A family walk up Pen-y-Fan, Powys

I’ve climbed Pen-y-Fan, the highest hill in southern Britain, a couple of times without the kids. As the kids are older now I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to stretch our legs on the way back from our holiday in Pembrokeshire.

Having only visited outside of the summer season previously I had no idea how popular the walk was. Our first hint was the long line of cars parked along the edge of the main road. There are a couple of off road car parks but as these were both full we parked on the grass verge like everyone else.

Start of the route up Pen-y-Fan
Start of the route up Pen-y-Fan

There are several routes up Pen-y-Fan. If we’d had the time and energy it would have been good to tackle one of the circular routes which takes in several of the peaks. However with a 2 hour journey behind us and another 2 hour drive home we settled on the standard route up from Pont ar Daf car park, also known as ‘The motorway’.

The Pen-y-Fan motorway

The main track is broad and well made, obviously used to thousands of walking boots. The route was straightforward and relatively easy; it was just a pity that some people had decided to leave dog poo bags alongside the track.

Pen-y-Fan walk
Pen-y-Fan walk

As we walked my son recounted part of the Bear Grylls book he’d just read. Bear’s SAS selection process took place in these hills and although we had an easier time than Bear this mountain shouldn’t be under-estimated. The ease of access means that people can and do get into difficulty, particularly in poor weather.

The first summit (with the flat top shown in the picture above) is actually Corn Du. We skirted around the edge, saving it for our return journey, and walked on to Pen-y-Fan. The views open up at this point and it’s a pretty spectacular view down the Neuadd valley.

A rather busy Pen-y-Fan summit!
A rather busy Pen-y-Fan summit!

A short final climb took us up onto the summit of Pen-y-Fan. I would guess there were a couple of hundred people up there enjoying the views, many more than I’ve seen on any other hill. Families with children of all ages, runners, walking groups and plenty of dogs.

Summit photo, Pen-y-Fan
Summit photo, Pen-y-Fan

We queued for a few minutes to take the obligatory summit photo. Just behind us is the view you see in the feature photo at the top of this post, incredible!

We’d been organised enough to bring a picnic and managed to find a relatively empty spot to eat it in. On bad weather days the wind would be howling across the summit but we were lucky and enjoyed our sandwiches in glorious sunshine.

Picnic on the Pen-y-Fan summit
Picnic on the Pen-y-Fan summit

On to Corn Du

Heading off of Pen-y-Fan we tackled the summit of Corn Du, the second highest peak in South Wales. It’s similar to the summit of Pen-y-Fan; in fact I had to let one family know that they weren’t quite on Pen-y-Fan, much to their kids disappointment.

Route down from Pen-y-Fan
Route down from Pen-y-Fan

It’s pretty steep coming down from Corn Du and I was pleased we’d chosen to walk up the route from Pont ar Daf rather than Storey Arms. The path drops down to a stream before climbing back up a little. We saw a couple of runners filling their water bottles in the stream but rather them than me. I’ve seen too many dead sheep in streams higher up the mountains to even consider this!

We were soon back at the car, ready to hit the M4 again. I’m glad to report that we all enjoyed Pen-y-Fan more than the usual motorway stopover.

If you’re looking for other walks in the Brecon Beacons check out my family walks near Abergavenny post. On a wet day you might like to explore Caerleon’s Roman history or Blaenavon’s industrial heritage.

More info:

  • This route starts from the Pont ar Daf car park on the A470 between Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil. We followed the 4 mile walk outlined on the National Trust website.
  • There are a couple of burger vans and some pretty foul toilets at the start of the walk.
  • We visited on a sunny clear day and there were loads of families walking the hill. However remember that the weather and visibility on top may be very different from your starting point. Always take appropriate equipment and clothing, check the weather forecast and walk within your abilities.
Share this:

A walking break in Elterwater, Lake District

I was lucky enough to get some ‘me’ time a few weeks back. I’m not the kind of person who enjoys spa breaks; instead I indulged in my pre-kids hobby and booked a short walking holiday based in Elterwater in the Lake District.

Summit of Harrison Stickle, Elterwater
Summit of Harrison Stickle, Elterwater

This was the fourth time I’ve walked with Country Adventures so when I finally arrived at Elterwater Hostel (thanks M6) I already knew the leader, Joe, and some of the others in the group, many of whom are regulars.

