The Brecon Beacons National Park (Welsh: Parc Cenedlaethol Bannau Brycheiniog) is located in southern Wales, part of the United Kingdom. Within an area of 1347 km² (520 sq miles), the park contains some of the most spectacular and distinctive upland formations in southern Britain. Stretching from Hay-on-Wye in the east to Llandeilo in the west, the park includes the Black Mountains, the Central Beacons, Fforest Fawr and the Black Mountain as well as a vast array of moorland, forests, valleys, waterfalls, lakes, caves and gorges.
Several small towns and villages lie within or directly besides Brecon Beacons National Park and can serve well as a base from where to discover the park. For this reason, many have become rather popular tourist destinations with proper facilities for travellers. Good examples include Abergavenny, Brecon, Crickhowell, Llandeilo, Llandovery, Hay-on-Wye (famous for its book stores) and Merthyr Tydfil. Other options are Brynaman, Govilon, the small villages Llangadog, Capel Gwynfe and Bethlehem, Llangorse, Pontneddfechan, Talgarth, Talybont-on-Usk, and the lovely parish of Myddfai.
The Brecon Beacons (or simply 'the Beacons') can refer both to the central range of mountains which stretch east from Storey Arms to Talybont and also to the national park as a whole which contains other extensive ranges as outlined below. The alternative term 'the Brecons' is not used locally and will not win you friends! The mountain area on the east of the national park (extending to the English border) is called the Black Mountains, and the area on the west of the park (towards Llandeilo) is known as the Black Mountain (singular). Old writings suggest that the entire collection of mountain massifs between Abergavenny and Llandeilo was once known as the Black Mountain - which helps to account for some of the confusion that arises with modern naming of the area.
The Brecon Beacons mountain range together with the neighbouring Black Mountains, Fforest Fawr and Black Mountain ranges was designated as the Brecon Beacons National Park in 1957. It was the last of the original ten to gain its status.
The larger part of the area is underlain by Old Red Sandstone rocks which despite the name are generally brown in colour and do contain layers of softer mudstone. It is this layer cake which is also tilted to the south which gives rise to a characteristic stepped appearance to some of the mountain slopes, particularly in the Black Mountains of the east. All of the various ranges have been carved by rivers and glaciers giving rise to steep north facing scarps and longer southerly directed valleys, many of which are heavily wooded. A number of these valleys in the central part of the park have been dammed gving rise to around a dozen picturesque reservoirs.
A band of limestone running east-west through the park brings with it a pock-marked landscape riddled with caves, some of which are amongst the longest in Europe. Along the southern edge of the park, adjacent to the South Wales Coalfield are numerous signs of former industry such as quarries, tramways and limekilns.
The major river within the park is the Usk which rises on the western Black Mountain, gathers waters from the central Beacons and then flows along the southern edge of the eastern Black Mountains. Its valley provides the main east-west route through the park.
Flora and fauna
Native broadleaf woodland is abundant within the valleys though it's greatly supplemented by conifer plantations in certain areas. A number of rare whitebeam species cling to limestone cliffs in parts of the park; these are generally protected as nature reserves. The global populations of some of these species is only around 25 to 30 trees! The red kite is emblematic of the park, particularly west of Brecon though it's becoming a more common sight in the east too. Herons, kingfishers and dippers are a common sight on the area's rivers which are in the main unspoilt - indeed the Usk catchment has SAC status, the highest level of protection, not least for its fish and lamprey species with there also being a healthy population of otters. Water voles have been re-introduced to Llangorse Lake area.
Being an upland area, the Brecon Beacons get their fair share of rainfall though the eastern Black Mountains are distinctly drier than the western Black Mountain. The stretch of country between Brecon and Hay-on-Wye is the driest part of the park followed by the eastern part of the Usk valley towards Abergavenny. The ranges often form a weather divide with dry weather on say the northern side of the watershed whilst rain falls on the southern slopes.
From London, take the M4 motorway into South Wales. Turn off at exit 22 (near Cardiff) onto A470 towards Brecon. Further west, leave the motorway at exit 43 onto the A465 or at exit 45 (near Swansea) onto the A4067. Take both roads in the direction of Brecon. The A4067, in particular, passes through some very pleasant scenery, and you will be reminded of the famous quote by a notable Buddhist master the whole way: "the journey is the goal." One scenic drive off of the main A470 is the A4059. It sticks to the high ground and offers an opportunity to see wild Welsh Mountain Ponies.
