3 days of easy activities in Mid Wales

The Brecon Beacons National Park is the Mid Wales playground most visitors know. It is a place to remember how to relax. Walkers celebrate the tallest peaks in southern Britain; tall, proud mountains with clear easy paths and summits of grass. Mountain-bikers know it for trail-riding beneath big skies and the region would win a rosette in any competition for Europe’s best riding destination. All this squeezed into a blissfully manageable area that’s just an hour from Cardiff, barely 30 minutes off the M4.

Day 1 - Boots and boats

Morning: walks and rides in the Black Mountains

Sugar Loaf mountain, Brecon Beacons

Sugar Loaf Mountain, Brecon Beacons by Paula J James

We start in Monmouthshire in the Black Mountains. This is the quieter, drier end of the National Park with famous hills just outside Abergavenny: the Sugar Loaf with a 360˚ panorama from its grassy cone; or Skirrid, aka Holy Mountain because of the ruined chapel at its summit. Both are easy peaks to bag. 

We also love the Vale of Ewyas. Monks sought solitude here for centuries and the valley still feels as if it has slipped between modernity’s cracks. From the ruins of the monks’ priory in Llanthony there are easy rambles up the valley or ascents to Offa’s Dyke Path that strides along the vale’s east flank. 

Afternoon: around Hay-on-Wye

Hay Bluff, Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons

Have lunch in the priory’s 12th century cellar then ascend through the narrowing valley to crest Gospel Pass and swoop down through lush farmland of the Wye Valley. While there’s great riding here with Tregoyd Mountain Riders, one of the most respected stables in the region, the River Wye offers one of the loveliest canoe trips in Wales. From Glasbury drift downstream past waterbirds and river meadows framed by rolling farmland and the Black Mountains and Hay Bluff beyond. A bobble over Grade 1-2 rapids after 5 miles (circa two hours) announces Hay-on-Wye, secondhand book capital of the world and a fine spot for a break.

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Day 2 - The Brecon Beacons

Morning: Climbing Pen y Fan

Pen y Fan and Corn Du, Brecon Beacons

It’s inconceivable to visit the Brecon Beacons and not walk Pen y Fan (886m). With its plane cut ridges, the highest mountain in southern Britain is the most beguiling peak in the park but it is within reach of anyone of moderate fitness. There are at least 10 routes up so we’re never going to agree which is best. There's the well-worn path up the southern flank from Storey Arms Outdoor Education Centre on the A470, but an easier route starts from Pont ar Daf car park going up to Bwlch Duwynt. While one of the most rewarding is the full-day Horseshoe Walk circuit via Corn Du, the park’s second-highest peak, from the Neuadd Reservoir. Pick up maps in Brecon. That said, Monmouth-Brecon Canal Path between Talybont-on-Usk and Pencelli is hard to beat for a stroll.

Afternoon: Mountain biking the Brecon Beacons

Mountain biking at Mynydd Llangors, Brecon Beacons

If mountain biking for you means trails beneath big skies not manmade forest routes, the Brecon Beacons is your place. Two trails fan out around the Brecon Beacons National Park Visitor Centre. The easiest is a five-mile triangle – a ride around a nature reserve with views to Pen y Fan and the central Brecon Beacons. The 15-mile Mynydd Illtud trail ups the ante with two descents – one narrow and rocky, the other over through bracken on a gentle hillside – and a modest climb before the return via farm tracks and a section of Roman road. Bike hire is in Brecon five miles away; Bikes and Hikes there delivers bikes.

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Day 3 - The Cambrian Mountains

Morning: A nature-walk

Wooded riverbank at RSPB Gwenffrwd-Dinas, Carmarthenshire

Wooded Riverbank at Gwenffrwd-Dinas, Carmarthenshire by Aaron A. Aardvark

The Tywi Valley is strikingly lush after the bare high slopes of the Brecon Beacons. The scenery improves as the valley narrows. At its head the RSPB Dinas Reserve is home to a spotter’s book of birdlife: red kites soar above the valley and Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts, Common Sandpipers, Dippers and Grey Wagtails flit through the oak and alder trees. If birdlife sounds a bit nerdy, the scenery is as much of a reason to walk the reserve’s boardwalked trails. Legend says Merlin was born in this valley. Among this quiet corner of ancient woods, rushing streams and stone bluffs that doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

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Afternoon: Cycling in the Elan valley

Elan Valley Trail, Rhayader, Mid Wales

Of all the ranges which sweep through Mid Wales, the Elan Valley packs in most scenery, with four lakes pooled in the valleys. The Elan Valley visitor centre details this feat of Victorian engineering and provides maps of the Elan Valley Trail that tracks the old Birmingham Corporation Water Works railway. It’s an easy bike ride – hire in Clive Powell Mountain Bikes in Rhayader, a classic market town with more pubs per capita than anywhere else in Wales. Now there’s a reward afterwards.

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