Situated about an hour north of Cardiff, this mountainous region is largely known for its spectacular natural landscapes. And it’s true that the peaks of the Beacons and the Black Mountains have views to take your breath away. Climb Pen-y-Fan, the highest peak in South Wales at 886m/2,907ft, on a clear day and you’ll be able to see as far as the Gower Peninsula to the west and across the lush Usk Valley to the English border to the east.
This stunning region also has a rich, eventful history and plenty of fascinating cultural sights to explore. The countryside is dotted with Neolithic standing stones, Iron Age hillforts, Roman roads and Norman castles. The spread of Christianity has left numerous churches, chapels and even a cathedral, while local Celtic saints are commemorated in the picturesque Welsh names of the villages.
The Industrial Revolution dramatically changed the face of the valleys to the south of the Brecon Beacons. Yet the coal seam stopped at Merthyr Tydfil, and in the Beacons themselves rural life continued much as before. Spared the effects of industrialisation, the Brecon Beacons National Park has retained its unspoilt landscapes of pasture, moorland and mountains that are enjoyed by so many visitors today.
Brecon Beacons is ideally located and open all year round, offering a full range of exciting activities such as:- climbing, abseiling, caving, pot holing, gorge walking, kayaking, canoeing, white water rafting, white water kayaking, white water open canoeing, orienteering, mountain biking, archery, hot dogging, land carting, team building, canoe expeditions, raft building and boasting the first high level ropes course in the the area as well as conference facilities and accommodation in Hotels, B&Bs, Inns and Self-Catering Holiday Cottages.
The Central Beacons dominate the skyline to the south of the town of Brecon and rise to 886 metres at Pen y Fan, the highest point in southern Britain.
Further west lies the sandstone massif of Fforest Fawr, comprising a series of hills known as ‘Fans’, with Fan Fawr being the highest point at 734 metres. Water rushing southwards from this area has formed steep river valleys with spectacular waterfalls.
The most westerly block of sandstone is Y Mynydd Du, The Black Mountain, culminating in the summit of Fan Brycheiniog at 802 metres and contains the two enchanting glacial lakes of Llyn y Fan Fach and Llyn y Fan.
The landscape of the Brecon Beacons National Park is largely the product of human intervention stretching back over many thousands of years. Around 5500BC in Middle Stone-Age times, hunter-gatherers cut down scrub and burned the aftermath in an attempt to create small grassland areas to encourage the grazing animals which they hunted.
In the New Stone-Age farming was introduced to the area and, by the close of the Bronze-Age, significant forest clearances had occurred. During the Iron-Age, Celtic peoples settled in the area bringing increased sophistication to farming methods. They erected hill-forts of which impressive banks and ditches remain today. The Roman occupation left a legacy of an improved communications infrastructure and 12th century Norman patterns of land-use are still evident today.
The Middle Ages saw the consolidation of the Norman manorial system, but there were cataclysmic episodes such as the Black Death and the Glyndwr Revolt.
From the end of the fifteenth century onwards industries such as ironmaking, charcoal, limestone extraction and coal mining began to be established in the area. There is a rich industrial archaeology to be found to the south and east of the Park. Some hillsides, such as those above the Clydach Gorge and on the Cribarth Mountain, have been altered considerably by industrial development which continued into the twentieth century.
More recently, urban expansion, road building, construction of canals and reservoirs, erection of power lines, large conifer plantations and changes to agricultural practices have all contributed to the ever changing environment of the National Park.
In the east of the Park are the Black Mountains, with a high point of 811 metres at Waun Fach. They also form a natural border with Herefordshire, in England.