Jan Kraus
22 July 2022photo story8 min read

Sunset and sunrise at the Beacons Horseshoe

Only a few weeks later, after my long hike in Brecon Beacons Mountains, I returned to the same mountains visiting the most spectacular parts, known as the Beacons Horseshoe.

This photo essay is a recording of a 2 days hike at the Brecon Beacons, with around 50km of distance and an overnight camp on the summit. Enjoy.

Preparations

The decision to go back there was rather spontaneous. On Friday evening, I felt the nudge to go somewhere, and the plan quickly crystallized in my head. I booked some cheap tickets on Megabus and packed my rucksack with the necessary gear.

From my past experience, I knew that my backpack was quite heavy to carry, so I tried to reduce a bit of weight this time. I’ve definitely managed to do it by replacing the tent with a bivvy bag - a new addition to my hiking gear. The weather forecast was good, so I was keen to try it.

I also packed less food and fewer clothes as I was only going overnight. The weight was still noticeable but definitely easier to carry than the last time. Finally, I exchanged hiking boots with well-worn trail running shoes.

My plan was to travel on Saturday morning to Cardiff and then by train to Merthyr Tydfil. From there, I would hike to Fan Y Big, stay there overnight and then, through Pen Y Fan, walk back to the town and return to London on Sunday evening.

Day 1: Merthyr Tydfil to the Brecon Beacons

It was early afternoon when I left the train station. The first hours of my walk followed the Taff Trail path, following the river Taf Fechan to Pontsticill Reservoir.

A view from Taff Trail, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, UK
A view from Taff Trail, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, UK

River Taf Fechan, Taff Trail, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, UK
River Taf Fechan, Taff Trail, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, UK

Old rail tunnel at Taff Trail, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, UK
Old rail tunnel at Taff Trail, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, UK

It took me around 3 hours to reach the Pontsticill village, where I stopped for short but well-expected rest and some refreshing pint!

Pontsticill Reservoir and Taf Fechan Forest

A road leading towards Taf Fechan Forest, Wales, UK
A road leading towards Taf Fechan Forest, Wales, UK

Now feeling re-energized, I continued the walk on the west side of Pontsticill Reservoir.

A view of Pontsticill Reservoir, Wales, UK
A view of Pontsticill Reservoir, Wales, UK

A view of Pontsticill Reservoir, Wales, UK
A view of Pontsticill Reservoir, Wales, UK

The views were quite pleasant but what held my attention was the Taf Fechan Forest. I was following a dirt road that led through the woods. The trees seemed old, abandoned, forgotten. There was a lot of damage from wind, fallen trees, and broken branches.

An old tree at Taf Fechan Forest, Wales, UK
An old tree at Taf Fechan Forest, Wales, UK

There was something special about it, though. Tree trunks covered by green moss. Sun rays peeked through the thick canopy of firs and pines.

Taf Fechan Forest, Wales, UK
Taf Fechan Forest, Wales, UK

The stillness of the place was captivating.

Taf Fechan Forest, Wales, UK
Taf Fechan Forest, Wales, UK

In my mind, I named it an “enchanted” forest. Especially one moment struck me, when I stumbled onto a small clearing (just a few meters off the road) looking like a hidden, wild, miniature moss garden.

A view of Pontsticill Reservoir, Wales, UK
A view of Pontsticill Reservoir, Wales, UK

Up to the ridges of Brecon Beacons Mountains

In the late afternoon, I finally got closer to my primary destination, the heart of Brecon Beacons mountains. The weather was perfect: sunny and warm with almost spottles sky.

View of Allt Forgan and Blaen-Y-Glyn Forrest, Brecon Beacons, Wales, UK
View of Allt Forgan and Blaen-Y-Glyn Forrest, Brecon Beacons, Wales, UK

The climb was quite steep. But I was enjoying every minute, absorbing views uncovered as I reached the higher grounds.

View on a hill climb at Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
View on a hill climb at Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

The views at the top were just plain amazing. I was maybe 2 hours from sunrise. The golden light began to slowly flush the slopes of valleys, painting everything in warm green colours.

View from Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
View from Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

View from Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
View from Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

View from Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
View from Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

I’ve spent some time there taking pictures and flying a drone (still one of my very first attempts) to capture some videos of this stunning atmosphere.

But the sun began quickly setting at the horizon. I left the spot and rushed to the opposite side of the ridge to get a clear view of the sunset over Fan Y Big.

Made it there just in time.

Sunset over Fan Y Big

It’s hard to describe in words how beautiful was the scenery of this place. I dropped my backpack on the ground and just lay on the side of the path, watching everything around me.

Sunset over Fan Y Big, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Sunset over Fan Y Big, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

The words that came to my mind at that moment were “wow”, “oh-my-god”, “wtf”, “amazing”, “oooh”, and so and so on. I couldn’t believe how stunning the views were.

