Demanding peak practice

Weekend walk: stride out in the `Moon Country' of the Brecon Beacons.
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WALKING IN the Brecon Beacons is an exhilarating experience for adventurous types.Good mountain roads, car parks and well maintained footpaths mean that much of the area is accessible to those looking for a challenging but unintimidating walk. Always take a map and compass, and check on weather conditions before setting off.

The mountains and moorland of the Brecon Beacons National Park rise abruptly out of the South Wales coalfield, occupying nearly 520 square miles. This is a demanding walk because the first mile and a half is uphill. But once on the ridge it is easy, pleasant walking with only one minor scramble back to the valley. Start at the Forestry Enterprise car park at the head of the Talybont valley, best reached from Talybont on Usk, signposted off the A40 between Brecon and Crickhowell. Turn left in the village over a small drawbridge and continue up the valley. A mile and a half beyond the Talybont Reservoir the road swings left and over a bridge; park immediately on the right.

Take the obvious track into the forest from the car park, walking upstream. The track winds uphill past a wooden footbridge, bending left into a forest clearing before ascending back into the trees to meet a bend in the road. These woods offer a mass of intriguing flora.

Leave the forest at the picnic spot at Torpantau, cross the car park and climb alongside the cascading Nant Bwrefwr towards the intimidating peak of Craig y Fan-ddu. This is the biggest challenge of the day and for the Brecon Beacons it is a reasonably mild one. Once on top of this peak, the ridge horseshoes around the glacial valley; the western slopes have the smooth curve of a tidal wave, the eastern slopes are fortified on top with the crags of Cwar y Gigfran and mottled below by deposits of moraine. This is "Moon Country", a peaty plateau where sheep shelter in the many crevasses.

Follow the path around the ridge for a couple of miles to the head of the valley. Looking west over the escarpment of Bwlch Ddwyallt, you can see Pen y Fan three miles away. To the north, the cathedral city of Brecon spans the river Usk.

Turning right, walk around the head of the valley. Your line should be south south east, keeping the valley in sight but not tumbling over the steep cliffs known as Cwar y Gigfran. Just below the start of the cliffs lie the remains of a Wellington bomber and a memorial to its crew who never made it over the crest. The path continues along the cliff to form a jutting spur with Gwalciau'r Cwm, offering more dramatic views to the south and east. Cross the grassy snout and traverse a ledge to the left to reach "The Balcony".

To return to the valley, drop straight down the ridge of the spur heading for a fence that leads down to the river. Cross over a stile and follow the bank downstream past still pools and wild waterfalls, until you reach a little wooden footbridge.

Crossing the footbridge, you rejoin the original track that returns you to the car park where you began.

Length: six miles.

Maps: Ordnance Survey Landranger 160 (1:50,000); Outdoor Leisure 12, Brecon Beacons National Park, West and Central areas (1:25,000).