26.06.2013. I first heard of the Brecon Beacons, a national park in Mid Wales from a work colleague.
“Oh you are heading to Wales? Are you going to the Brecon Beacons?”
“Sorry, Brecon what…?”
Llandrindod Wells (Llandod, in short), the first proper Welsh town I set foot on (apparently, transiting at Newport didn’t count as being to Wales) has the famous double ‘L’ in its name. I gave up attempting to pronouncing it the Welsh way after a while (you need to roll your tongue subtly). The word ‘Llan’ refers to a parish surrounding a church and there are many other towns in Wales with the same namesake. I am sure I will come across many others as I head up north.
The town is quite pretty with interesting Victorian architecture, but as I gradually come to grips with this part of the world, there really isn’t much to do. My purpose here is to meet Zoe, owner of the next Wwoof farm hosting me. We have changed plans to meet on Monday, which gave me 2 nights in this sleepy town where I did absolutely nothing besides watching TV and talking to old Welsh ladies on holidays in the hotel. The horrid weekend weather further justified that.
Then came a change of plans. I realised that the town of Brecon is an hour bus ride away, and would be a great gateway to the mountainous national park. I rang Zoe for a later meeting date to accommodate this side trip, to which she was more than happy to oblige. I absolutely love impulse travels like these.
The Brecon Beacons National Park, when defined very loosely spans 4 mountain ranges: Black Mountain, The Fforest Fawr Geopark, Brecon Becons (which includes Pen y fan, the tallest peak in Southern Britain) and rather confusingly named, the Black Mountains (plural). It is one of the 3 national parks in Wales; Snowdonia and Pembrokeshire being the others.
Brecon lies on the northern edge of this protected area, and as such the bus ride from Llandod didn’t offer any fascinating views apart from those I have already seen in rural Wales. This changed as I took another bus southward to the village of Crickhowell, offering views of stunning mountains with gentle curves in the distance. This quiet market town is very pretty, surrounded by the valleys and the iconic Crug hywel, or ‘table mountain’ named for its flat top. I based myself in Crickhowell for 2 nights, staying at the excellent Park Place B&B.
On separate days I made 2 hikes. The first was the climb up to Crug hywel, which at just about 450m, isn’t the most challenging. The second hike I did was the 886m tall Pen y Fan, the tallest peak in south of Britain.
The views at the top is unforgettable and awe-inspiring, and in the face of such natural magnificence, nothing else quite mattered. Wales has stolen my breath away and I look forward to seeing more of this country.