Brecon Beacons National Park

Grwyne Fechan Llanthony Priory Cefn Cul Clydach Gorge
Established in 1957, Brecon Beacons National Park contains an east-west range of peaks and valleys in south Wales, and is the third such park in the country, along with Snowdonia and Pembrokeshire Coast. The preserve includes the most extensive areas of wild, undeveloped land in the UK south of Snowdonia, with some places over three miles from the nearest paved road - not so remarkable compared with, for example, the Lake District or the Scottish mountains, but still more remote than all other scenic landscapes in southern England and Wales. Most of the park is within Powys, while other parts are in seven other boroughs: Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Carmarthenshire, Merthyr Tydfil, Monmouthshire, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Torfaen.

The high country is characterised by barren plateaus and ridges, topped by low-prominence peaks, the highest 2,907 foot (886 metre) Pen y Fan. Most of the land is covered only by grass, heather, bracken and occasional bushes, though some of the hillsides are used for conifer plantations. The underlying rocks are mostly sandstone and gritstone, plus some limestone and coal towards the south, but are rarely exposed; this region lacks the dramatic craggy summits that are found in other British mountain parks. Streams draining the peaks unite to form a number of powerful rivers which have cut short but often deep gorges, containing many waterfalls and cascades, and usually lined by dense woodland, while the upper reaches of some of the drainages have been dammed to form reservoirs. The national park also contains caves and shake holes, and a variety of historic sites including castles, quarries, stone circles, standing stones, burial mounds, Roman remains and old religious buildings.

The relatively gentle topography, absence of cliffs and lack of forest cover make the peaks and valleys ideal for hiking; all areas are crossed by many trails, and cross-country walking is easy in most places. By far the most popular area is around Pen y Fan and its neighbouring peaks, seeing hundreds of visitors on summer weekends, and perhaps during icy periods in the winter, since snow settles here much more readily than on the surrounding lowlands.

Land within the park comprises four distinct hilly areas. The westernmost, least visited and most remote is Black Mountain, a plateau topped by lakes, ridges, scarps and peaks - about 12 by 10 miles in extent, ranging from Llandeilo in the west to the valley of the River Tawe in the east, which provides a course for the A4067. Between this route and the next major north-south road (the A470) is Forest Fawr, a similar but slightly smaller and lower elevation region, while east of the A470 are the Brecon Beacons, the highest and most famous peaks, most of which have a horseshoe-like arrangement around the upper end of the valley of the Taf Fechan river. These three areas are essentially contiguous, while the fourth elevated region, the Black Mountains, is separated by the River Usk. The mountains comprise four narrow ridges and several lesser spurs, joined at the north end and separated to the south by narrow, winding valleys. One other region within the national park (and extending slightly outside) is Waterfall Country, south of Forest Fawr; here the majority of the cascades and gorges are located.

Historic Sites

Brecon Cathedral - Gothic cathedral, some sections dating from the 12th century

Crickhowell Castle - fragmented remains of a minor Norman castle, beside the River Usk

Llanthony Priory - ruined Augustinian priory in a remote valley within the Black Mountains

Morlais Castle - overgrown remains of a 13th century castle, on an isolated limestone hill

Tretower Castle and Court - ruined castle next to a complete, unrestored, 14th century manor house


Black Mountain Fans - summits along a dramatic ridge above two isolated lakes, on the west side of the park

Llangattock Escarpment - limestone cliffs below a plateau rim, site of 18th century quarries; also caves and a lake

Pen y Fan and Fan y Big Horseshoe Walk - spectacular loop hike in the Brecon Beacons, visiting four high peaks

Skirrid Fawr - eastern outlier of the Black Mountains, circled by a 3.5 mile loop trail

Table Mountain, Pen Cerrig-calch and Pen Allt-mawr - summits in the Black Mountains

Waun Fach, Grwyne Fawr and Nant Bwch - peaks, ridges and valleys on the north side of the Black Mountains


Afon Nedd Fechan - river with three large waterfalls, flowing through a deep, forested valley

Afon Pyrddin - cascades and two major waterfalls along a tributary of the Afon Nedd Fechan

Caerfanell Waterfalls - 20 or more waterfalls along the Caerfanell River in the Brecon Beacons, and the tributary of Nant Bwrefwr

Clydach Gorge - wooded valley containing several waterfalls, plus old railways and industrial relics

Cwm Llwch - valley on the north side of the Brecon Beacons, containing waterfalls and a secluded glacial lake

Four Waterfalls Walk - four large falls along the Mellte and Hepste rivers, near Ystradfellte

Nant Llech and Henrhyd Falls - the highest waterfall in south Wales, and a deep valley containing several other cascades

Sychryd Gorge - short gorge along the River Sychryd near Pontneddfechan, containing several impressive waterfalls and some old mine relics

Taf Fechan Gorge - pretty, tree-lined gorge north of Merthyr Tydfil, containing cascades and narrow sections

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