Drygarn Fawr Walk

Wales’ walking regions have unique characters. If you like your mountains remote, untracked, wild and gently rolling then Mid Wales is the place for you and Drygarn Fawr – miles from the nearest village in the heart of the glorious Elan Valley – is the prime summit.

The Elan Valley access road ribbons around vast reservoirs that reflect mountain panoramas in colours of blonde and auburn moorland grasses, vivid green cwms and shades of sky. Early morning mist was still hanging about when we parked and set off uphill. A flock of friendly sheep followed us until the path petered out. Tributaries trickling down from the mountains provided useful handrails from here into the Cwm Rhiwnant. Fine seams of water tumbling and cascading in green gullies, they contrasted beautifully with the surrounding expanse of rugged moorland plateaux.

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A cairn above Esgair Ceiliog marked a viewpoint. The mist had lifted to reveal dark, low clouds but a glimpse of sun was spotlighting Craig Llanerch-y-cawr to the north; the bigger Craigs glowered from across the valley behind it. Returning to the valley, we continued south to a craggy outcrop and waterfalls.

Leaving the Nant Paradwys here, we walked to Carnau’s summit cairn. Sunlight filtered through lifting clouds was bathing the tussocky landscape in a warm glow. The distinctive beehive-shaped cairns of Drygarn Fawr beckoned on the western horizon. I took a bearing and we descended into the valley. This section was awkward: we squelched across bog.

Everything changed as we began to climb Drygarn Fawr, though. The clouds lifted, revealing increasingly stunning views over our shoulders and, finally, Drygarn’s summit cairns popped into view above. Cairn one led to cairn two and the trig, and extensive views took in Pen y Garn and Plynlimon to the north, Gorllwyn to the east and the Brecon Beacons to the south.

We sheltered behind the top cairn and admired the view. Then, returning to the lower cairn, we continued towards the rocky crown of Carreg yr Ast. Dropping into the valley between this and the river of the same name, we began the descent.

Waterfalls spilled from every direction at the confluence of the Nant yr Ast, Rhiwnant and Nant yr Hwch. Safe in the knowledge we were nearing the valley floor, we didn’t mind soaking our boots. Back along the banks of the Rhiwnant, we were welcomed by the sheep. We bade farewell to them at their gate, looking forward to another spectacular drive through the Elan Valley, which was now drenched in bright afternoon sun.

Distance: 8.5 miles/14km
Ascent: 1250ft/381m
Time: 5-6 hours
Map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 200 (Llandrindod Wells & Elan Valley)
Start/finish: parking area at southern end of Caban-coch Reservoir (GR: SN 901616)
Information: Rhayader, 01597 810591.
Travel: From Llandrindod Wells train station, catch bus to Rhayader. The Post Bus connects to Elan Valley visitor centre.
Route: Cross bridge and walk 300m up lane to reach bridleway on L. Follow bridleway SW then S, using the rivers as handrails. Pass cairn above on L. When you reach next waterfall, take a bearing to Carnau (SSW). From Carnau look west to two big cairns on Drygarn Fawr (WNW). If you can’t see them, take a bearing. Trig point marks 641m (2100ft) summit. Descend past two large cairns and continue on the same line until Carreg yr Ast is visible. Aim for the gully in between Carreg yr Ast and the river Nant yr Ast. Follow rivers N, NE back to the original bridleway.