My First Mountain
Fan Brycheiniog - May 1982
This month (May 2007) is special. Not only is it the eighth
anniversary of my website, it’s also the twenty-fifth
anniversary of my first mountain ascent, up Fan Brycheiniog in
the Brecon Beacons. Unfortunately I don’t know the exact date,
but I do know that it took place in May 1982. So I’ve now been
climbing mountains for 25 years!
So here’s an historic trip report to mark the occasion.
Unfortunately I have no photos of the event. Even though I
owned a camera at the time, another two and a half years were
to pass before I was inspired to become a landscape
photographer. Thus most of my early adventures took place in a
kind of “outdoor dark ages”. A pity, but there’s not a lot I
can do about it now!
The Ascent of Fan
It was a fine, sunny day. I’d climbed a handful of small
hills during the previous month, but this time I was getting
more adventurous and wanted to climb something bigger. The
field next to the Gwyn Arms at Glantawe had always been a
favourite picnic spot for my family, and I’d often noticed the
hills around there. I fancied exploring them.
Using my trusty road atlas, I noticed a trig point some
distance north-west of the Gwyn Arms, located in the large,
empty white space between the roads. This was the map I used to
plan my first hill walks. At the time I naively assumed that
all trig points marked summits, but I knew nothing of peak
bagging and summit lists back then.
As for navigation equipment, none was needed. It was a sunny
day and I could see that the top was “over there somewhere”.
Likewise no walking equipment was needed. It was dry so
trainers would be fine. It was warm so a T-shirt would be fine,
and it obviously wasn’t going to rain, so waterproofs weren’t
necessary either. No need for a rucksack since I wasn’t
carrying anything. Food and water weren’t an issue since it
probably wasn’t going to take that long.
So T-shirt, jeans and trainers it was then. Hill walking was
so much simpler in the old days!
I was accompanied by my then girlfriend Alyson. She’d always
been happy to accompany me on our many walks in the outdoors
(mainly short walks on the Gower coast), but she hadn’t yet
realised that mountains weren’t really her cup of tea.
I presume that we started from the Gwyn Arms, but I’m not
100% sure how we got onto the hill. We may have followed the
River Tawe for a short distance before reaching a “Private: No
Entry” sign, then perhaps backtracked and made our way past the
farm at Carreg Haffes. From there I think we headed through the
fields up to Allt Fach at 463m. Since we had no map our
direction was simply “up”.
From there we followed the Fan Hir ridge, and I recall being
amazed at the view over the cliff edge. On reaching the summit
at 761m, we saw the trig point atop Fan Brycheiniog in the
distance, and realised with disappointment that this wasn’t
“the top”. Of course it was the top of Fan Hir, but having no
concept of peak bagging at the time, I didn’t realise we’d
actually bagged a summit. As far as I was aware, there was only
one “top” and that was marked by the trig point.
Alyson groaned at the prospect of descending to the col to
face yet more ascent to the summit, but she accepted the
challenge with good grace. I don’t recall how hard it felt at
the time. I was young and fit and one tends to forget that sort
of thing anyway. I don’t remember it feeling particularly
difficult, but I think Alyson was getting a bit tired.
When we finally reached the trig point on Fan Brycheiniog at
802m, Alyson breathed a sigh of relief. I however, looked
onward and saw another high point on the ridge, and I wondered
whether that might be higher still (it was Twr y Fan Foel, of
equal height at 802m). I suggested continuing just in case, but
Alyson would have none of it. As far as she was concerned, we’d
reached the top. I agreed, after all, we were at the trig
We may have stopped in the nearby summit shelter for a rest,
I’m not sure, but I do know that we had nothing to eat anyway
even if we had. We retraced our steps and descended to the
At this point Alyson didn’t fancy climbing back up onto Fan
Hir, and I saw no particular reason to do so either, so we
started contouring around it instead. This led us to the Afon
Haffes, which we started following. After all, it was going
downhill, which was the right direction!
We soon chanced up the wreckage of a Vampire which had
crashed in 1953. It was spread over quite a large area and
there was a lot of it remaining. At that time the wreckage was
widely dispersed, but on a later visit I saw that much of it
had been rearranged into the shape of the aircraft.
We followed the Haffes for a while, but I was concerned that
the river might lead us too far away from our starting point,
so we left the river and continued contouring around Fan Hir.
We didn’t reach the waterfalls or descend into the steep part
of the Haffes valley. Instead I think we arrived back at pretty
much the same place where we originally emerged from the
fields, so we descended, passed the farm and found our way back
to the car without any problems.
I think we were a bit tired by the end of it, and we were
certainly hungry. I seem to recall saying that next time we
should bring a rucksack and carry some food.
On the whole, it was a memorable day out, and one which
certainly inspired me to do more of the same in future, as well
as instilling in me a love of the mountains that has lasted
Distance estimate: 12.6km
Ascent estimate: 650m
© Paul Saunders, 22nd May 2007