Swimming spot: The Punchbowl, Brecon Beacons
Open water swim coach Ray Farr is your guide to one of her favourite swimming spots in the Brecon Beacons
The Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales is a stunning area to explore, whether you wish to swim or hike.
Just 15 minutes’ drive from Abergavenny, this is a beautiful walk through ancient woodland to a sheltered man-made lake on the eastern side of the Blorenge Mountain called the Punchbowl. The lake is a wonderful place to swim and the landscape never disappoints, with spectacular far-reaching views of the surrounding hills and mountains.
The walk to the lake takes approximately 25 minutes. The return to the car park takes slightly longer as it includes a steep climb, but it is worth it for the views.
Although the area is usually sheltered from winds, the Welsh mountains are notorious for rain – which can be sudden and torrential, or a constant drizzle. Come prepared for all weathers, no matter what time of year it is.
Start your walk
From the car park, walk down the road until you come to a cattlegrid with a gate to the left signposted The Punchbowl. After going through this gate, walk until you come to a fork in the path.
Take the trail that leads downwards to the right. This will lead you past ancient trees of beech, oak and rowan so gnarled and twisted that they look like they belong to the fairy realm.
You will pass a bench on your right-hand side. This is a perfect stop to enjoy the spectacular views.
A little way past the bench, you will come to a gate. Go through and take care as the trail becomes very steep.
There are usually some great examples of bracket fungus in this section of the walk. Look out for the distinctive frilly collars around the trunks and branches of trees.
Enjoy a slow meander down this steep path. The track is uneven and can be slippery, so take your time. Notice the abundance of ferns and grasses.
Soon the lake will appear in front of you, its surrounding trees reflected in the water.
As you approach the lake, you may be greeted by the sight of a heron and, if you’re lucky, an otter.
Walk around the lake to find your favourite spot to make base. The Punchbowl can have weedy patches around its edges, so I advise finding an entry point with minimal weed for a much more pleasant experience.
The waterbed is mostly muddy with some rocks, so water shoes are recommended. There is gradual incline in the water, so it’s great for an easy swim. The water does get deep, but it isn’t a sudden drop off.
Birds nest on the island in the centre of the lake so please don’t disturb them or get out on the island, which is also used as an otter toilet so best avoided! Instead, swim around the island and enjoy the peace and the views of the surrounding woodland. It really is a magical, tranquil place.
How to get there
The start of the walk is approximately 4.5 miles from the village of Llanfoist on the Blaenavon Road. There is limited parking at the trailhead so park at one of two nearby car parks (Foxhunter or the roadside parking area of the Brecon Beacons National Park). To get to the car parks, turn left at the top of the mountain, just after passing Keepers Pond.
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