Though no other UK mountain is as high as those in Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons National Park is a stunning mountainous area of southern Wales.
It’s best described as moorland for the most part, and at times in poor visibility you could end up lost unless you are well equipped and ready for the eventualities of hill and mountain walking.
The walks we describe range in length from over 300 miles to a gentler eight.
The Cambrian Way is arguably the toughest multi-day walk in the UK owing to its days of high ascents and considerable navigation skill required to march over all the highest peaks of Wales.
The eight mile Brecon Horseshoe will leave un-prepared legs stiff and sore for a few days (as I’ve experienced!) so though we compare these walks to others nationally, they are still challenging and downright hard going at times.
So let’s start with the brute that is the Cambrian Way first and ease down to the shortest, eight mile brute of the Brecon Horseshoe at the end.
Yes, we do mean 25,200 metres of ascent! In old money that’s over 82,000 feet.
Never mind a comparison to measly old Everest, the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere is close to 100,000 feet from the ground so if it was 100% uphill you’d be almost in Space!
Some days are relatively gentle – Day 11 between Dylife and Comins Coch is only 340 metres of ascent but many days are over 1,000 metres of climbing including the murderous 39km Day 14 leg from Barmouth to Maentwrog involving 2,400 metres of ascent.
This brute of a walk is unmarked largely but for a guidebook on the matter that will tell you each stage in detail.
Not only is it a leg killing three week adventure, you’ll need expert navigation skills to manage it as not only is the route not way-marked, you’ll need to navigate sections of moorland with map and compass.
The walk was planned as a National Trail when there were proposals for a Cambrian Mountain National Park, but with the failure of the bid, so this route remains a theory only.
Dare you test it out?
We are generally cautious when offering a 5/5 difficulty rating when it comes to treks but the Cambrian Way deserves it in terms of length of days on the route, height gained and navigation skills required to manage it.
If you are planning Everest or Antarctica one day this could be a sound domestic preparation before planning some high altitude treks in future. Your legs will be up to anything you can throw at them after this walk!
In reward you will take in the best sights to be had in Wales – if you appreciate them through the exhaustion and pain of ascents and descents!
The Beacons Way
By no means as extreme as the Cambrian Way but a tough nut of a trek nonetheless.
While the Snowdonia legs of the Cambrian Way involve 2,000 metres of ascent in a day, this includes a still-challenging 1,110 metres of ascent on one of the days.
We add half a point to the difficulty as the Beacons Way isn’t the best signposted route and you will find navigation challenging at times.
Elite soldiers from the British Army do fitness train in the Brecon Beacons, and though this means you may see young upstarts with far heavier backpacks than you going like the clappers on some of this walk, the fact they use this region is testament to its difficulty at times.
Just because it is tough doesn’t lessen the rewards to be had for your eyes – an often bleak yet beautiful wilderness that goes on and on for days.
Though B&B hopping is possible on the route, be equipped for sudden weather changes and to take a break rather than push on regardless.
As a final note, the route was changed in 2005, adding some miles, and it is advisable to use this website to get the exact details.
Sarn Helen Roman Road
The Romans liked straight, long roads.
That’s one of the easiest elements of this walk – it has a few wiggles but for the most part you’re following a straight line on the map.
This isn’t to say you’re on the flat – far from it!
You have two major peaks on the route (by Brecon Beacon standards – not huge) and will need to be quite fit to manage it.
One highlight of the walk is treading on the actual cobbles laid by the Romans for a stretch.
Let your imagination wander back 2000 years as you do…
Locals recommend that even a fit person should take this on over two days as the climbs are challenging.
For a walk like this you’ll need a fair bit of kit for a day long trip so you may as well dial back and wilderness camp on the route.
Llanthony and the Vale of Ewyas Horseshoe
In the days that the Twmpa mountain was renamed in honour of the local Lord the name didn’t have the same definition as it does today.
Still, we get to tell you it’s worth your while climbing the Knob as the views are amazing!
The walk does involve 906 metres of climbing but much of that is gentle up on the ridgeway.
If you are planning on taking on this route, consider camping in Llanthony overnight before and after so you can get a full day-lit day on the hill.
29 kilometres with climbing is a big day out!
Llanthony and the Vale of Ewyas
As with all the walks so far your legs are in for a beating on this one.
The Vale of Ewyas is a deep valley and you will be presented with some hard climbs.
That said, including the bothy close to where you leave and finish on the walk, and the Llanthony Priory ruins, you are in for some great views on this walk.
Deep in the Brecon Beacons you will have some great long distance views too.
Local experts recommend you camp at a farm campsite, not least because there’s a great pub nearby the old priory.
Waun Fach and Grwyne Fawr Reservoir
You start this walk in the Mynydd Du Forest and climb to above the tree-line onto the open moorland of the high mountains here.
There are different versions of the route out there – some successful and others had to fight through bracken to get to the mountain path.
As such you need to know what you’re doing with an OS map and compass, particularly connecting from the forest track onto the mountain track.
That can be a fun navigation exercise!
Once on the moorland at the top, the view of Black Mountain in the distance is stunning.
The highest point is Waun Fach mountain, with its rounded top.
Local advice is only to do this walk if you are competent in navigation in poor visibility as you could end up lost and in trouble.
Fan Brycheiniog and Picws Du Walk
With two glacier lakes below you and the fantastic scenery of the Brecon Beacons to boot, this is quite a walk that will leave you tired and happy at the end.
The bulk of the ascent (and descent at the end) is at the beginning as you climb up to the ridgeway.
Need we say to bring a camera?!
This is one of those walks where you will have to be careful you don’t fill your memory card with shots.
It is another route up Black Mountain and the views at the top will knock your socks off.
Waterfall Country walk
On this route you get to see some of the best waterfalls in the Brecon Beacons.
It’s actually recommended you do this after a spell of rain as the waterfalls will be at full flow – and part of the route sends you behind one so you can appreciate the view through the water outside.
The water may be tempting but please remember that these are mountain rivers and will be icy cold even in the heat of summer.
Do bring a waterproof jacket for this walk as where there’s waterfalls there’s wet!
As our walks go this one won’t leave you hobbled up for a week afterwards with its rather tame 251 metres of ascents so could be done on day 1 of a series of days in the mountains.
The Beacons Circuit
This is one of the more popular routes in the National Park, with hundreds of walkers every day setting out to climb Pen Y Fan.
After summiting the highest peak in southern Britain you should find the mountain to yourself for a time as you round the Neuadd Reservoir and take in The Gap.
You will also scramble up the Cribyn and summit Corn Du as part of the walk, much of it away from the crowds before returning to Storey Arms and the babbling masses again!
We do love to moan about over-popular walks around the world, but while this route can’t avoid them in parts you will be able to have some semblance of peace and quiet as you go!
The Beacons Horseshoe
Famous for being where the UK’s elite special forces do their selection training, Pen Y Fan is also popular because it is the highest mountain in southern Britain.
No cafe at the top unlike Snowdon!
This route avoids the most-used Storey Arms circuit and the babbling masses that take it.
The views of the ridges beyond Pen Y Fan are absolutely stunning and make this one of the best shorter walks in this article.
You will be confronted with the steep sides of the mountain – almost cliffs, and certainly not something you’d want to descend as getting back up would be a pig.
You may see students wearing trainers and carrying backpacks – don’t wear trainers yourself as there’s always that risk you may need carrying down.
As to the soldiers?
If you’re on the hill at the same time as them they’ll be carrying far more than you and walking at double your speed or more, and generally pushing themselves to the limit.
Don’t try to match their speed – you won’t manage it!
We would rate all of these walks bar the Cambrian Way something that a good intermediate walker can manage.
As with all mountain routes, prepare well for the walk.
Though it is an easier mountain range than some in the UK, the weather can still change suddenly and without warning, so even on a sunny day prepare for rain and unexpected eventualities that you would experience on all mountainsides.