The ultimate guide to the Brecon Beacons

Fan – the Welsh word for summit – appears in the names of several rugged mountains in the Brecon Beacons. Yet the English meaning of ‘fan’ equally describes the topography of these highlands of south-east Wales: the park’s arcuate, flat-topped peaks of ancient red sandstone with several slopes marked by diagonal rock ridges resemble unfolded fans.

The Brecon Beacons underwent a name change from English to Welsh in the spring of 2023: the new title – Bannau Brycheiniog National Park – means ‘peaks of Brychan’s kingdom’.

The area has the highest land in all of southern Britain, a sense of wildness you won’t find south of Snowdonia or the Peak District, and fewer visitors than either, according to Statista data.

Pen y Fan is the highest point in southern Britain

Pen y Fan is the highest point in Southern Britain – Visit Wales

The 1,351 square kilometer national park stretches across almost half the width of South Wales, from the Welsh-England border to the market town of Llandeilo.

But it’s not all towering mountains and lonely moors. Some of Bannau Brycheiniog’s most enchanting landscapes are in the foothills: in the patches of sessile oak woodlands, along the lazy winds of the River Usk, in the idyllic and quirky villages, estates, coaching inns and castles.

This was a former cattle ranching and mining center and was granted national park status in 1957. It is also a landscape that has inspired famous writers, from the metaphysical verses of Henry Vaughan to the contemporary poetry and prose of Owen Sheers.

And Bannau Brycheiniog also fuels the travel bug among a diverse mix of holidaymakers. Walkers flock to the moors and mountains, while families and leisurely walkers enjoy the gentler scenery of woodlands, riverbanks and waterfalls.

Lovers of good food can indulge themselves with cozy restaurants, delicious products and farm-to-table dining. And history buffs can clock everything from hillforts to fortresses.

Where is Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) National Park?

Bannau Brycheiniog stretches across the counties of Monmouthshire, Powys, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr Tydfil and Carmarthenshire, covering a significant part of South East Wales.

The gateway towns are Abergavenny, in the south east of the park, Brecon in the north and Hay-on-Wye, in the north east.

What is Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) National Park known for?

Hiking is the favorite activity of most visitors and the topographical variety is enormous. The big peaks – including the only five peaks over 800 meters in southern Britain – attract the most attention, but there are also glacial lakes such as Llyn y Fan Fach, ancient oak forests such as Coed y Castell, some of Britain’s most beautiful waterfalls in what is affectionately known as ‘Waterfall Country’, and relaxing walks along the River Usk and the restored Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal.

Take a walk along the Monmouthshire & Brecon CanalTake a walk along the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal

Take a walk along the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal – Wales News Service

The southern side of the national park gained a reputation as a center for mining during the Industrial Revolution and its fascinating heritage remains today. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Blaenavon Industrial Landscape, on the south-eastern edge of the park, near Abergavenny, was a center of coal and iron production in the late 18th and 19th centuries. About 100 buildings and structures from this era have been preserved, including the superlative Big Pit experience where visitors are lowered 300 feet down a mine shaft to 19th-century factories, dressed in the mining equipment used in the past and guided by an ex-miner .

Bannau Brycheiniog is also peppered with history from much earlier periods: such as the ruins of Carreg Cennen with its underground cave system, and the rare 14th-century fortified manor house Tretower Court. The Iron Age fortifications Y Gaer Fawr and Y Gaer Fach at Y Garn Goch together form the largest hillfort in South Wales.

Although still under the radar, the national park’s farm-to-table cuisine would also stand out anywhere in the country. The area has collected several Michelin stars over the years, but it’s the vibrant link between product and place – often just a field away – that makes the food scene so special.

You can enjoy this at a variety of highly rated restaurants with rooms and culinary experiences, from whiskey and gin distilleries to coffee roasters and foraging courses.

What to do in the National Park

Climb Pen y Fan

The climb to the highest point in southern Britain, Pen y Fan, is Bannau Brycheiniog’s most popular walk. There are several routes to the 886-metre summit, which offers some of Wales’ most beautiful panoramas: of rocky peaks, stark moors and the tortoiseshell hues of rolling fields and foothills. The most commonly followed trail is the 4-mile out-and-back route from Storey Arms Outdoor Centre.

Go on a sheep trek

Perhaps the quirkiest experience around here is at Aberhyddnant Organic Farm, where you can appreciate sheep like you’ve probably never done before – by taking them for a walk. These woolly creatures walk friendly next to people on a leash. Walk with them through the charming landscape or socialize with other furry friends, such as pygmy goats, cows and pigs.

Visit the Carreg Cennen Castle

Carreg Cennen, situated on a rocky outcrop surrounded by ancient woodland near Llandeilo, is a very picturesque fortress. The ruins date back to the 13th century and offer golden-green views as far as the Tywi Valley and wilder views up to the moors. The highlight, however, is the descent through a cliff-hewn passage into a cave beneath the castle’s foundations.

