Tag: brecon beacons

A Personal View of The Sources; Taf Fawr and Taf Fechan

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. 


Brecon Beacons International Dark Sky Reserve

Did you know that on a clear night above the Brecon Beacons stargazers are able to see the Milky Way, as well as numerous major constellations, bright nebulas and even meteor showers? In fact, the Brecon Beacons has some of the highest quality dark skies in the whole of the UK – making it the perfect destination to visit to get a better view of the night sky.

We think that this is something worth shouting so the National Park Authority teamed up with the Brecon Beacons Park Society to apply to the International Dark-Sky Association to become Wales’ first International Dark Sky Reserve – which we were awarded in 2013!

This highly prestigious status – given to only a handful of international destinations – creates new opportunities for tourism and the local economy, helps residents and visitors enjoy them  and preserves our magical night skies for future generations.  It also helps protect a whole host of nocturnal creatures that need dark nights to forage, hunt and migrate. 

Dark Sky Reserve status is a prestigious award given to only a handful of destinations that can prove they have an outstanding quality of night sky. They must also pledge to reduce light pollution to enhance the quality of this amazing asset. 

The award is given by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), a United States based non-profit organization founded in 1988. Its mission is “to preserve and protect the night-time environment and our heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting." 

Residents living within the Brecon Beacons National Park are encouraged to get involved in the initiative and see how reducing their light pollution could save them money on their energy bills and enhance their own views of the night sky. 

Although large areas of the National Park remain free from light pollution, the gradual encroachment of street, house and security lights means that starlight, which may have travelled for hundreds or even millions of years to reach our eyes, is stolen from us at the last moment by this sky glow. 

You may not have given consideration to this before but there are many simple things that you can do in your own home to protect our dark nights – and probably reduce your energy bills too. For example, you could use low wattage bulbs, fit exterior lights with motion detectors, shield exterior lights or tilt them towards the ground and switch off lights when you don’t need them.  

If you’re intrigued, you can join a stargazing event. Some hotels and B&Bs also have telescopes which guests can use. But you’ll be amazed at what you can see, even without a telescope! 

Choose a clear night and find a spot that’s free from night glow – it could simply be a garden. Take binoculars – they will help you get a better view of the stars.

Looking north on a clear night between January and March, you should be able to see the Plough. It isn’t a constellation, but part of a constellation called Ursa Major, Latin for Great Bear. Polaris, otherwise known as the North Star, can be found by following the line of the two ‘pointer’ stars in the Plough. Polaris is positioned above the North Pole, and remains in the same place in the sky throughout the night, while the other stars rotate around it. It has been used for navigation for centuries. Also look out for the Perseid Meteor Shower, peaking in mid August. 

It’s not just the stars that come out at night, there are plenty of nocturnal animals too. If you pick the right spot you might be lucky enough to see some of our rarest creatures of the night including barn owls, lesser horseshoe bats and other bat species, foxes, badgers, dormice, hedgehogs, moths and insects. These creatures all rely on dark nights to hunt their prey.

New research has revealed that light pollution not only limits the visibility of stars, but also disturbs the navigational patterns of nocturnal animals. This has contributed to the decline of many of our native nocturnal species.

Dave Ward (Flickr).

Some suggestions of where to go stargazing (click on OS location to see Google map): 

Usk Reservoir

OS 835285 N51.56.58 W03.41.55

The car park area at Usk reservoir is a beautiful place to have a family picnic as well as an ideal place to enjoy outstanding dark skies. The large flat area allows set up of telescopes and the road access from Trecastle means it is easily accessible. This area enjoys a naked eye limiting magnitude of 6.4 and is protected from the light pollution of the South Wales valleys. 

Crai Reservoir

OS 886210 N51.54.52 W03.35.12

This reservoir is not as accessible as Usk, but a short drive down an access lane allows the set up of telescopes to enjoy stargazing down to a limiting magnitude of 6.37. There are also laybys along the A4607 which provide ideal places to enjoy the beauty of the dark skies. 

Llanthony Priory

OS 288278 N51.56.41 W03.02.11

One of the most beautiful ruined buildings in the care of CADW, Llanthony Priory has pristine skies and is situated along the Offa’s Dyke Path just on the Welsh-English border, with skies that have a limiting magnitude of 6.35. The priory is set in one of the most charming areas to observe in Wales. 

Hay Bluff

OS 242361 N 52.01.43 W03.06.34

The road over Gospel Pass from Llanthony to Hay-on-Wye brings you to the car park on Hay Bluff, a hill overlooking the Wye valley with great views over Powys and Shropshire to the distant north-west. The skies have a limiting magnitude of 6.34. The town of Hay is the largest centre of second hand bookshops outside of London, making this a good place to look for astronomy titles. 

National Park Visitor Centre (Mountain Centre)

OS 878264 N51.56.02 W 03.28.40

The visitor centre is signposted at the village of Libanus on the main A470 road and is very accessible both day and night. Enjoying skies with a limiting magnitude of 6.37, the centre is one of the best and most accessible areas to set up telescopes and is within an hour’s drive of every one of the South Wales valleys.

The Brecon Beacons National Park’s website offers some more advice about their Dark Sky Reserve, and local astronomical societies, here – www.breconbeacons.org/stargazing.