The Brecon Beacons in South Wales has much to offer the outdoor adventurer, thanks to its rugged landscape, unpredictable climate and range of natural features. It is also an area rich in fascinating geology and archaeology. Here are my top four Brecon Beacons natural wonders to explore…
The landscape of the Brecon Beacons is stunning, with so many remarkable natural features, from caves and mountains, to waterfalls and lakes. This area has the greatest concentration of waterfalls, sink holes, caves and gorges in the UK.
Add to this some pretty unpredictable weather, which brings with it more than a fair share of precipitation, AND a history of human occupation dating back to the Stone Age, and you start to understand how this constantly evolving landscape has taken shape.
Top four Brecon Beacons Natural Wonders
1. Highest peaks
As the name suggests, the Brecon Beacons is an area characterised by mountainous peaks and rolling hills. The national park includes four distinct mountain ranges.
Strictly speaking the name Brecon Beacons refers to a range of old red sandstone peaks which lie to the south of Brecon. But it is also the name for the wider national park, which covers an area of 1,344 km2 (520 square miles) and takes in ranges to the east and west of these central beacons.
Pen-y-Fan is the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons National Park and the highest in South Wales, standing at 886 m (2,907 ft) above sea level. Alongside it sits Corn Du, the second highest peak in South Wales, standing at 873 m (2,864 ft). These mountains make up the twin peaks so often pictured in magazines and brochures.
Owned by the National Trust, Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du both feature in numerous walking routes and charity runs, and are used by the British Army as part of its Special Forces selection process. The entire range is open to walkers and ramblers, and is considered a hikers’ paradise.
Check out Four Ways to Walk up Pen-y-Fan for more information.
The Black Mountains
The slightly more modest Black Mountains are situated in the northeast of the Brecon Beacons National Park, and form a natural border with the county of Herefordshire in England.
The highest of the Black Mountains is Waun Fach (811 m). My favourite peak in this range is Sugar Loaf which is just 596 metres above sea level and can be seen clearly from the village of Crickhowell.
These pretty mountains are characterised by green rolling countryside, primarily grassland and heather, and offer an inviting alternative for walkers, mountain-bikers and pony-trekkers alike.
The mountains and peaks of this area are without doubt among the best of the Brecon Beacons natural wonders.
2. Impressive caves
You can also explore the darkest depths of the Brecon Beacons below ground, thanks to some pretty impressive natural caves formed in the sandstone over the centuries.
The National Showcaves Centre for Wales is a great place to start as it features three superb caves and over 1.5 km of underground passageways.
Dan-yr-Ogof is the most impressive of the caves, and was discovered by two local farmers who squeezed into a small hole in the hillside back in 1912. Just outside the entrance the river Llynfell bursts from the mountain, returning to the surface after flowing six kilometres underground.
Most of Dan-yr-Ogof was accessible during our visit, although one section was closed due to flooding. This cave includes many natural features, including rock formations shaped like an angel, a hanging curtain and some awesome stalactites and pillars.
The second cave is Cathedral Cave, with its high ceilings and magnificent open space. You can even get married here.
Among the features in this huge cave is an internal waterfall and many hundreds of small straw-like stalactites. You can also see the entrance to a tiny passageway where members of the South Wales Caving Club squeezed in to this cave for the first time in 1953.
The final cave is Bone Cave where the remains of 42 human skeletons have been found, along with evidence of European cave bears and red deer. This cave provides an interesting insight into the history of the caves, used by both humans and animals long before it was rediscovered in modern times.
The outside areas at the National Showcaves Centre have been made in to a Dinosaur Park, which may appeal to families.
The recreation of an Iron Age farm was more interesting, but I was happy to take or leave the slightly tacky reconstructions of life in the caves. They only served as a distraction from what is one of the most impressive of the Brecon Beacons natural wonders.
There are plenty of other opportunities to explore underground in the Brecon Beacons, especially if you’re an experienced caver. For example, at Cum Porth there is a network of underground river passages, accessible near Porth yr Ogaf (The Disappearing River).
For more information contact the South Wales Caving Club and always remember to follow the Cave Conservation Code.
3. Waterfalls and cascades
Brecon Beacons is waterfall country and there are many beautiful waterfalls to discover. These include the highest waterfall in the national park, Henryd Falls (27m), and the most pictured, Sgwd Eira. Both allow visitors to walk behind a wall of water.
Many of the waterfalls are accessible from the village of Pontneddfechan. Alternative falls can be found at Blaen-y-Glyn in the Talybont Valley. There is no doubt that waterfalls are a key feature when it comes to Brecon Beacons natural wonders.
For more information about the waterfalls of the Brecon Beacons see my earlier post Discover Brecon Beacons Waterfall Country.
4. Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark
The Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark comprises the western half of the national park, stretching from the pretty town of Llandovery in the north to the edge of Merthyr Tydfil in the south, from Llandeilo in the west to Brecon in the east.
Fforest Fawr (or ‘Great Forest’) is a swathe of upland countryside included in the National Park when it was designated in 1957. The Fforest Fawr Geopark was established in 2005 and is made up of 763 km2 (300 square miles) of mountain and moorland, woodland and meadow, lakes and rivers.
It’s all about the geology in Fforest Fawr. This area was shaped by the last Ice Age, with evidence of ancient seas and the creation of mountains here. It is also a place where the science of geology was developed and honed by pioneering 19th century geologists.
The earliest evidence of occupation dates back to the Stone Age. There are also a number of Iron Age Hill Forts within the Geopark as well as more recent industrial heritage to explore.
One of my favourite spots is the Maen Llia standing stone. Just metres from a minor road between the Senni Valley and Ystradfellte, this impressive stone is well worth a short visit.
Made from a huge sandstone block, it measures 3.7 m (12 ft) high, 2.8 m (9 ft) wide, and 0.6 m (2 ft) in depth. Moving it must have been a huge challenge for the ancient people who erected it.
The original purpose of Maen Llia is unknown, but it dates back to the Bronze Age and may have been a territorial or ceremonial marker.
To help you explore the Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark a series of nine leaflets has been published. Each details a ‘Geotrail’ to follow and introduces you to the key natural and man-made landscapes of the area. These are available from the National Park Visitor Centre.
If you’re interested in checking out any of these Brecon Beacons natural wonders for yourself, more information is available from:
Brecon Beacons National Park Authority
Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark