Brecon Beacons National Park
The Brecon Beacons National Park can best be geographically described as having three main sections. At the extreme westerly edge of the Park rises the sandstone Black Mountain range, Y Mynydd Du, attaining a height of 802 metres at the summit of Fan Brycheiniog. This westerly region also includes a further sandstone massif known as Fforest Fawr, the highest point of which is Fan Fawr at 734 metres. The southern watershed has led to steep river valleys being carved into the flanks of the sandstone and spectacular waterfalls are a feature of the area.
The central section of the Park comprises a group of dramatic hills to the south of the town of Brecon known as the Brecon Beacons. The highest point is Pen y Fan which at 886 metres is the highest point in southern Britain. In addition to the vast open spaces, superb hill walking and spectacular vistas the Brecon Beacons offer there are also more relaxing walking opportunities at Llangors Lake and along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal towpath.
The eastern section of the Park consists of the Black Mountains, the highest point of which is Waun Fach at 811 metres. This is border country and along the eastern edge of the range runs Offa’s Dyke, the ancient divide between the rival kingdoms of Wales and England. The Llanthony Valley is a beautiful place to explore on foot and has the additional atmospheric quality created by the ruined Llanthony Priory.
One of the most beautiful and popular parts of the National Park is around the villages of Pontneddfechan and Ystradfellte. There are superb opportunities in this area to walk to some of the spectacular waterfalls as they plunge down steep-sided, tree-lined gorges. The Elidir Trail is a waymarked, moderate, 3 mile walk (6 miles there and back) along the Afon Nedd Fechan to Pont Melin-fach, taking in Sgwd Gwladus, the Horseshoe and Lower and Upper Ddwli Falls. It starts at The Angel, opposite The Waterfalls Centre at Pontneddfechan and takes about 3-4 hours to complete. Another local possibility is to walk to the Sgwd yr Eira (Fall of Snow) where you can follow the footpath behind the waterfall and experience the mighty roar and power of the water.
North of the Black Mountain near the village of Bethlehem is Garn Goch, the largest of a number of Iron Age hill forts within the National Park. A walking circuit climbing from Bethlehem can visit Garn Goch and pass just below Trichrug. There are over twenty of these sites dotted around the National Park and although they are called hill forts they were probably used more as trading centres than as fortresses.
The market town of Brecon (Aberhonddu) lies in the Usk valley huddled beneath the northern flanks of the Brecon Beacons, their immense mass dominating the view south from the town. Brecon makes a good base for visiting Llangor Lake which is only 8 miles from the town. The area is ideal for walking, with options for a gentle stroll around the Lake or a more energetic walk up into the surrounding hills for the stunning vista. A super 3 mile walk through water meadows and along the margins of the reed beds is described in a Wildlife Walks booklet which can be obtained from the National Park Centre at the Lake.
One of the main objectives of visiting the Brecon Beacons for many walkers is to tackle Pen y Fan, the highest point in the National Park. The easiest approach is from the car park on the A470, just south of the Storey Arms Centre. It is still a hard uphill climb, but the expansive vistas and wild open moorland make it a worthwhile full day expedition.
Brecon is also a good starting point for two linear walking adventures. The first along the picturesque Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal which runs for 35 miles from Brecon to Five Locks, Cwmbran, following the scenic Usk Valley. It offers glorious views of the Brecon Beacons and passes through fascinating villages including Talybont-on-Usk, Llangynidr, Llangattock, Gilwern, Govilon and Llanfoist. Unlike many others, this canal has trees along much of its length, an array of wildflowers on its banks and is home to mallards, moorhens, carp and bream, kingfishers, herons, dragonflies and butterflies.
The second linear option is to walk part of the Taff Trail which forms a circuit of the Brecon Beacons massif passing through Merthyr Tydfil at the southern edge of the National Park. The better choice here would be to walk anti-clockwise, travelling south on the western mountain pass and returning on the eastern pass via Pontsticill Reservoir and Talybont Reservoir. The route offers a mixture of open moorland and quiet forest tracks, but is strenuous and necessitates back packing.
The Black Mountains
The steep-sided Vale of Ewas, cosseting Llanthony and its historic priory from the wild moorlands, forms the eastern boundary of the National Park. The valley is interesting to explore on foot, although there are sections where there is no choice except to use the quiet roads. Known as Llanthony Valley this is a typical U shaped glacial valley which runs from Capel-y-ffin in the north down to Llanvihangel Crucorney. The pretty river Honddu rises at the Gospel Pass and flows down the valley.
Climb westwards up onto the Black Mountains from Llanthony to Mynydd Du Forest and there are splendid views looking back towards the valley. Climb westwards and you will reach Offa’s Dyke and the Welsh border with England, The views are equally rewarding.
The northern eastern slopes of the Black Mountains between Talgarth and Hay on Wye make for attractive walking with many footpaths, woods and coppices, streams and quiet lanes to explore.
In summary the Brecon Beacon National Park provides a natural wilderness landscape offering space, freedom and solitude and where it is possible to imagine a distant simpler world. People have always been here, of course, as evidenced by the numerous Neolithic standing stones, Iron Age hill forts and Roman remains dotted about the Park. However, there are places where you can walk for miles and see only a Red Kite soaring in the sky.Do not venture far into wilder parts of the Park on foot without being properly equipped. OS Explorer maps, and a compass are essential and also having a GPS unit is useful to check your position.
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