From the depths of its limestone caves to the grandeur of Pen y Fan and Cribyn, its highest peaks, there’s plenty to explore in this gem of a national park. By day, there are moorlands, trails and towns to discover, while by night, you can feast your eyes on the stars.
Rolling green landscapes? Waterfalls? Characterful towns and a tranquil canal? They’re all here. Like a grab-bag of rural highlights, the Brecon Beacons National Park is one of the most interesting regions in Britain.
Less than 30 miles from Cardiff and 100 miles from Birmingham, it’s easy to reach. You can drive here from central London in under three hours. There’s plenty of space – in fact, crowds are rare. Venture a little beyond the most popular trails and you’ll soon find yourself in countryside that feels utterly peaceful and remote.
Carved out in the Ice Age, the mountains, hills and valleys of the Brecon Beacons National Park have been moulded by nearly eight millennia of human activity. Many dozens of prehistoric monuments dot these weathered slopes. There’s a rich agricultural tradition in and around the park and the region’s one of a kind towns – outdoorsy, walker friendly Crickhowell, jazzy Brecon, food-loving Abergavenny and book mad Hay-on-Wye – are genuinely refreshing.
Separated from Snowdonia by the 40-mile-long Cambrian Mountains, its uplands stretch almost as far from west to east as Snowdonia National Park does from north to south, but have a quite different atmosphere. While the rocky remains of long-dead volcanoes dominate much of Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons National Park is full of grassy moorlands, heather-clad escarpments and Old Red Sandstone peaks, softened by weather and time.
Jon Pimm, Warden, Brecon Beacons National Park
Each area of the Brecon Beacons National Park has its own uniqueness, its own features. After working here for over ten years I’m still finding new places and seeing wonderful views I’ve not seen before.”
Mountains and moorlands
Defining the park are the highest mountains in southern Britain – the Brecon Beacons – and the three ranges surrounding them, the Black Mountain Range, Fforest Fawr and Black Mountains. At their heart is Wales’ largest expanse of open hill common, about 20 miles across. Here, Welsh mountain ponies keep the vegetation in check. The descendants of pit ponies, they’re a hardy breed. They’re said to be tougher than sheep – and less fussy eaters.
To the south, limestone pavements catch the light on half-sunny, half-cloudy days, while the west is a region of tilted rock, waterfalls and caves of such geological interest that in 2005 it was designated a Unesco Geopark, a first for Wales. Like the rest of the park, the best way to appreciate the Fforest Fawr Geopark is on foot, by bike or on horseback, independently or with an expert guide.
Stay out on in the Brecon Beacons National Park overnight and, if the skies are clear, you’ll be dazzled by a dome of stars. As your eyes adjust to the immensity of it all, constellations will come into focus; time your visit carefully and you’ll have a privileged view of distant planets or meteor showers. The National Park Authority organises star gazing events to make the most of the beautiful, light-pollution-free conditions and is the only International Dark Sky Reserve in Wales.