Pen y Fan

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Pen y Fan
Pen y Fan from Cribyn.jpg
Pen y Fan from Cribyn
Elevation 886 m (2,907 ft)
Prominence 668 m (2,192 ft)
Parent peak Snowdon
Listing Marilyn, Hewitt, Council top, Nuttall
Translation the mountain's peak (Welsh)
Pronunciation Welsh: [pɛnəˈvan]
Pen y Fan is located in Brecon Beacons
Pen y Fan
Pen y Fan
Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons National Park (green area)
Location Powys, UK
Range Brecon Beacons
OS grid SO012215
Coordinates 51°53′00″N 3°26′13″W / 51.88328°N 3.43684°W / 51.88328; -3.43684Coordinates: 51°53′00″N 3°26′13″W / 51.88328°N 3.43684°W / 51.88328; -3.43684
Topo map OS Landranger 160

Pen y Fan /pɛn.ə.ˈvæn/ is the highest peak in South Wales and the southern United Kingdom, situated in the Brecon Beacons National Park. At 886 metres (2,907 ft) above sea-level, it is also the highest British peak south of Cadair Idris in Snowdonia. The twin summits of Pen y Fan and Corn Du were formerly referred to as Cadair Arthur or 'Arthur's Seat'.[1]

The summit lies on a ridge stretching from Talybont Reservoir in the east, to the A470. 500 m (1,600 ft) west lies the subsidiary top of Corn Du, beyond which the terrain drops at a moderate angle to the subsidiary top of Y Gyrn then more steeply to the Storey Arms on the A470. To the east, the ridge drops steeply to the col connecting it to Cribyn, the next mountain along the ridge. From Corn Du, a gentle ridge descends south towards Merthyr Tydfil.

The mountain and surrounding area are owned by the National Trust whose work parties attempt to combat the erosion caused by the passage of thousands of feet up and down this most popular of South Wales' peaks. The mountain is used by the military as part of the selection process of the UK's Special Forces personnel. Three soldiers who died after collapsing in the field in July 2013 were believed to have been climbing the mountain (see "Fan Dance") while undergoing Special Air Service selection.[2]

Listed summits of Pen y Fan
Name Grid ref Height Status
Corn Du SJ066318 873 metres (2,864 ft) sub Hewitt, Nuttall
Cribyn SJ066318 795 metres (2,608 ft) Hewitt, Nuttall
Y Gyrn SJ066318 619 metres (2,031 ft) sub Hewitt, Nuttall


The name Pen y Fan consists of the Welsh words pen ('top, head, peak, summit', etc.), y ('the') and fan, a mutated form of ban ('summit, crest, peak, beacon, hill, mountain', etc.). The same noun ban, in its plural form bannau, is found in the Welsh name for the Brecon Beacons: Bannau Brycheiniog. There is no one standard translation of Pen y Fan, but 'the mountain's peak' or 'the beacon's summit' are both possible translations.[3]


Pen y Fan is formed from various units of the Old Red Sandstone which were laid down during the Devonian period. The lower slopes of the mountain are formed from the sandstones and mudstones of the Senni Formation whilst the upper slopes are formed from those of the Brownstones Formation. The very summit, like that of neighbouring Corn Du, is composed of hard-wearing sandstones of the Plateau Beds Formation. The beds of sandstone dip gently southwards towards the South Wales Coalfield basin.
The Brecon Beacons nurtured their own glaciers during the last ice age and both Cwm Llwch and Cwm Sere were excavated by glaciers which grew in the lee of the high ground. Llyn Cwm Llwch occupies a glacially excavated rock hollow and the lake is partly dammed by a late-glacial moraine.[4] The mountain is the highest point within the Fforest Fawr Geopark which was established in 2005 to promote economic development, particularly sustainable tourism, based on the area's geological heritage.

Tommy Jones' Obelisk[edit]

Tommy Jones Obelisk
The summit

Near the route from the Storey Arms (once a coaching inn on the Brecon to Merthyr road) to the summit is a memorial granite obelisk, with an inscription which reads: "This obelisk marks the spot where the body of Tommy Jones aged 5 was found. He lost his way between Cwm Llwch Farm and the Login on the night of August 4, 1900. After an anxious search of 29 days his remains were discovered Sept [2nd]. Erected by voluntary subscriptions. W Powell Price Mayor of Brecon 1901."

Tommy was the son of a Rhondda coal miner, and had been visiting his grandparents at the time. He died from exhaustion and hypothermia or exposure. How a small boy managed to climb so high remains a mystery.

The obelisk, a useful landmark in misty conditions, was paid for by the proceeds of a memorial fund started when the jurors at the boy’s inquest waived their fees.[5]

The search was used as the theme of the 1980 film, Tommy Jones.[6]


From the summit on a clear day the Bristol Channel (including the islands of Flat Holm and Steep Holm), Carmarthen Bay, Swansea Bay, the Gower Peninsula, the Black Mountains, the Cambrian Mountains, Exmoor, the town of Brecon and much of Mid Wales and the South Wales Valleys, and in a north-easterly direction the Clee Hills in South Shropshire can be seen.


  1. ^ Nuttall, John & Anne (1999). The Mountains of England & Wales - Volume 1: Wales (2nd edition ed.). Milnthorpe, Cumbria: Cicerone. ISBN 1-85284-304-7.
  2. ^
  3. ^ On the elements pen and ban, see the standard historical dictionary of the Welsh language, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru.
  4. ^ British Geological Survey 1:50,000 map sheet 213 'Brecon' & accompanying sheet explanation
  5. ^ Fuller account at
  6. ^ British Film Institute listing

Tenth Man Down. (novel) Author: Chris Ryan

External links[edit]