Carved by ice and weathered by time, the Brecon Beacons National Park is a diverse and beguiling landscape that begs to be explored.
With sweeping valleys, remote mountain ranges, vast swathes of moorland, magical waterfalls, historical ruins, quaint towns and villages, friendly people and a plethora of wildlife to see, the national park is a Mecca for those looking to escape the hustle-and-bustle of modern life.
At 520 square miles, the park covers roughly the same area as the London Underground system. Do not be fooled into thinking this relatively small park is jam-packed like a tube train, though. The Brecon Beacons National Park is far less populated and, surprisingly, less visited than others in the UK.
Due to the small population and astonishingly few visitors, the wild and remote landscape is yours alone to enjoy for the most part. In fact, you will be surprised just how isolated it can feel at times. Despite being less than 30 miles from Cardiff, 100 miles from Birmingham and a mere three hours from London, the national park is a rare wilderness, especially the Black Mountain range, which feels dizzyingly deserted.
There are four main ranges within the national park. Confusingly, two of them, though entirely separate, have very similar names. To the west is the Black Mountain range and, in the east, the Black Mountains, which include a peak called Black Mountain. At the heart are the Brecon Beacon themselves, the national park’s namesake.
This Collection serves as an introduction to this wildly intoxicating national park. The routes included will take you to the iconic summits of Sugar Loaf, Table Mountain, Fan Brycheiniog and Fan Foel, as well as the classic ‘horseshoe’ route that includes Corn Du, Pen y Fan — the highest in the national park — Cribyn and Fan y Big.
While the peaks, ridges and remote landscape here are, no-doubt, making your legs twitch for some action, this Collection also takes you to the utterly mesmerizing ‘Waterfall Country’, where you can see another side of the Brecon Beacons National Park all together — and walk behind the watery veil of a magnificent waterfall.
The best place to stay to explore the national park is Abergavenny, a small, friendly market town with lots of interest, places to stay and great options for food and drink. There is also a super-easy route to explore the town in this Collection, too.
Abergavenny is served by frequent trains on the Newport to Shrewsbury Line. You can easily connect for trains to Manchester in the north, Cardiff (20 minutes away), Bristol (approximately 50 minutes away) and London. The train station is a 10-minute walk from the centre of Abergavenny and there are plenty of taxis at the rank at the station to take you to your accommodation.
For more information on Abergavenny, places to stay, transport, and much more, visit: visitabergavenny.co.uk.
Pen y Fan is the most popular mountain climb in the Brecon Beacons National Park. For good reason, too. The hike packed with interest, full of wildlife and the views afforded from the highest peak in the national park are truly phenomenal.
Most people opt to climb Pen y Fan in isolation, starting from, or near to, the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre. While the four mile (6.4 kilometer) walk route is a good option that allows you to tackle the summit quickly, it can get busy and misses some first-rate peaks nearby.
This superb route, however, enables you beat to the crowds, bag three additional peaks and enjoy the serenity the Brecon Beacons National Park is renowned for.
Known as the ‘horseshoe’, this demanding but worthwhile 10.9 mile (17.5 kilometer) circuit begins with a stroll through the enchanting Taf Fechan Forest, rising past the Upper Neuadd Reservoir.
From there this route packs in the peaks of Corn Du (2,864 feet/873 meters), Pen y Fan (2,907 feet/886 meters), Cribyn (2,608 feet/795 meters) and Fan y Big (2,359 feet/719 meters), returning via the eastern Neuadd Valley.
Right from the start, the magnificent views up the valley to Pen y Fan are mesmerizing. With sweeping landscapes sculpted by glacial ice millennia ago, rare birds flying overhead and untouched nature all around, it does not get any better.
The Brecon Beacons National Park is famous for sweeping glacial valleys, remote mountain peaks and wild landscapes. If you spend the whole time in the clouds, though, you are missing a trick
While the bold hills and mountains of the Beacons are unrivalled in their dramatic beauty, it is well worth coming down from the glorious peaks and ridges to visit the enchanting area known as ‘Waterfall Country’.
Known in Welsh as Coed-y-Rhaeadr (Wood of the Water), Waterfall Country lies within the triangle formed by the villages of Hirwaun, Ystradfellte and Pontneddfechan. In this magical area, geological faults and water erosion have produced a series of deep gorges and spectacular waterfalls.
The star attraction of this route, and area, is Sgwd Yr Eira. Meaning 'fall of snow' in Welsh, it tumbles over the 50 foot (15.2 meter) tall cliff like a beautiful veil of water. What makes this waterfall so special, though, is that you can actually walk behind it, a magical experience indeed.
However, all of the waterfalls are delightful in their own right and the wonderful area contains two Sites of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation with fine specimens of sessile oak, ash trees and over 200 species of mosses, liverworts and ferns.
The best thing about this route is that it is perfect for all ages and abilities; whatever your age or interest, you will be spellbound here. If you fancy extending the route, this is easily done and there are more wonderful waterfalls nearby.
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Sometimes dubbed the last wilderness in the Brecon Beacons National Park, the bold landscape this route explores is one sculpted by glacial ice millennia ago and boasts sublime views every step of the way.
This route is a challenge, but your efforts are rewarded grandly. This bold, dramatic, wild and beautifully-rugged landscape is all yours for the most part. With an abundance of wildlife to admire, bird lovers will be especially enthralled as red kite, buzzard, kestrel, carrion crow, raven and skylark fly overhead.