That evening Joe outlined the walking routes for the next day. Our walks were based in and around the Langdale Valley, and as there were several leaders we had a choice of a challenging walk or a more moderate option. As I was walking without kids, I was happy to go for the slightly harder route up Harrison Stickle. I cannot remember the exact distance but I think it was around 9 miles long with 3000 ft of ascent in total.

Day 1 – Harrison Stickle

I’d been checking the weather forecast religiously the previous week and was prepared for rain. Not just any rain, but torrential rain and wind; this being the Lake District after all. Instead we were greeted with a cold sunny day and not a cloud in the sky. A perfect day for walking.

Views of and from Harrison Stickle
Views of and from Harrison Stickle

Our day started with a short minibus ride to Dungeon Ghyll car park. Packs on, we headed off in the opposite direction from most walkers who all seemed to be walking straight up to Stickle Tarn. Instead our route took us on a gradual ascent up between Harrison Stickle and Pike of Stickle.

Higher up we started to encounter snow. It was still in the light and fluffy stage. Lovely for walking in except when it gets down the back of your boots and melts inside them! Despite this I was still walking with just a fleece jacket; hard to believe it was the middle of winter.

Walking up Harrison Stickle
Walking up Harrison Stickle

We seemed to reach the summit pretty quickly. The views from the top of Harrison Stickle were stupendous. Looking back at these photos I am reminded how perfect the day was. Our guide helpfully named the peaks around us although I promptly forgot them all. Instead I was happy to just stand and take in the panorama.

Snow views from Harrison Stickle
Snow views from Harrison Stickle

I could have sat on the summit cairn all day but lunch called. We first had to negotiate a rather icy downhill stretch which I didn’t particularly like. It was a relief to get out of the shade and back into the sun. We skirted around Stickle Tarn; my camera once again working overtime.

View of and from Harrison Stickle
View of and from Harrison Stickle

As we walked away from Harrison Stickle it was hard not to turn round and check the view every couple of minutes (top photo in collage above). The peak and it’s shady descent are imprinted on my mind for ever more.

The route back to Elterwater
The route back to Elterwater

Despite having reached the summit the bulk of the mileage was still ahead of us. We walked back to Elterwater across the fells, passing by Blea Cragg and Lang How. The best views were behind but we were still treated to a glorious winter walk, arriving back into Elterwater just as the tea shop was shutting (boo!).

That evening we ate at the hostel and enjoyed one of Joe’s quizzes. Some of the questions had made a repeat appearance from previous years, time for some new ones Joe!

Day 2 – Lingmoor Fell

There was just one walk on the second day but it came with an option to shorten it. We were walking from the hostel, on the southern side of the Langdale valley, up and over Lingmoor Fell.

Views from Lingmoor Fell
Views from Lingmoor Fell

The views were never going to surpass those of the previous day but it was impressive to see the fog cloaking Windermere below us as we emerged from the woods. I wonder if those in Windermere knew we had such great weather?

Walking over Lingmoor Fell
Walking over Lingmoor Fell

Standing atop of Lingmoor Fell gave us another view of the Langdale Pikes. The weather wasn’t quite as agreeable as the previous day so we didn’t hang around on top for too long. Once again we were faced with an icy descent which involved some detours over bracken; at least this made for a soft landing when the inevitable happened!

View from Blea Tarn
View from Blea Tarn

Lots of walkers appeared as we hit the road and tourist hotspot of Blea Tarn. After stopping for the obligatory photo of the Langdale Pikes (above) we followed the well made track back past Little Langdale and into Elterwater. Once again arriving home as the tea shop shut.

No quizzes on day 2. Instead a game of film and TV Pictionary. Some of the drawings had us in stitches, I haven’t laughed so hard in ages.

Day 3

I’d have loved to walk on the last day. But with another M6 journey to contend with I decided it was best to head off early. First though a browse around the outdoor shops in Ambleside and, at last, a visit to an open tea shop!

More info

  • I travelled with Country Adventures, a company that offers walking and other activity holidays in the Lake District, Yorkshire, Peak District and Wales. I’ve always enjoyed my trips with them and I think the fact that many of their clients come again and again speaks for itself. Our group had sole use of Elterwater Hostel but Joe can arrange alternative accommodation if you prefer.
Share this:

Family walks near Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

Abergavenny_walks

We stayed near Abergavenny in the Brecon Beacons late last year and spent several days exploring the local hills. There are three focal points for walkers heading out of town; Sugar Loaf, Blorenge and Skirrid Fawr. All make excellent half day (or longer) walks and are generally suitable for families used to walking.

