|Start: SN 84136 15182|
End: SN 84019 15337
Overall Altitude Gain: 854ft
Terrain: Relatively steep, dangerous drops, open countryside with no signposts once on the hill
Difficulty: Medium – navigation difficult in bad weather
More snow last week meant that we just had to get back out into the Brecon Beacons on Sunday. Our original plan had been to make a return trip up Pen y Fan but with wind speeds forecast at forty miles per hour and temperatures well into double negatives, conditions were just a little too extreme. Instead we decided to stick to lower altitudes and hunting around the OS maps came across Cribath ridge. Better known as the sleeping giant due to an uncanny and self explanatory outline it sits above Craig-y-Nos and has been a visible presence in many of our recent walks. With a trig point at its top, numerous quarries and tramways dating from the nineteenth century and commanding views across the surrounding landscape, there really was only one question left to ask. Why hadn’t we climbed it already?
The first thing to state about this walk is that you cannot rely on the boundaries or footpaths marked on the current OS maps. We found them to be wildly inaccurate but despite this access up onto the hillside and surrounding areas was remarkably easy. Starting from the lay-by just south of Craig-y-Nos a well signposted footpath takes you onto a wooded hillside and along the first hundred meters or so of what is billed as a ‘geology trail’. Various information boards tell you a little of the areas history but where two substantial lime kilns still stand rockfalls and landslips have blocked the way. Never fear however as a well marked alternative route strikes out through the trees. Climbing steeply the views back down to Craig-y-Nos castle begin to open up before all of a sudden the woodland ceases and for the first time you find yourself on the hillside proper. From here simply follow the fence higher, not forgetting of course to enjoy the expansive views behind you and across to Penwyllt.
A wooden style brings you out on to open access land across which you are free to wander. There are no more signposts or markers from this point onwards however so good navigation skills are essential though on a clear day such as this things were an absolute doddle. Striking out directly ahead involves another short climb before the first of thirty three quarries which litter Cribarth hoves into view.
Skirting to its right follow the ridge which should soon bring you to the start of several miles of tramway which wrap themselves around the hillside. Exploring these well preserved routes allows the full extent of previous industrial activity here to be seen and appreciated, a rich tapestry of history creating a surprisingly attractive landscape.
Rather conveniently these tramways should deliver you directly to the base of an outcrop atop which sits the trig point. Marked at 423 meters it is in fact three meters shy of the ‘true’ peak a little to the north. There is some debate however over even this with a further unmarked outcrop appearing higher than both. Past experience has taught me that it’s almost impossible to decide on a purely visual inspection so we climbed all three just to make sure.
From the trig point a steep incline takes you down into further limestone workings where some of the best preserved tramways can be found.
At this point there are several options available to the walker. Most published routes suggest descending to the south via Pen-cribarth for a lower return to Craig-y-Nos but on a day such as this that just seemed like sacrilege. Instead we elected to stay high and continued walking south west along the ridge until a fence forced us to head north into tussocky grassland. With most of the ground frozen progress was relatively easy and allowed us our best views so far of the sleeping giant himself.
A couple of Reed Buntings were an unexpected find at this altitude before we started to head back parallel to our outward route. As I’ve mentioned above there are no footpaths to follow here but we were aiming for an impressive ruin we’d spotted on our way up. Located at SN 83384 15073 it occupies a commanding position overlooking Nant y Gwared but for now at least its origins remain a mystery. Wall thickness suggests a sturdy building but its position seems just too exposed for a barn or farmhouse which you’d typically expect to be tucked away in a sheltered hollow. Instead this structure just screams status symbol though whose or for what I cannot say.
Having crossed a toppled stone wall along which the ruin sits it’s time to descend steeply once again. A well defined track winds its way down a narrow valley towards a public footpath (marked on the map this time) at SN 83785 15374. Following this to the right takes you through horse stables before arriving back at the main road for a short walk south to the lay-by from which we started.
At 426 meters Cribarth is certainly not one of the highest Brecon peaks and, judging from our solitude throughout this walk, certainly not one of the more popular. This however is part of Cribarth’s appeal, a relaxing and tranquil hillside away from the increasingly busy honey pot that is Pen y Fan. Combined with years of history and stunning views there really is something for everyone including the opportunity to extend the route up onto Carreg Goch for those who are feeling a little more adventurous. This is definitely something we’ll be attempting over summer.
Disclaimer: Obviously you attempt any of the routes on this site at your own risk, and for this reason I do not provide a map. Please consult the weather forecast before you set off and ensure that you are well equipped including a OS 1:25,000 map. If you want further details please leave a comment or get in touch via email.