A revisit to the Wild Side, Drygarn Fawr from the Elan Valley   10 comments

Oh dear, still playing catch up with the blog. Been busy with a couple of weekends away in Scotland so things have been neglected. Time to correct that

Waaaay back in late February we had a spell of pleasant weather just before the recent cold snap took hold. I’ve been introducing TJS to some of the easier mountain walks in the Brecons and Black Mountains so I thought it was time to up the ante and introduce him to wilder, more remote and taxing terrain. I’ve fell in love last year with the Cwmdeuddwr Hills  south of the Elan Valley and they fitted the bill for this trip. This time I’d approach them from the north from the end of the Caban Coch Reservoir by way of contrast

Drygarn Fawr

Despite a promising forecast it was gloomy when I got up but showing signs of brightness as we set off. By the time we reached the Elan Valley the clouds has dispersed and were treated to a glorious blue sky day. It felt almost spring-like as we set off

Waun Lydan, caban coch reservoir

Waun Lydan from the start of the walk

The first part of the route is along a wide track that leads to Rhiwnant Valley. The scenery was just magnificent under the blue skies and the Rhiwnant looked superb as it opened up to the west. We’d be heading down that way later and I was already looking forward to exploring it’s hidden corners.

Rhiwnant Valley

Trees in the lower Rhiwnant Valley

Rhiwnant Valley

TJS on the approach path

Rhiwnant Valley

Rhiwnant Valley

Our upward route took us up the very broad valley of the Nant Paradwys. I’d warned TJS of the rather wet and soggy underfoot conditions we’d be likely to experience and I’d put my heavier leather boots on to cope. The wide track soon turned into a sketchy path but it was pretty much dry all the way onto the plateau that held our summits for the day. The scenery up here is not dramatic but it is beautiful in an austere way and as I say I love it up here. There is an immense sense of openness and space that’s hard to find outside the wild moors of Scotland. I’ve not walked anywhere quite like it south of the Border and I hope TJS was enjoying it too

Nant Paradwys

TJS in the Nant Paradwys valley


TJS on Carnau summit

We stopped for a brief snack on the summit of Carnau and soaked up the atmosphere. It was beautifully still and peaceful with barely a breath of wind and not a soul in sight. Time to head across the vast emptiness that lies between Carnau and Drygarn Fawr. Navigation here in mist would be a real challenge and the last time I was up here it was a squelchy plod through the water filled grassy hollows. I’d warned TJS about this but to my surprise it was frozen and turned into a very easy and rather splendid romp across the parched grass all the way to the summit in less than an hour.

drygarn fawr, carnau

TJS on the wild land between Carnau and Drygarn Fawr

drygarn fawr

Drygarn Fawr from the east top

There was a cool breeze blowing on the top, a reminder that winter was still very much with us. Tucked away behind the huge summit beehive thingy on the eastern summit it was sheltered and warm and made for a perfect lengthy lunch stop. The views were just splendid and I was as happy as a pig in whatever with my cuppa and sandwiches. TJS is still a bit of an itchy feet hiker and hasn’t quite grasped the lazing around on a walk concept that I’ve been perfecting.

drygarn fawr

Father and Son

drygarn fawr

TJS on Drygarn Fawr summit ridge

Compelled to move we took a wander to the higher west summit top “bag the summit” as it were. We chatted briefly to a very nice couple and their dog on the summit, the only people we saw all day

Drygarn Fawr

TJS on Drygarn Fawr Summit

After lingering on the top until we were cold we pressed on, it was quite a long walk after all. After reading Mr Backpackingbongos account of a little backpack up here I was keen to check out the summit of Carreg Yr Ast where he’d spent the night. Sound choice, it was a superb spot perched over the Rhiwnant Valley and I made a promise to come back for an overnight in the spring or summer. We headed down, reluctantly as always on such a fine day to the valley below. A treat was in store with first a succession of tumbling waterfalls falling into the upper Rhiwnant Valley


Waterfalls on the Nant Yr Ast

From there the Rhiwnant Valley is just a delight. A narrow grassy valley with a tinkling stream at it’s heart. A narrow grassy path follows it down and under the electric blue sky it was a joy. I’m a sucker for these wild valleys and their waterfalls and the promise I’d seen from earlier was more than fulfilled. I could have sat on a boulder or a grassy strip for hours and just absorbed it all. Trouble is TJS feet were still itchy

