Day Trip from Cardiff to hike Pen Y Fan and visit Tintern Abbey
On our trip to Cardiff, we wanted to see some of the natural beauty of Wales as well as the city. It was my first trip to Wales, so we wanted to plan the perfect day trip from Cardiff to see as much as we could.
Getting to Pen Y Fan and the Brecon Beacons
Being near the Brecon Beacons, we wanted to hike the biggest of the mountains we could. Pen Y Fan is the largest of the Brecon Beacons, standing at 886 meters. Craig hadn’t climbed this yet either, so it made sense for us to go for it.
Although you can get a bus (the T4) from Cardiff to the base of Pen Y Fan, that seemed rather slow. And Craig wanted to go visit Tintern too, which would not have been possible. So, we bravely chose to hire a car. Now I say bravely, most people think nothing of it, but I am pretty skittish when it comes to driving and my last hire car experience didn’t go so well… I also started driving automatic when I had to get a car for work to make driving easier especially in London with all the traffic. Which meant I had not driven a manual in 4-5 years.
But it was only £60ish to hire a small sized car from Enterprise, who are located not far from the train station and a 10 minute walk from where we stayed. Craig was in charge of being the map, whilst I tried desperately not to stall, break the car or kill anyone. Easy. The clutch didn’t have a fun day particularly but otherwise it went relatively ok…
It was about an hour and 10 minutes from the city centre to the car park at the base of Pen Y Fan. Driving through the national park is very pretty and enjoyable, even for me!
Parking was, to my London driver’s amazement, free. So we left our little Toyota Yaris and headed to the route.
Pen Y Fan hike
The hike up Pen Y fan begins by a small house. It is pretty well sign posted, and fairly obvious that one needs to follow the path upwards! We started this just after 11am and it wasn’t too busy with the odd space left in the car park.
At first you crest a foothill, which takes about 20-30 minutes, and offers great views of the near by reservoir. The path isn’t too steep at this point. We passed a few people coming back the other way but not loads. We were even overtaken by a few people crazy enough to be running up!
As you descent the other side to get to the base of Pen Y Fan itself, you get to cross a tiny stream with a few stepping stones. It is very picturesque and added bonus both ways we saw dogs having a paddle – it was very shallow.
You then start your ascent. It is pretty steep going and the path is quite uneven in places. As we went up we disappeared into the clouds which was quite surreal. It is odd to walk up a mountain when you can’t see where you are going, as I am sure most experienced hikers will attest. It was somewhat cold and damp in there and we lost the stunning views across the beacons, which was a shame.
We soldiered on through the mist and made it to the ridge. We couldn’t tell, but there is a big drop the other side of the ridge and it is quite an uneven path! I felt a bit like I was in a Crash Bandicoot level, like the road to nowhere, where you cannot see ahead due to cloud and don’t know how much further there could be.
After a scramble up the final bits of rock, we finally made it to the summit. With a stone circle piled high, we climbed up it for some photos. It is still an achievement even if you aren’t rewarded with the stunning views across the valleys.
It was extremely windy at the top, our hair was flying everywhere and we were pretty wet from cloud vapour, but we had made it. Since there was no view to admire we only stayed at the top for 5 or so minutes to eat some cereal bars before heading back down.
We passed back down the ridge and someone thought their dog had disappeared over the edge, which was pretty tense, but eventually he ran back. Top tip, if it is cloud shrouded and windy probably best to keep your dog on its lead…
Many people were now heading up, and a fair few asked us how much further they had to go. Not all were thrilled by the answer they received. It was funny how differently dressed people were, some in full hiking gear and others in jeans and fashion trainers.
Eventually we emerged from the cloud and were able to enjoy the beautiful views once again. We even stopped by the stepping stones on a rocky outcrop to eat some watermelon to rehydrate. A few others were sat around having a bite here too, it is a nice spot for it.
Then it was back upwards before a final descent to the car, where I had a fun time trying to figure out how the reverse gear worked.
It was a good walk, felt a good sense of achievement at the end, even if I did have to wait 10 minutes before driving because my hands were too cold to grip the steering wheel! I wouldn’t want to do that walk in the winter!
For more information about the Pen Y fan hike or the Brecon Beacons national park, click here. There are loads of other cool spots such as various waterfalls and longer treks I would love to come back and do another day when we have more time.
We hopped back on the road and headed down to Tintern. This is a little village in Chepstow, just across the border with England, which is separated by the River Wye.
The village boasts a stunning Abbey from the 12th Century. It is believed to have been founded by Cistercian monks back in 1131. It really is pretty huge, it was added to over the years and is an incredible example of Gothic architecture. Sadly it fell in to ruin after the reformation around 500 years ago, but most of the outer structure remains for visitors to explore today.
Unfortunately when we were there at the end of July, the Abbey was closed to visitors due to Covid-19. It is due to reopen on 28th August according to its website, which you can read more about by clicking here.
And you could visit the outer court section, where bits of walled ruin still rise out of the grass. We wandered through the history and took some photos and thought about life as a monk in this picturesque valley.
The Anchor Inn
We enjoyed lunch at the Anchor Inn across the road, which has a stunning view of the ancient structure. Craig used to come to Tintern when he was much younger so this was a big nostalgia trip for him.
The pub was very busy, it seemed half the village had come for late lunch. We had booked a table fortunately. It was a big place with loads and loads of outdoor seating, however it was raining. A few tables had umbrellas up and they had also erected a large marquee, which our table was inside of thankfully.
Craig had a delicious burger and I went with a classic cheese and bean filled jacket potato. He sampled a local ale meanwhile I had my first designated driver Coke Zero in 10 odd years. The food was good and decently priced. The pub looked lovely inside too, but at the time we visited Wales was outdoor drinking and dining only. This has now changed and you can be indoors and socially distant.
St Mary’s church
Another ruined church awaits those who venture to Tintern.
This one is called St Mary’s, and fell into disrepair much more recently than its grander older brother. St Mary’s fell victim to a fire 50 odd years ago and now has no roof, and has started to be overtaken again by nature.
The walk up is not far, along a hidden footpath up a hill that feels like something out of the Shire with overgrown trees everywhere. The gate was open and we headed in for a look around. It was pretty epic seeing nature reclaiming the place and made it seem much older than it was. Hard to believe things had grown so much in just 50 years!
Definitely worth the 5-10 minute walk up there for a little explore.
Tintern has plenty of history and natural beauty to offer, as well as good food and pubs. I have read that the tea shop is good too but didn’t go personally. Helpfully there are public toilets and parking is pretty cheap at £3 for the whole day. There are 2 big car parks so plenty of space. I particularly enjoyed the parking meter’s attempts to be Covid safe…
South Wales road trip thoughts
I would definitely recommend venturing out of the city for a day trip if you stay in Cardiff for a long weekend. Particularly if you have a car or are able to hire one as we did. It was a quick process, we had paid and given them all my licence details in advance. So after a quick demonstration and adjustments we were ready to go.
It would also be great to stay more rurally around the national park and make more of that, but I think accommodation in these staycation times is extremely popular around that area.
You can definitely base in Cardiff and drive out to these areas if you want to get the best of the city and evening scene there as well as experiencing the stunning natural beauty of Wales. The walk up Pen Y Fan will be worth it, and hopefully you will get much better clearer views than we had!