I’ve added links at the bottom to the walking routes we followed.

Sugar Loaf mountain

You’d never normally think of Wales as a wine producing country so it was rather surprising when we drove past Sugar Loaf vineyard on our way to the start of this walk. Just a pity it was closed, I’d love to know how they manage to grow grapes in the Welsh climate.

Starting out on Sugar Loaf
Starting out on Sugar Loaf

Our plan for the day was to walk up the west ridge of Sugar Loaf; a slightly less trodden option on this popular hill. The first mile or so was an easy walk along a broad track fringed with bracken. A short steep downhill section followed which is always a little disconcerting when you’re trying to reach a summit. We crossed a stream and then our route took us uphill again.

Into the mist
Into the mist

At this point we walked into some typically Welsh weather. I’m sure the views on a fine day are fantastic but what can I say? We saw mist, bracken and sheep. At the summit we clambered over some rocks to the trig point. Of course we still took the obligatory ‘top of the mountain’ photo but we could have been on just about any hill.

Lunch - in the Sugar Loaf car park
Lunch – in the Sugar Loaf car park

I’d originally hoped to eat lunch near the summit but the weather wasn’t conducive to a picnic. Instead we hot footed it back down the hill and found a convenient spot in the car park. We ate our sandwiches in relative comfort and enjoyed the view!

Blorenge

Blorenge is within the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape World Heritage area; you can still see the remains of a tramway which linked a a quarry on the mountain with the ironworks down in Blaenavon.

This was an easy walk because we cheated and parked in the Keeper’s Pond car park near the summit. If you’re looking for a more challenging walk you can take the steep path up from Abergavenny but this is only for fit families with older children.

Towards the summit of Blorenge
Towards the summit of Blorenge

From the car park, we headed towards the radio masts and another car park. Here there’s a memorial to Foxhunter, a horse that won gold at the 1952 Olympics, but we somehow managed to miss it. Fortunately we found the path to the summit. It’s a very gentle walk, with minimal ascent, although the ground was pretty boggy either side of the path. The summit view consisted of (you’ve guessed it) mist, but this lifted as we walked down and around the hill.

Heading off of Blorenge summit
Heading off of Blorenge summit

Below the mist we were treated to some glorious views over Abergavenny and Skirrid (the hill on the right in the photo below).  We headed downhill slightly and then followed a circular route around the escarpment which eventually led us back to Keeper’s Pond. This second part of the walk, after we’d escaped the mist and radio masts, was so much more scenic and definitely worth extending the walk for.

View from Blorenge
View from Blorenge

Skirrid Fawr

The standalone hill of Skirrid Fawr (Ysgyryd Fawr) is on land owned by the National Trust. There are many myths and legends attached to it; evidently a landslide on the north of the mountain occurred when it was struck by lightning at exactly the same time that Christ was crucified.

The walk up Skirrid Fawr
The walk up Skirrid Fawr

This was my favourite hill walk of the week. We took the main track up through the woods and then skirted around the hillside on a rather muddy track until we reached the northern end of the hill. This was followed by a rather steep, albeit relatively short, climb up the hill using footholds in the path.

Scarlet waxcaps, Skirrid Fawr
Scarlet waxcaps, Skirrid Fawr

On the way up we passed some amazing fungi. I’ve subsequently found out that the picture above is of a scarlet waxcap. Despite its bright red colour it’s not poisonous but I’d still never consider eating it!

On the summit of Skirrid Fawr
On the summit of Skirrid Fawr

We arrived almost directly on the summit and were treated to fabulous views of Sugar Loaf and Blorenge. No mist, the strong wind had blown it all away.

The route back to the car park was along a broad grassy ridge which descended back down to the woodland. This was obviously the popular track as we passed several families and dog walkers coming up this route. If you don’t mind the short steep climb I’d personally recommend the hill using the route we took.

More info:

  • We followed the AA Sweet Walking on Sugar Loaf walk.  The route is 4.5 miles with 1,150 ft of ascent. We own the AA book of walks, but you can also download the route here.
  • We also followed the AA Bird’s-eye view of Abergavenny walk whilst on Blorenge. The walk is 3 miles long with an ascent of 530ft. We walked it in reverse; details of the original walk here.
  • Our walk to the summit of Skirrid Fawr was 4 miles long and took a couple of hours. We followed the route suggested on the National Trust website. Navigation was straightforward; be aware there’s a short but steep ascent up a grassy hill which was pretty muddy and slippy. Those with younger children might like to take the more gradual route and go up and down the main path.

