Updated 28 September 2018 - New blog post - The #PeoplesWalkforWildlife

Friday, 4 April 2014

Cribarth - Part 1 - 7 March 2014

This blog takes place over two days so this is part one of two - we fell in love with the mountains near Craig-y-nos so much we had to go back a week later...

Part One - Friday 7th March
Weather: Sunny

It was still our holidays and we woke up to a glorious sunny day, we both wanted to head up to the Brecon Beacons so off we went to Craig-y-nos Country Park.

On the way (on the A4067) you start getting glimpses of Cribarth - better known as the 'Sleeping Giant' due to the shape of the mountains resembling a man laying down - the trig point of Cribarth is situated right on his face. Little did we know in a few hours time we would be walking all over him!

The 'Sleeping Giant' - If you zoom into his face you can see the 'Cribarth' trig point

Craig-y-nos country park isn't far from here, just past Abercrave and Pen Y Cae (roughly a 40 minute drive from Swansea). We arrived around 11am and there was plenty of parking spaces - it costs £2.50 to park all day. There's a small visitor centre, a cafe, toilets and the park is open 24hrs a day.

The cafe looks lovely - will have to try it one day

I've been to the park a few times before and it is beautiful with so much to see: trees, rivers, ponds and meadows to walk in: an ideal place for a picnic, do some walking or bird watching. I don't want to talk too much about the Country Park in this blog, it deserves a blog all of it's own in the near future :)

There are a few information plaques in the park and we noticed there was one with a map of the park and surrounding areas. We saw that Cribarth was nearby and that it had a trig point and, as we can't resist a trig point, we decided to leave the park and make our way up into the mountains. 

Before this we did have a quick stroll around the pond and saw an array of different birds: swans, moorhen, mallard in the water, whilst chaffinches, sparrows, robins and blue tits flew in and out of the bushes - even a red kite graced us with it's presence in the sky above.

The large pond with lots of bird life - including a swan, mallard and moorhen
A female mallard perched onto of a fallen down tree
After our warm up around the pond we made our way out of the park and saw a sign across the road - it read 'access to hill via quarry' pointing left and 'access to hill via Danyrogof path' pointing right - we decided to go right. There isn't much path here so you had to walk on the grass verges of the A4067. Our original plan was to cut through Nantygwared Farm but there was a sign on the gate which read 'lambing season - find an alternative route at this sensitive time' - so off we went, making our way towards Dan-yr-Ogof. Just before you get to the main entrance we passed the River Llynfell - I believe that the head of this river comes from one of the caves in Dan-yr-Ogof.

Sign post...which way to go?
There isn't much pathway on this stretch of the A4067
The river Llynfell
Not long after passing this river we saw another sign that was pointing up to the mountains - we decided to turn here. Lucky we did as we were greeted with 4 or 5 Peacock butterflies. One happily posed for us on a rock for a great photo opportunity and we continued up the path until we got to a gate. Through the gate we realised that we were at the entrance of Dan-Yr-Ogof (which was closed). 
The path up...if you look in the background your can see some of the rocks in the grounds of Dan-yr-Ogof
The beautiful Peacock butterfly - Our first butterfly sighting of 2014!

After a quick look at the dinosaurs and stones that grace the entrance we made our way back down the road and passed the stone circles, standing stones and ancient burial chambers that you can look at. There's a lot of info about them and even a narrative explanation from a dummy in a cave explaining what the stones are. They also have a Shire Horse Centre and a farm with Shetland ponies and emus - I definitely want to check out Dan-Yr-Ogof showcaves in the future, especially now I know there's a camping site there too.  They are open from April 1st and here's a link to their website.
The mystical stone circle in Dan-Yr-Ogof
One of the emus enjoying the sunshine
We looked back and there was a fantastic view of Cribarth - wow, it seemed such a long way away now and perhaps doing the Dan-Yr-Ogof route was the the wrong way to get up into the hills. There was a yellow sign pointing up which read 'To mountain path way' and a well worn path to follow so off we went.
The view up to Cribarth
This is the start of the walk, the sign reads 'to mountain...'

The path leads upwards and is a reasonably easy with a gradual climb. The higher you climb the more impressive the scenes are and Craig-y-nos castle started looking smaller and smaller. We continued to follow the path...

Fantastic views of Fan-Gihirych to our left and...
...beautiful views of Cribarth to our right with Craig Y Nos in the distance.
The path starts getting a bit rocky
We  passed some ruins of a building  (not sure what it is)
The stones start getting really big and more frequent...
...and huge sink holes (or shake holes) start appearing

After walking for a few miles we decided to stop for a break amongst an abundance of limestone rocks that looked like something out of Lord Of The Rings - The views were spectacular and as we drank tea and ate our Mars bars there was not a soul around, only a few birds for company...total freedom :) - After a few minutes rest we continued our walk through a stony valley and headed towards Cribarth.
Limestone rocks with a fantastic view
A path leads through the rocks
...and then the path disappears
Without a path to follow we made our way across the grass and noticed in the distance there was a stile and that's where we headed. As we crossed the stile I looked to the right and noticed there was a huge shake hole with a waterfall...so we had to check it out! The waterfall/shake hole is called Pwll yr Wydden, the waterfall falls down the the right hand side and disappears into the rocks below.