There are regular bus services from both Swansea (Quadrant Bus Station) and Cardiff (Railway Station bus terminal) into the park area.
Fees and permits
Access to the park and its tourist offices is free though there are parking charges at some locations.
- 1 Sgwd yr Eira Waterfall, Penderyn (From Lamb Hotel on A4059 at Penderyn, follow the road and then footpath to the river,). This is the waterfall you can walk behind, as it has a shallow cave behind the curtain of water. A must see if you are visiting South Wales. The path from the Lamb has been renewed and easy to follow, The waterfall is a 30 minute walk from Penderyn. The steps down to the river are steep and need care. Can be combined in a single walk with several other waterfalls nearby. free.
- 2 Pen Y Fan (From Storey Arms on A470, an hours walk along marked paths.). The highest peak in Southern Britain, at 2,907 ft (886 m), is a popular walk for locals and visitors alike. Fantastic views, and an exhilarating walk. Can be included in a circular walk known as the horseshoe taking in the adjacent peaks of Cribyn and Corn Ddu. no charge.
- 3 Black Mountain. Area in the western section of the park (not to be confused with the Black Mountains in the east). Fan Brycheiniog is the highest peak at 2,631 ft (802 m). The area has much evidence of glacial activity and there are two magical lakes Llyn y Fan Fach and Llyn y Fan Fawr.
- 4 Y Garn Goch. Iron Age hill fort
- Gorge Walking.
- 1 Penderyn Distillery, Pontpren, Penderyn, CF44 0SX (just north of Aberdare), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Shop: daily 9AM-5PM. Tours: daily 10AM-6PM, on the hour. Masterclass: Sa 10:30AM-1PM, Su 1PM-3:30PM. Visit the first commercial distillery in Wales of the modern era! On the standard tour, you learn about their history, see the distilling process, and sample a dram or two of their award-winning whiskies. Whisky fanatics may prefer the 2 hr 30 min 'masterclass' option, which looks into the manufacture process in more detail and also offers expert-led blind-nosing and tasting. Tour: adults £12.50, seniors £9.56, teenagers (14-17 yr) £4.50. Small discount for booking online. Masterclass: £60 pp.
- 1 Green Man Festival. Glanusk Park, Crickhowell - annual alternative music festival typically held in mid-August.
- Whisky - although more closely associated with its Gaelic cousins in Scotland and Ireland, whisky was distilled in Wales for many centuries. However, the industry was long dead by the 21st century, that is until the Penderyn distillery was opened in 2004. They make a broad range of fine single malts, many of which have scooped up prestigious international awards. Their main line includes the rich and fruity gold "Madeira", so called because it's finished in ex-Madeira wine barrels, but their "Icons of Wales" series of limited-edition whiskies are worth consideration too. Penderyn can be drunk in many of the local pubs, or you can visit their distillery and shop; see 'Do' for main listing.
- 1 Beili Helyg Guest House, Cwm Cadlan, Penderyn, CF44 0YJ (From Penderyn, follow Cwm Cadlan road from Lamb Hotel for 1.5 miles, you'll see sign and yellow grit bin at the gate on your left.), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Fantastic little B&B with 3 rooms, all en-suite. Very comfortable beds, friendly hosts, delicious breakfasts. Ideally placed for waterfalls and mountains, Walkers and cyclists welcome. £80 per double room per night.
- 2 Craig y Nos Castle (Craig y Nos Castle), Brecon Road, Penycae, Ystradgynlais SA9 1GL, ☏ . A boutique hotel in a stunning location in the foothills of the Black Mountain, part of the western Brecon Beacons.
Britain's mountains are not especially high, but they can be dangerous and people do get injured and lost frequently. The weather can change rapidly, especially above 2,000 feet.
- Wales' capital city, Cardiff, is a place to head should the weather turn wet - good museums and a castle to explore. There are a huge variety of shops in the city centre, many of which are located in covered arcades.
- Swansea and the Swansea Bay region complements the Brecon hills with wide, sandy beaches - also the excellent leisure centre and National Waterfront Museum will keep the whole family amused.
- Llandovery is a lovely old market town on the edge of the Beacons.