Sunset over Fan Y Big, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Sunset over Fan Y Big, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

It’s hard to describe what’s so captivating about this kind of view. Shapes, texture, colours? Is it the dramatic difference in heights, steep slopes and sharp ridges? The smoothness of the sides of the valley with its bed cut by the streams?

Sunset over Fan Y Big, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Sunset over Fan Y Big, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

Sunset over Fan Y Big, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Sunset over Fan Y Big, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

Or maybe just everything altogether, enhanced by the magic of the golden hour light?

Sunset over Fan Y Big, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Sunset over Fan Y Big, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

One thing I knew was that it was a happy place, and I cherished every moment of being there.

Day 2: The Beacons Horseshoe ridge

I camped in a spot on the side, on top of the ridge in front of Fan Y Big. It was a bit windy in the night, but the bivvy setup was okay. There was a bit of condensation in the bag, and the sleep wasn’t as comfortable as it would be in a tent, but these were the trade-offs I was willing to accept.

The sleep wasn’t long anyway; the sunrises in the summer are early. I got up just after 4AM, packed my stuff and went to admire another set of beautiful views.

Sunrise over Fan Y Big

Right after I left my camping spot, I was greeted with gorgeous scenery.

Early morning views at Fan Y Big ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Early morning views at Fan Y Big ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

Early morning views at Fan Y Big ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Early morning views at Fan Y Big ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

The mood was different than in the evening of the day before. It was calm, peaceful, still. The sky was getting brighter, and I was waiting for the sun to come out.

Finally, it rose from behind the horizon!

Sunrise seen from Fan Y Big ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Sunrise seen from Fan Y Big ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

Sunrise seen from Fan Y Big ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Sunrise seen from Fan Y Big ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

Sunrise seen from Fan Y Big ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Sunrise seen from Fan Y Big ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

I stayed on Fan Y Big peak for at least an hour: drinking morning coffee, flying a drone and taking more photos of everything around me.

Walking the horseshoe

Views from hiking on the Beacons Horseshoe ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Views from hiking on the Beacons Horseshoe ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

I spent the whole morning hiking along The Beacons Horseshoe ridge, through Cribyn, Pen y Fan (highest peak) and Corn Du. The weather was great with a clear blue sky, although I could feel it was getting hotter and hotter towards midday.

Views from hiking on the Beacons Horseshoe ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Views from hiking on the Beacons Horseshoe ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

Views from hiking on the Beacons Horseshoe ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Views from hiking on the Beacons Horseshoe ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

Views from hiking on the Beacons Horseshoe ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Views from hiking on the Beacons Horseshoe ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

This trail is a spectacular highlight of Brecon Beacons Mountains, offering stunning, unforgettable s views in all directions.

Views from hiking on the Beacons Horseshoe ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Views from hiking on the Beacons Horseshoe ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

The highest peak, Pen Y Fan, isn’t even that high in terms of the absolute height measuring just 886 m. But the views from the top are amazing!

Views from hiking on the Beacons Horseshoe ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Views from hiking on the Beacons Horseshoe ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

Views from hiking on the Beacons Horseshoe ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Views from hiking on the Beacons Horseshoe ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

Just look at this stunning panorama from the top!

Panoramic view of the Beacons Horseshoe ridge taken near Pen Y Fan, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Panoramic view of the Beacons Horseshoe ridge taken near Pen Y Fan, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

Back to Merthyr Tydfil

I ate a pack of rehydrated veggie tikka meal for breakfast while sitting on a hill overlooking Pen Y Fan from the other side of the valley. The trail was getting busy with people who also decided to enjoy Sunday in the mountains.

I was glad, though, that most of the morning, I had almost everything only to myself.

Last look at Pen Y Fan, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Last look at Pen Y Fan, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

I took one last look at Pen Y Fan and then departed for a long hike back to Merthyr Tydfil.

It was a long and exhausting walk. The weather got hotter, and the sun was shining hard. I joined back parts of Taff Trail leading along LLwyn-on Reservoir. Still, the trail wasn’t interesting at all, and I was just counting the kilometres left to reach the train station and get back home.

After around 8+ hours and a total of 30km, I finally reached the town. I definitely felt a bit beaten up from the long hike. I think I was a bit dehydrated as well. I didn’t have as much water with me. While I refilled my LifeStraw water bottle a couple times along the way, I still felt thirsty and a bit weak at the end.

But I’ve done it and got on a train back to Cardiff. The funny thing is that the train was delayed and I had to run for a couple of minutes in Cardiff to reach the coach station. I’ve literally made it at the last minute before departure!

Views from Corn Du at the Beacons Horseshoe ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK
Views from Corn Du at the Beacons Horseshoe ridge, Brecon Beacons Mountains, Wales, UK

All in all, the Brecon Beacons Horseshoe was one of the best places I’ve visited in the UK. And while I plan to discover some more, this one will definitely stay in my memory, and perhaps I will see it more than once!

Until next time!

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