Climbing over a stile towards Cribarth,,,
...But a detour to Pwll-yr-Wydden first.
We passed lots of rock piles (possibly burial cairns?) and once again more significant sized shake holes. We noticed not far from where we were was a row of big stones, we investigated and were greeted by 'Saith Maen - these Bronze age stones are quite unique to the Brecon Beacons National Park as it's the Beacon's only row of stones. Saith Maen means seven stones, although sadly, two have now fallen.
A huge pile of rocks...possibly a burial cairn?
Check out the size of another massive shake hole.
Saith Maen -  'seven stones'

From here we headed over the harsh grassland and towards Cribarth, we started heading downhill until we were greeted with another stile and a stream which was filled with frog spawn. Keeping close to the stone wall we headed up again.

The way down and then back up again...
Frog spawn in a shallow stream
After catching our breath when we reached the top we were surprised by how green it was: almost like the Shire in Lord of the Rings, there was also a lot of marshland too. We walked up a pathway (possibly an old rail road) and into a valley where we were greeted by mountain ponies. It wasn't long before we looked up to where the sun was setting and noticed that familiar shape in the distance - the trig point!

A lot of marshland and the start of the path up
Mountain ponies with an magnificent backdrop behind.
More ponies on the limestone quarries
Hooray! The trig point makes an appearance
Now for a little bit of history - Cribarth is one of the most quarried mountains in Wales. There was over thirty large quarries with 10 miles of tram roads and railways. It was extremely active when Swansea Canal was opened in the late 1700s and Limestone and silica rock was extracted for the iron, copper and tin industries around the Swansea Valley.

The walk up to the trig point was relatively easy and once up there we sat for awhile taking in the magnificent views. We found it quite humorous that we were sitting down having a tea on the Sleeping Giant's face!

Beautiful view from the trig point

The Cribarth trig point situated next to a massive cairn
We glance at out OS map and tried to work out a way down that was different to the way we came. We decided to follow the old tram line to Abercrave and hopefully find a way back to Craig-y-nos Country Park. This is the point where we should have looked at our watches and read the map a little bit better...

The old tram line down
The Shire?
We followed the path around and passed some wonderful rock formations including another bit of land that looked like 'The Shire' again - we kept following the path until we came to a stile on our left. We crossed over and followed another path that lead us down to an abandoned old farmhouse at Pen-Cribarth and a sign which read 'Abercrave' and 'Ynyswen'.

The stile
An old farmhouse near Pen-Cribarth
An impressive fungi on a nearby tree
Which way to go?
We knew Abercrave was quite a distance from Craig-y-nos, so we decided to follow the path to Ynyswen instead. So off we went in that direction, once again following the path and eventually came out in Abercrave Woods - we continued following the path around wondering when Craig-y-nos was going to make an appearance through the woods to our right. We continued walking over stiles, across steams, whilst the sun was setting. We were losing light fast and were getting a little worried...

Abercrave Woods
We knew we had to come down from the woods soon so we checked the GPS on the phone and it said that Craig-y-nos wasn't that far away (well so I thought). We came across a path that lead down and finally thought we would come out near Craig-y-nos. We crossed a very muddy bridleway and were greeted by horses in twilight. After trying to navigate a muddy path in limited lighting we were relieved when we heard a road in the near distance. We came to a gate which read 'Woodland Trust' - and a sign which read 'Coed Glyn Gwennws'. We made out way onto the road and just stopped! Where were we? Craig-y-nos was nowhere to be seen and we looked to our left and saw the Pen Y Cae Inn - we were 3 miles away from our car, we could have cried!

Horses at twilight
Woodland Trust sign
Pen Y Cae Inn
So with no other option we had to walk along the road until we got to Craig-y-nos. It seemed like forever and, without a proper path, very dangerous. Luckily it was now after 7pm and the traffic wasn't that bad. Eventually we reached a brown tourist sign saying Craig-y-nos was 1/4 mile away...hooray the end was near!

I could just about manage a smile lol :)
Craig-y-nos castle at night
We did make it back to the car safely and very tired - but we learned some valuable lessons on this walk: we definitely need to buy reflective gear, start a walk earlier & read the map a bit better :)

Having said that the walk was fantastic and, with a Wellington bomber crash site somewhere on these mountains, we knew we had to get back up there ASAP!

Part 2 coming very soon :)

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