Stretch Yourself in the Brecon Beacons
A few Scottish voices might be raised in disagreement, but the Brecon Beacons have a good claim to the title of best place in Britain for adventure holidays. That is partly because of the sheer range of activities on offer in the Brecons, from the artistic to what can seem like the masochistic.
There is of course plenty of room to stretch yourself in the National Park , which covers more than 500 square miles of generally empty and rugged countryside. The territory was designated as a national park in 1957, giving protection to the landscape and nature, but also encouraging the creative use of the wild and often mountainous terrain for breaks, holidays and training: even the SAS harnesses the challenges available there in its selection process, a 13-mile hike with full pack and rifle over the 886m Pen y Fan and back again (with just four hours allowed!).
For those who haven’t yet visited the area, a brief guide. Hay-on-Wye is at the northern tip, with Brecon 15 miles or so southwest also on the edge of the park. Abergavenny and Merthyr Tydfil sit just outside the southern border of the park. The Black Mountains bordering Herefordshire are one mountainous area on the eastern side, the Brecon Beacons proper below the town of Brecon, the most spectacular ground being the horseshoe ridge formed by Corn Du (873m) and Pen y Fan (the highest peak), with Crybin (795m), Pen y Big and Waun Rydd as options for the determined (and fit). To the west lies the Black Mountain (our ancestors apparently had a certain lack of imagination in naming places) within the Fforest Fawr Geopark. Between the zones of high ground there is plenty of moorland, the whole with just a few roads of any size, most of these striking north-south.
Testing yourself doesn’t necessarily involve pain and blisters. There are several providers of tuition in more cerebral pursuits, for example art and photography. What better combination for the budding landscape photographer than a class facing the dramatic peaks of the Beacons? Not sure if it truly qualifies, but there are even holistic centres where at some a bit of yoga will literally stretch you.
Just trying something new and different to get the heart pumping can do a world of good to jaded minds. The Brecons have a long list of providers, but to seed a few ideas consider these: gliding, or even more wind-in-the-hair with hang-gliding, the thermals and winds in and around the mountains giving you wind beneath your wings. You don’t get mountains without water, not in Wales anyway. The whole park is dotted and crossed with reservoirs, streams and rivers, so there is no shortage of waterborne activities here either. Fancy a gentlemanly spot of fly-fishing? There is good fishing to be had all over, and if you need some help it’s easy to find a teacher and/or a ghillie. For something a bit more dashing, there are lots of places where you can hire canoes and kayaks and the safety gear to go with them, or if you fancy an organised excursion you can tie up with experts – wise for those without experience. Even if you are not as fit as you once were the water can still beckon in Brecon – with the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal to hand and boats available to hire.
Then we come to crossing the country in touch with the ground activities: pony trekking is very popular, not only for the wonderful countryside but also because the landscape feels right for it – you’ll even spot wild ponies here. Cycling can leave you feeling tender in the same places, geographically and anatomically. There are some great tracks away from cars where you can enjoy the view without worrying about traffic too much.
Good for the soul if not always for the soles, the major draw for visitors to the area - walking. As with the biking option, it’s great to get away from cars and hit the trail; to be able to stop and look around without being bumped and badgered. Plenty of companies offer guided treks if you fancy meeting up with like-minded people and think a bit of support wouldn’t go amiss. Just a thought, but given the wealth of pleasant village inns in the park, a long-distance pub-crawl, or at least a hike with pubs as way-stations, is a concept worth investigating.
And if you go vertical walking – climbing the rock-faces in which the mountains are rich – it may be best to have local knowledge readily available.
Whatever the activity you opt for, please ensure you are properly equipped. Even in the summer the weather in the high country can change rapidly, and doesn’t always do in the afternoon what the weather-sites predicted in the morning. Beautiful as the land can be in winter, it can turn brutal too. The right clothing, the right safety equipment, and someone who knows roughly where you are and when you are getting back are simple and useful precautions.
A last thought. Don’t forget to spend a few moments or more in one of the pretty towns and villages in the park – Crickhowell , Llangynidr and Sennybridge for example. Find time for a castle or two at Tretower or Camlais, or Brecon itself. Seek the best places for breakfast or a cuppa, you’ll deserve it.
We have plenty of accommodation options for you to consider in and around the area, from basic to opulent, in town and country: hotels, those inns we mentioned, B&Bs, cottages, lodges and caravan parks: we’re sure you’ll find something to suit your style – and pocket.
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