So when it became apparent that this Saturday was just such an opportunity, I decided to get out and walk up some hills, and to hell with the weather forecast. Fortunately my fellow NCT alumnus Alex was available as well, so we drove over into the Brecon Beacons to walk a route of my own devising.
My principal objective here was to do something I hadn't done before, so instead of finding a new way up Pen Y Fan I decided to try a circular walk starting at the Blaen Llia car park just north of Ystradfellte and taking in Fan Fawr, the highest point in what you might call the "central Beacons", that is to say the area west of the Pen Y Fan range and east of the Black Mountain, both bits incorporating higher peaks but also higher numbers of people.
The route basically described a sort of teardrop/horseshoe shape around the ridges surrounding the Dringarth valley, which for the last 100 or so years has incorporated the Ystradfellte reservoir. The weather forecast wasn't great but actually we got through the entire day without being unduly troubled by either extreme cold, high winds or stuff falling out of the sky (a bit of wispy snow excepted). The major weather phenomenon we were hampered by somewhat was low cloud. which became a major problem as we started to head round the head of the valley and towards Fan Fawr. As reasonably confident as I am with a map and compass it's reassuring to have some GPS backup at this point, and in particular it was invaluable to have the BackCountry Navigator app on my phone, which gives you an instant graphical view of where you currently are on an OS map. If we hadn't had this available to us we'd probably have had to bail out of attempting the ascent of Fan Fawr, as it was only intermittently visible even when we were standing right in front of it.
Of course this sort of techno-wizardry is a double-edged sword in many ways, not least in that it tempts you into attempting stuff that you might otherwise think better of (if you were only armed with a paper OS map and a compass, say), and also that it does tend to drain your phone battery, which is problematic if you suddenly have a need to phone, say, mountain rescue.
There was a light dusting of snow on the ridges on the way round, and quite a bit of snow on top of Fan Fawr, although it looked fairly recent as it was still quite powdery and hadn't acquired the treacherous icy crust which made our previous jaunt up the main Beacons peaks a bit dicey. Overall I'd say this is about 80% of a really great walk, the only drawback being the unsatisfactory end, whereby instead of being able to just cut back across country to the car park when you cross the Afon Dringarth via the footbridge below the reservoir dam, you have to do a detour south to get back onto the road and loop back north to the car park. It may well be possible to find a route, but we couldn't see one, so we decided that rather than scramble about fruitlessly we'd accept a couple of miles of extra slog along well-marked paths and road. In hindsight (assuming there isn't an obvious route back that we just missed) it would have been better to leave the car in Ystradfellte village and have that as the start/finish point, at the cost of maybe a mile's extra overall distance.
Anyway, here's the route map (via Map To GPS) and altitude profile (via GPS Visualiser) - total distance according to the GPS track log (which I have no reason to doubt) was 13.2 miles. As always, click to provide embiggenment. A small selection of photos can be found here.