Four Fans Fell Race by David Mackie

With a decent weather forecast, easing restrictions and a socially distanced format, the 2020 edition of the Four Fans Fell Race provided a welcome reason to head over the River Severn to the Brecon Beacons with Andrew Wood.

Event start/finish was on the hillside opposite the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre, the very popular launch point for wannabe ascensionists of the highest summit in the Brecons, Pen y Fan. Even before 9am parking was at a premium. On the plus side, the Storey Arms burger van was open and provided an “old school” pre-race feeding opportunity.

Always a “no bells; no whistles” event with a small number of entrants, the 2020 Four Fans was even more austere than usual. No marshals and just a sign-in process before hitting start on the MapRunF application (An app that uses SmartPhones for timing and route checkpoints, avoiding the need to put marshals out on the course) and heading in the opposite direction to the Pen Y Fan hordes.

Our first checkpoint was Fan Number 1, Fan Frynych, and the route initially followed a reasonable path that formed part of the Brecons Way. Navigation was not therefore a challenge in the morning hill cloud that was at least keeping the sun off. The temperature was, however,already ominously high, as was the humidity…

After a gentle uphill introduction on a well marked path, the more direct racing line to the first Fan required a bit of map and compass work but we picked up the “runners’ trod” without too much difficulty. The short out and back excursion to reach the summit trig point (A triangulation station, also known as a trigonometrical point, is a fixed reference point, often on hill and mountain summits, used in the past for map surveying. Typically marked by a four sided concrete pillar.) / checkpoint was duly reached without drama and in good fettle at this early stage. There was still a good way to go though.

As we headed further West the ground started to get a little rougher and the sun started to make its presence felt, burning off the morning cloud. The leg to the next checkpoint was a decent stretch which was enlivened by a brief but close sight of a family of mewing Peregrine Falcons.

With the cloud dispersing navigation became easier and brought the second Fan and checkpoint, Fan Nedd, into sight. A direct line to it provided some tussocky entertainment and colorful language but delivered us efficiently to the foot of the all too obvious climb to the summit. At these points I have found it is better to focus on the ground directly in front and establish a sustainable uphill rhythm; the summit, like Christmas, always eventually comes and provides delight.

The Summit of Fan Nedd (Fan 2) with Fan Frynych (Fan 1) in the Distance

Delight in this instance was the close proximity of the third Fan of the jaunt, Fan Llia; just a mile away. The mile unfortunately involved just under a 1000ft of down followed by the same up; it was time to disengage the brain and crack on. Apparently there is a runnable line off Fan Nedd. It eluded us however. We instead enjoyed some impressive tussocks that required some “high-stepping” action and robust vernacular to overcome. The lovely stream crossing at the bottom of the valley provided welcome and cooling refreshment ahead of the long climb to gain the height lost; such is the way of fell racing.

Looking back from Fan Number 3, Fan Llia, to Fan Number 2, Fan Nedd

The summit of Fan Llia, and the third checkpoint was hard won. Expansive views of the Brecon’s Wild West were the reward. It also provided a route choice to the fourth and final Fan, Fan Fawr. The first and most direct option provided another steep, rough down and up, while the second offered a more runnable traversing line with less height loss. Having had our fill of down and up we elected for variety and took the second option. With the midday sun now beating down it certainly seemed a better choice with multiple stream crossings at the head of the valley providing opportunity to cool off. The subsequent uphill to Fawr’s summit provided a final morale tester ahead of a mercifully short but leg testing swoop back down to the route’s starting point at the Storey Arms.

Almost at Journey’s End; Fan 4, Fan Fawr, Summit

There we collapsed gratefully on the grass and reflected on a cracking couple of hours tackling the Four Fans with nothing more to worry about other than the simplicity of getting round some points on the ground as swiftly and efficiently as possible in one piece. That achieved we withdrew for much needed refreshment after another tough but hugely satisfying and rewarding outing across the Severn Bridge.

PS. It was a time trial race and we were delighted to have bimbled round without getting lost and just avoiding the “relegation zone” end of the results table.

Dave Mackie and Andrew Wood