Covering an area of 520 square miles and including Pen y Fan, the highest peak in southern Britain, the Brecon Beacons National Park is slightly smaller than the Peak District. It is an area with a rich history and multiple attractions: walking, cycling, caves and ancient monuments being but a few. A dramatic landscape formed by glaciation, it has been further moulded by 19th century quarrying. The area’s outstanding qualities are acknowledged by its designation not only as National Park but also as European Geo Park and Dark Sky Reserve.
The Black Mountain (Y Mynydd Du) is a mountain range which straddles the county boundary between Carmarthenshire and Powys, and has Fan Brycheiniog as its highest point at 802 metres. To the north east of the range there are spectacular sandstone scarps, below which you can find typical signs of the action of the glaciers such as moraines and glacial lakes – the most notable being Llyn y Fan below the highest peak.
Moving west, there is first the Fforest Fawr (Great Forest), then the Brecon Beacons, which include the 886 metre Pen y Fan; and on the western edge are the Black Mountains, whose highest peak is the Black Mountain. Confusingly similar names mean you need to take care when researching locations. It is the Black Mountain Range which lies in our area - on the western side of the Beacons.
Within the Park there are 250 ancient monuments including
You might choose to drive the mountain pass on the A4069 between Brynaman and Llandovery over the gorgeous moorland. Be prepared to stop a couple of times to gaze at the view or get closer to the mountain ponies.
Just off this road is the Red Kite Feeding Centre near Llanddeusant and a little further east you can explore around the Usk Reservoir whether on bike or foot.
The famous National Showcaves Centre for Wales north of Ystradgynlais is definitely worth a visit. The huge cathedral show cave is astounding with its delicate stalactites and delicious-looking flowstone. It’s possible to spend the best part of a day here as there is also a farm with all the typical animals as well as alpacas, lamas and Shire horses.
Brecon Mountain Railway - about 3 miles north of Merthyr Tydfil off the A465 Heads of the Valleys Road in a village called Pant. Trips take about 65 minutes with a 20 minute stop at Pontsticill where you can picnic, walk or use café and play area. In busy periods it’s as well to book in advance.
Amman Valley Trotting Club - in Tairgwaith near Brynamman. You might catch a harness racing event at this track, where it’s exhilarating to watch the horses with their jockeys balanced in precarious carriages (sulkies) haring around the track.
The Black Mountain Centre at Brynaman is only open on weekdays between 9am and 4.30pm but there’s a café as well as tourist information and exhibitions.
Brecon Jazz Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2014. It is held annually in early August.
Ironworks and Nature
Also near Ystradgynlais are the Ynyscedwyn Ironworks remains, and the Ystradfawr Nature Reserve, where the former mining landscape has been reclaimed by nature. A wide variety of flora and fauna can be seen here including the Marsh Fritillary butterfly in June.
Craig y Nos Country Park is a lovely place to spend a few hours with the children. It was once the grounds of the nearby castle, and has tall trees, rivers and meadows. The visitor centre there is a valuable source of information on the area.
Throughout the area a great number of birds can be seen. See our Birdwatching in West Wales pages.
If you’re in the mood for a walk, then travel east, bypassing Ystradgynlais until you see a signpost for Henrhyd falls. These are the highest falls in South Wales at 27 metres. If you have time the same day, continue east to the Waterfall Centre at Pontneddfechan near Glyn-Neath. There are fabulous walks from there around the falls on the Nedd Fechan, Pyrddin or Mellte rivers. Or you can drive north to Ystradfellte to begin a walk from there. It is best to check at the Waterfalls Centre first as some of the paths can be very muddy after a spell of wet weather.
The Beacons Way
Dedicated walkers will love to explore some of the 500 square miles of the National Park. The Beacons Way runs for 100 miles through this wonderful landscape. You can do chunks of the trail armed with your detailed map or take part in one of the many guided walks on offer. The Libanus National Park Visitor Centre is 5 miles south west of Brecon on the A470. Although not within the West Wales area, you might find yourselves going this far east.
A good long hike is to the summit of Cribarth, a mountain which has been greatly altered by intensive mining, thus adding to its appeal. During the 1800s, 33 large quarries and many smaller ones provided limestone, silica and rottenstone in huge quantities for the iron, copper and tin industries in the Swansea Valley further south.
International Dark Sky Reserve
Because of the extremely sparse population and consequent lack of light pollution, The Brecon Beacons National Park has recently been privileged to become one of a handful of International Dark Sky Reserves. If you’re an amateur astronomer, then you’ll revel in gazing at the Milky Way, major constellations and bright nebulas. Some may be lucky enough to catch a meteor shower.
Within the National Park is 300 square miles of Geopark: Fforest Fawr (the name translates as ‘Great Forest’). Established due to the territory having geological heritage of European significance, the park provides education for tourists as well as scholars in the form of guided walks and museum exhibitions. Geological heritage protection and promotional activities are also essential activities of a Geopark – leading to sustainable regional development. There is an annual Fforest Fawr Geopark festival at the end of May/start of June.
Cycling, Riding and Watersport
Families will love the gentle traffic-free cycle route on the Tawe Trail. The views are gorgeous and there is much opportunity to spot interesting geology and industrial archaeology.
A new 3km section of traffic free path runs along the route of the former Swansea to Brecon Railway from Penrhos at Ystradgynlais to Coelbren. It’s a recent extension of Route 43.
There is also a good choice of way-marked, graded mountain bike routes.
There are opportunities for a multitude of activities such as riding, canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, whitewater rafting and raft building.
Castles and Forts
Garn Goch Iron Age hillfort
With walls dating from 2500 years ago, Garn Goch is one of largest Iron Age settlement sites in Wales, harking back to an age of powerful and ingenious people. On a hilltop near the town of Llandeilo, the fort may have housed several hundred people in a thriving community. Its defensive position also means that it provides panoramic views.
There is a small carpark at the base of the hill just outside the village of Bethlehem near Llangadog. Take care when visiting this site as it is very rough underfoot and the ramparts now consist of loose stones.
Carreg Cennen is one of the most superb castles in Wales with amazing views over the woods and valley below.
Dinefwr Castle is just outside the National Park, in the Tywi Valley very close to Llandeilo.
Some of our best things to do in the Brecon Beacons are:
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