including four photobooks of my own) as befits the highest point in Southern Britain. The col of Bwlch y Duwynt is the passage which facilitates the easiest crossing between the sources. It is a busy axis of many paths and routes with wonderful views to all points of the compass but not a place to linger on a windy day as it’s name implies. Many miles to the south you can view the ridges around which the Taf Fechan winds it’s course south and west to meet it’s larger neighbour but the source areas are worthy of close attention.