These walks were suitable for our family; please do ensure you are appropriately equipped and prepared before heading out onto the hills.

Share this:

Things to do in the Haute-Loire, France

Our summer holiday was spent camping in the Haute-Loire region of central France (read our CosyCamp review). Named after the river that flows through it, the area is predominately rural with lots of small farms, meadows, cattle and forests.

Haute-Loire countryside
Haute-Loire countryside

Le Puy-en-Velay is the biggest town (population 20,000) and warrants a separate blog post as there’s lots to see. Aside from Le Puy, tourism is low key and it was hard to obtain tourist information in advance of our visit. Even TripAdvisor was woefully short on suggestions. However once there we found plenty to do, and this post will hopefully help future visitors.

1. Chamaliéres-sur-Loire

This small village is situated alongside the River Loire, and was our base for the week. It’s best known for its 12th century Romanesque church which is worth a visit, even if churches are not normally your thing.

The church at Chamaliéres-sur-Loire
The church at Chamaliéres-sur-Loire

The village has two restaurants, a bakery and a tourist office which gives out free route maps of local walks.

Tourist office
Tourist office, Chamaliéres-sur-Loire

There are a couple of signposted walks from the village. We took the shorter route which led up into the hills behind for some great views. The route is way marked with yellow stripes but we managed to miss some so keep a careful eye on the map.

River Loire, Chamaliéres-sur-Loire
River Loire, Chamaliéres-sur-Loire’

We saw a fair number of people canoeing along the Loire although I’m a non-swimmer so this didn’t appeal. The river looked peaceful and calm during our visit but do take a look at the flood height markings down by the bridge; it’s hard to believe how high the river has reached when you visit during the summer!

2. Chalencon, near St André de Chalencon

I love castles so our visit to Chalencon Castle and its medieval village was one of my holiday highlights.

Chalencon castle
Chalencon castle

The parking area is on the outskirts of the village, about 10 minutes away, although longer on the way back when you’re walking uphill. We looked round the 11th century chapel first, although my son was more interested in photographing the lizards running up and down the outside walls.

Chalencon castle
Chalencon castle

The castle itself was abandoned around 1600, and much of it is now in ruins. You can still look round the battlements, peep up inside the tower and generally imagine what life must have been like for the Lord of Chalencon.

Chateau de Chalencon
Chateau de Chalencon

If you take the cobbled pathway down from the castle to the Ance river you’ll come to Devil’s Bridge. This is an arch bridge, probably around 600 years old, with a story attached to its name. The legend goes that the devil made a pact with the locals to help save Chalencon from flooding, where he would take the first soul to walk over the bridge. He hoped it would be the local lord, but it turned out to be a dog, much to his disgust!

3. Mont Mezenc, Les Estables

Mont Mezenc lies on the border of the Ardeche and Haute-Loire; it’s distinctive shape is visible from miles around. Whilst you can walk to the summit direct from the nearby village of Les Estables we drove some of the way up and parked on the outskirts of the forest.

Walking up Mount Mezenc
Walking up Mount Mezenc

It’s a relatively easy walk up Mont Mezenc from the car park, first through woodland and then across the stony plateau. We didn’t have a map but the path was straightforward and there were signposts on route.

Mont Mezenc
Mont Mezenc

The mountain has two summits, with the southern one slightly higher at 1753m. There are two orientation tables and it’s interesting to look at how the scenery differs on either side of the mountain. On one side you can see the Alps, and we may have seen Mt Blanc although I’m not convinced.

The village of Les Estables is the highest in the Massif Central and is worth a stop on the way back. It’s a ski centre during the winter months, and even in summer we passed some brave roller skiers on the surrounding roads.

4. Chateau de Lavoûte-Polignac, Lavoûte-sur-Loire

This chateau is spectacularly situated on a bend in the River Loire. I had no idea what to expect as I’d only seen it marked on the tourist map but it looked pretty impressive from the outside.

View from Chateau de Lavoute-Polignac
View from Chateau de Lavoute-Polignac

Entrance was via guided tour only (in French) although we were given some notes in English. The tour took us through six rooms in which the guide gave a talk about most of the objects in the room, along with a detailed history of the Polignac family portraits. There were several kids in the group but the tour was not aimed at families in any way, ours were bored and fidgety by the end. Suffice to say we wouldn’t rush back but others might enjoy it much more.

