We have spent the last couple of days in and around Brecon Beacons National Park.
The Brecon Beacons National Park was established in 1957. It covers 1,340 km2 and encompasses a number of regions – the Black Mountain in the west, the Brecon Beacons in the centre, and the similarly named, but different, Black Mountains in the east, They ‘Beacons’ are said to be named after the ancient practice of lighting signal fires to warn of coming invaders. These areas have long been used for grazing and there are many old tracks which were used over the centuries by drovers to take their cattle, geese and sheep to market in England.
Most of the national park is bare, grassy moorland grazed by Welsh mountain ponies and Welsh mountain sheep, with scattered forestry plantations. Due to the relative remoteness and harsh weather of some of its uplands, the park is used for military training. UK Special Forces, including the SAS and SBS hold demanding selection training exercises here.
Ou first stop after leaving Cardiff was at a place near Pontypool where a chain of 14 locks carried canal boats up and down a large hill. They are no longer used and have fallen into disrepair long ago but they are clearly visible (and not too hard to fall into).
There are many small villages in this areas that offer food and accommodation, like this one at Lower Brynamman. Some seem to have many rows of very ordinary houses on the street front. Perhaps they reflect the cheap housing provided for miners when coal was extracted near here.
In other villages, there are some quite cute buildings that give them a much more charming appearance. The Bridge End Hotel at Crickhowell is at the of a stone bridge with twelve arches where it crosses the Usk River.
In Talybont on Usk, we came across a canal that is still operating. This little village, with a few pubs and a shop, is a favourite place for walkers. A little way before the village, there is a 380 metre long tunnel where the canal travels under a hill. Near the canal is a memorial to Richard Trevithick who \was a British inventor and mining engineer. He built the first full-scale working railway steam locomotive and its first journey took place on 21 February 1804, when Trevithick’s unnamed steam locomotive hauled a train along the tramway of the Penydarren Ironworks, near here in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales.
Some of the lower parts of this area are forested and numerous parking places are provided at the start of the many walking tracks. We stopped at one to photograph the little stone bridge where the road crossed a stream.
We drove across the Brecon Beacons with its stark landscape. There were a lot of sheep and some cattle grazing by the roadside and we had to take care incase they ran in front of us. This would be a cold and inhospitable place in winter!
After a long descent, we came to the market town of Llandovery with its medieval church of St Mary and its extensive churchyard. It was built inside the area of a Roman Fort.The church dates back to the 11th Century.
We are staying in the town of Sennybrook at the Usk and Railway hotel right in the centre of the village.
On our second day here, we decided to drive north and see what was in the central / northern part of the National Park. Our first stop was the town of Brecon. Here, we could see the end of the canal that goes to Pontypool to the south. There was also a cathedral that was first built in 1093. It looks as though it, and its adjoining buildings were built inside the castle wall.
We drove a little further north to the town of Llandrindod Wells. This was one of the early Victorian Spa Towns in the region, but those days are over. Now, it is the centre for crazy events such as bog snorkelling. The Landlady at the pub whee we stopped for lunch gave us some travel advice, so we deviated from our semi-planned route to follow her suggestion and do another scenic drive across the mountains.
A little way along here suggested route, we came across an old church, The nearby roadside verges were alive with flowering bluebells and other wildflowers.
The main part of our route took us over the top of the range . Well above the tree line. The rod was only a metre , or so, wider than the car and we had to stop a few times and reverse to a parssing spot to let an on coming car get past us. We spent a few hours dodging motor bikes, cyclists and cars along this road.
In the middle section, we stopped to photograph an area where the bluebells had naturalised in a way that gave the whole hillside a smoky blue colour.
This area is quite remote and we had t check the map constantly to see that we we were still on the correct road. There wear a number of forks and we always took the most travelled one, assuming that it would lead us to the right destination. We were quite amazed to find a red telephone box and letter box in the middle of nowhere.
Near the end off our drive, we were getting some good views of the valleys from our higher elevation.
Finally, the road dropped down into the Usk River Valley and we were only half an hour away from our hotel.