Rhiwnant Valley

Upper Rhiwnant Valley

Rhiwnant Valley

Upper Rhiwnant Valley

Rhiwnant Valley

Upper Rhiwnant Valley

As we approached the lower part of the valley we’d seen earlier in the day the low angle of the sun meant we were in the shade. Where the Nant y Carw joins is the most beautiful pool backed by a waterfall and narrow gorge. On summers day this would be an idyllic spot for a picnic with a spot of swimming and river play. I’ll be back here if summer ever makes an appearance. The photograph below really doesn’t do it justice

Nant y Carw

Waterfalls on Nant y Carw

Onwards and downwards into the broader lower valley, past the old mine workings with an ever deepening blue sky overhead.

Rhiwnant Valley

Lower Rhiwnant Valley

Just before the path rejoins the track we’d started on earlier in the day there was a patch of what looked like Scots Pine on the opposite bank. Yet another truly marvellous spot to loiter to add to the many we’d seem throughout the day

Rhiwnant Valley

TJS rests in the spring sunshine

Rhiwnant Valley

Sun on the water

It was one of those days that even with tired legs and feet it was a real disappointment to reach the car and end the walk. One of those days when you just want to keep on walking. We both felt that winter was over and this was the first walk of the spring – wrong!

Gurnos, Pen Garn Ddu

Gurnos & Pen Garn Ddu

As a side note in stupidity I use a tool called Endomondo to create GPS tracks of my walks. When I got home it turns out that walk was a little longer than I thought. 58 miles over 9 hours with an average speed of 9mph and a top speed of 84 mph. Not bad for an ageing hiker and his young son in a day. Obviously helps if you remember to turn the tracking off BEFORE you get into the car and drive home. 🙂


10 responses to “A revisit to the Wild Side, Drygarn Fawr from the Elan Valley

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  1. Blimey…that’s one major cairn! Why?
    Looks idyllic. Truly, the sun always shines in South Wales. Except when we’re there obviously.
    The music fits the images beautifully. Sadly, I’ve heard, from the horse’s mouth, that Diesel Therapy are no more. On a related note (see what I did there?) Stiff Little Fingers and The Men They Couldn’t Hang are playing in Preston on the 18th May. Interested?


    • Lots of the hills of mid Wales have these big cairns, I’ve tried to google an answer but nothing came up. They are rather impressive though. The high level area is wild and untamed and the valleys are gorgeous. I’ve spent 2 full good weather days up here and seen 2 people in total.
      Shame about Diesel Therapy. Send me an email about the 18th May or I’ll forget, would have to be a weekend though


  2. The weather looks perfect! The pictures are great – I particularly like the fourth picture of the Rhiwnant Valley and the picture of Gurnos & Pen Garn Ddu.


  3. You have captured the essense of this fantastic area rather well Andy. However what is up with the sky, why is it not a grey colour? I do like the fact that you enjoy a nice sit down on a walk. A walk is best done whilst siting comfortably I always say.


  4. It’s all down to a quick color find and replace in Photoshop – it was a really dull day 🙂
    It’s a truly magnificent area the needs a lot more exploration. Those open spaces up high and the hidden depths of the valleys are up with the very best and it’s only about an hour from where I live.
    Lazing around on a walk is essential, my stops have become even longer since I discovered the delights of the Jetboil for a fresh brew, much to the annoyance of some of summit bagging obsessed mates (GM are you reading this)


  5. What amazing views! And a fantastic looking day weather-wise too 🙂 Your son will be organising you on routes before you know it…


    • It’s a truly grand place up there, a real hidden and little known gem. Fantastic day! I need to get TJS onto route planning and map work. He likes to follow a guidebook but hasn’t yet got into map work. I’m probably the worst teacher as I tend to just make it up as I go and I’m a tad hopeless with a compass.


  6. What a great walk, we were there in March but weren’t so lucky with the sunshine. It still rates as one of my most enjoyable weekends though. Have you stayed in wilderness hostel in that area? (some info about it on my blog post: http://overgroundandunderground.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/elan-valley-march-13.html) We too enjoyed the frozen bog! I want to go back this summer for a camp by the falls


    • This area is so under-rated (and therefore so very quiet and unspoilt). I’ve two amazing days up there now and it begs so much more exploration. The summits are open and wild and the valleys just stunning. I’m planning a camp up on the summit if I get the weather for it. I’ll check your blog post for a look at the bothy


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