This is a perfect circuit for adding a few more peaks to you repertoire, too. On this route you will conquer the highest peak in the Black Mountain region, Fan Brycheiniog (2,633 feet/802.5 meters), as well as Bannau Sir Gaer (2,458 feet/749.1 meters), Waun Lefrith (2,221 feet/677 meters) and Fan Foel (2,562 feet/781 meters).
Due to the remote nature of this hike, it is advisable to take the necessary safety precautions: check the weather, have the correct clothing, take water, map, compass, and so on. That said, this walk is not overly technical and there are no head-spinning drops or ridges to contend with, so it is suitable for all skill levels.
One of the most iconic sights in the Brecon Beacons National Park is the aptly named Table Mountain (Crug Hywel, in Welsh). Looming over the market town of Crickhowell, the hill's flat, slightly sloping top, simply begs to be climbed.
At 1,480 feet (451 meters) high, the phenomenal views showcase the Usk Valley, central Brecon Beacons, South Wales valleys and the brooding Black Mountains.
Interestingly, Crickhowell takes its name from Table Mountain. Arising from an Anglicization of Crug Hywel, or Hywel’s Fort, it is a reference to the Iron Age hillfort that crowns the summit. The remains of this ancient Celtic stronghold can still be seen for those that climb Table Mountain, despite the exposed and weather-beaten location.
This route is not merely all about Table Mountain, though. The first summit you reach is the actual mountain of Pen Cerrig Calch. At 2,300 feet (701 meters) this little-visited peak affords you with spectacular views. As most people overlook this peak for the more famous Table Mountain, you often get the summit to yourself.
Once you have scrambled on the peaks above Crickhowell and returned to the quaint little town there is one final treat to enjoy before finding a pub or cafe to unwind in. Only a stone's-throw from the centre is the Grade-I listed Crickhowell Castle: a stunning motte and bailey ruin dating from the 12th century.
It may not be the biggest peak in the Brecon Beacons National Park, it does not have any rocky crags, ridges, crags, or hair-raising features, but there is something very special about the grassy slopes of Sugar Loaf.
The shape of Sugar Loaf is near perfect, almost like a child would draw: neat, conical, almost pyramid-like. The other brilliant thing about Sugar Loaf is its location. Standing in isolation from the giants of the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains, it rises from the landscape alone, tall and proud.
While it is often referred to as a mountain, the 1,955 feet (595.9 meters) summit is just short of the 2,000 feet (610 meters) required for the classification. However, those that climb this shapely hill are rewarded with extensive views over the Brecon Beacons, the surrounding Black Mountains, over to the River Severn and Abergavenny.
Despite its height and grassy veneer, the climb up Sugar Loaf is surprisingly challenging. However, it is a perfect hike for all ages, abilities and interests, and should definitely form part of any trip to the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Once carved by industry, The Blorenge and the surrounding landscape is now sculpted by nature. While the scars of its industrial heritage are still visible, they add immense character to the rugged heather moorland, which now flourishes with wildlife.
This route is packed with interest at every turn. Around three miles in, you arrive at the Keeper's Pond. Boasting sublime views across the Usk Valley, it is a perfect spot for picnics, relaxing and ideal for watching wildlife. Built in the early 19th century to provide water for Garnddyrys Forge, it quickly became a local beauty spot after the forge was dismantled during the 1860s.
On the climb to the summit of The Blorenge, look-out for hobby, a small species of falcon seen frequently on the heathland, catching prey.
You may also spot ring ouzel, red grouse, merlin, snipe, lapwing, hen harrier and curlew on this route. There have been sightings of polecats, foxes and badgers. If you have a pair of binoculars, this is a good route to bring them along.
Once at the summit you are rewarded with even more spectacular views over Abergavenny, the Usk Valley, Sugar Loaf and the Severn Estuary. Let the landscape soak into your soul and the fresh air invigorate your senses.
The final attraction on the delightful route is the spookily-named Devil's Punchbowl, a serene wood pasture of beech, ash, hazel, maple and oak that makes for the perfect spot for a break. Watch out for herons, green woodpecker and warbler here, as well as dragonflies in the summer.
Abergavenny is the perfect base for your explorations in the Brecon Beacons National Park. A vibrant market town, it boasts an array of places to stay, as well as cafes, restaurants and pubs to refuel you after a long day hiking in the mountains.
However, this historic little town offers more than just a place to rest your head, eat and drink. Often referred to as the ‘Gateway to Wales’, Abergavenny boasts weekly markets — offering locally grown produce, Welsh cheese, souvenirs, and much more — as well as numerous annual festivals.
This short, leisurely stroll around the town introduces you to some of the town’s most notable attractions and the places where you will find all your essential items.
Up first is Abergavenny Castle and Museum. The beautiful castle ruins are free to enter and there is also a museum so you can learn more about the town itself and the ruins.
From there, you head to the delightful Linda Vista Gardens, a sculpted public park where you can relax. In the summer, there is a barbecue area to enjoy.
This route also highlights the market and shopping centre, where you will find whatever you need and much more beside.
There is plenty to fall in love with in Abergavenny, so be sure to explore the town and enjoy the fresh mountain air and beautiful scenery.
For more information, head to: visitabergavenny.co.uk.