The ruins of Carreg CennenThe ruins of Carreg Cennen

The Ruins of Carreg Cennen – Visit Wales

Explore the Monmouth & Brecon Canal

This attractive waterway creates a 56 kilometer long corridor of soft greenery along the eastern flanks of the Brecon Beacons. You can walk or cycle the towpath through the forest-lined farmland below the peaks, or – better yet – cruise along the towpath in a narrowboat. Brecon Park Boats near Llangattock rents boats.

Walk to Llyn y Fan Fach

This walk takes you to one of the area’s most majestic natural sights: the mythical glacier-formed Lake Llyn y Fan Fach, fronted by a steep cirque with ridged rock veins. The site has a place in local folklore due to the legend of the Lady of the Lake. From the car park it’s a 3.75km round trip walk to Llyn y Fan Fach or a 14.8km circuit around this lake and another, Llyn y Fan Fach, and back along the vertiginous ridge.

Dine at The Walnut Tree

The Michelin-starred The Walnut Tree is everything you could want from a gastronomic escape. Chef Shaun Hill – who once served Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath – believes in food that is simple in presentation yet complex in preparation: a bourrit (bouillabaisse) of sea bass, monkfish and turbot perhaps, or a candied quail with mashed potatoes and stuffed morel. All this lies in the shadow of one of Bannau Brycheiniog’s most characteristic peaks, the Skirrid. There are even three cute cottages on site, full of tempting dishes to make your own breakfast.

How to get there

Public transport

Parkgateway city Abergavenny has the best access to public transport. You can go out within walking distance of the train station. Arrive here by train from London (over two hours, changing at Newport), Cardiff (45 minutes) or Manchester (under three hours). There are hourly services on all routes.

Bus X3 connects Abergavenny with Cardiff (southwest) and Hereford (northeast). Llandeilo on the western edge of the park has train services several times a day via the Heart of Wales Line to Swansea (one hour) and Shrewsbury (three hours).

The driving

If you’re driving from London, it’s a 3-hour drive to Abergavenny via the M4, A449 and A40. From Cardiff the driving time is one hour and from Birmingham less than two hours.

Where to stay

Peterstone Court

This stately 18th century country house in Llanhamlach, near Brecon, features extensive grounds stretching across several terraces to the River Usk, a spa, outdoor pool and restaurant. The eight bedrooms in the main building are over 35 square meters in size; another four wait in a converted stable block. Doubles from £220 (01874 665 387;

Félin Fach Griffin

Staying at this renowned restaurant with rooms is an attractive option. After enjoying dishes of beef and lamb from the nearby hills, game from the park’s Welsh Venison Centre, cheese from Carmarthenshire and vegetables from the hotel’s extensive garden, there’s really no reason to leave. The eight rooms in the ruddy 17th-century former coaching inn feature homemade biscuits and rolling rural views towards the mountains. Doubles from £182.50. (01874 620 111;

Aber Glamping

Sleep immersed in secluded country life at Aberhyddnant Organic Farm in one of three geodomes, equipped with wood-burning stoves, kitchenettes and fire pits. Sheep walks and petting sessions with farm animals take place on site, and there are several ways to make your stay even more fun, such as renting a pizza oven or buying a barbecue basket with homemade burgers and sausages to grill over an open fire. Geodomes for up to 6 people from £140. (01874 636797;

On a budget

Bannau Brycheiniog has a large selection of campsites and hostels for the budget conscious. One of the most idyllic campsites, Llanthony Court Camping, near the beautiful ruins of Llanthony Priory in the Black Mountains, costs just £5 per person per night, while YHA Brecon Beacons, within walking distance of Pen y Fan, offers dormitories for £20 and private rooms for up to four people for £75.

Meanwhile, all walks, including Pen y Fan, are free: only parking costs money. The Great Pit is another free attraction and many of the old historic sites such as the Y Garn Goch hillfort are also free.

When to visit

For outdoor activities, April to September has the driest, sunniest and least swampy weather. However, this is Wales, and Bannau Brycheiniog is among the marshier parts of it, with annual rainfall averaging between 1500mm and 2600mm depending on the area, according to the national park authority: so be prepared for rain at any time .

Major events include the Hay Festival in May, a literary-themed extravaganza in the Welsh book town of Hay-on-Wye, the Green Man Festival in August (near Crickhowell) and the Abergavenny Food Festival in September. In general, April, May and September offer conditions that can be just as pleasant for walking as those in the July-August peak season, only with fewer crowds. Come mid-week, even during peak times, and you’ll find that the countryside – away from tourist hotspots like Pen y Fan – is quite quiet.

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