5. Ravin de Corbœuf, Rosières

The Ravin de Corbœuf is formed from multi-coloured clays and is nicknamed ‘Little Colorado’. Prior to our visit I’d copied a walk from a French hiking book which turned out to be useful. It started in the nearby village of Rosières and took in both ends of the ravine. You could probably figure out the walk without the book as long as you’ve got a better sense of direction than me.

Ravin de Corbœuf
Ravin de Corbœuf

The colours in the strata are impressive but the thing I was most amazed at was the total lack of other visitors. This would be a major tourist draw in other areas!

6. Chateau Artias, near Retournac

Situated opposite our campsite, but separated by the River Loire, the ruins of Chateau Artias tower over the valley. If you happen to be staying at the campsite at Chamaliéres-sur-Loire you can use their kayaks to cross the river, otherwise you’ll need to access it by road from Retournac.

Chateau Artias
Chateau Artias

The ruins are fenced off but you can walk around the edge to view them. They include a 12th century chapel which was the official parish church for many years. From the top you can look down and along the River Loire, but we didn’t stay long as the rain arrived.

7. Suc de Bartou

The rolling farmland of the Haute-Loire is punctuated by small volcanic hills, known as ‘suc’. These offer plenty of walking opportunities, and you can be sure of a good view regardless of which one you climb.

Walk up Suc de Bartou
Walk up Suc de Bartou

We booked on a nature walk through our campsite. Adrien, our guide, took us to the top of Suc de Bartou, walking through hamlets and along woodland paths. He pointed out items we’d never have known, for example the building in the top right of the collage is the communal village oven.

It took us a couple of hours to reach the summit of Suc de Bartou. It wasn’t difficult walking but the last section was quite overgrown and I’d have never worked out it was the way without a guide. We rested up top for a while, picking out the other volcanic hills in the landscape and watching a peregrine falcon swoop below us. An almost perfect view!

8. Vélorail du Velay, Dunières

This was great fun. As shown in the picture below, you pedal a cart along an old railway track; each cart seats two pedallers and two or three children. After a safety briefing (there are no helmets or seatbelts but you have brakes and lighting) you set off along the track for 4 km.

Vélorail du Velay, Dunières
Vélorail du Velay, Dunières

The first part is slightly downhill so you get a brief taste of your return journey but the rest of the outward trip is on a slight incline. The pedalling isn’t too hard, but I think my other half may have been doing more work than me. At the appropriate stopping point you dismount, turn around your cart and freewheel almost the whole way back to the station. This includes a rather scary stretch through a long dark tunnel and across a couple of viaducts but it’s an exhilarating ride and we all loved it.

The entire journey takes about 1 hour 15 mins. If you want to take photos, make sure you do this on the way out as you’ll be going too fast on the return journey!

9. Lac Bleu, Les Balayés

The incredible blue colour of this lake is caused by a type of volcanic rock called phonolite. The lake is very photogenic although rather small so I would only suggest a visit if you’re already in the area. Picnics and bathing are not allowed, but you can spend a fun few minutes spotting the fish.

At the entrance to Lac Bleu you’ll also find a miniature village with castles and scenes from the Auvergne. We didn’t go in as it looked more suited to families with young children.

Lac Bleu, Les Balayés
Lac Bleu, Les Balayés

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this round-up of places to visit in the Haute-Loire, and that you’ve got some inspiration for your holiday. If you have any further suggestions please do leave a comment.

More info:

  • The best site to plan your Haute-Loire travels is here; it’s a pity I didn’t find this until after we’d returned home!
  • During August Chalencon Castle was open from 2.30-6.30pm at the weekend, and 3-6pm during the week. Adults cost 3 euros, children 1 euro. Pay in the chapel and then wait for the attendant to unlock the castle.
  • Chateau de Lavoûte-Polignac is open from April to October, generally from 2-6 pm although longer during July and August.
  • The Velorail costs 12 euros for adults and 5 euros for 5-12 year olds. Children under 5 are free but I’m not sure I’d recommend it for this age group as there are no restraints on the cart. The Velorail operates at fixed departure times, book in advance before you visit. Further details can be found here.
  • Chateau Artias, Ravin de Corbœuf and Lac Bleu are free and open year round.
Share this: