Photo: Rolling green pastures and lake

Pasture rolls gently down to mist-shrouded Llangorse Lake, part of Brecon Beacons National Park.

Photograph by Adam Burton, Photolibrary

Name: Brecon Beacons

Location: Wales

Date Established: 1957

Size: 520 square miles (1,347 square kilometers)

Did You Know?

Pen y Fan The Brecon Beacons is a north-facing mountain range in South Wales, near the town of Brecon. The range includes the highest point in southern Britain—Pen y fan, which climbs 2,907 feet (886 meters) high.

Stones and Mounds The rolling fields of Brecon Beacons National Park are filled with evidence of many years of human history, including single standing stones, or menhirs, from the Bronze Age. Long grass-covered mounds, called cairns, mark stone-chambered Neolithic tombs. The remains of ancient stone circles and Iron Age Celtic hill forts can also be found here.

Crumbling Castles The Norman Conquest of 1066 sparked a wave of castle construction across Wales. Hundreds were thrown up to consolidate Norman holds on new lands. Today the park is home to the ruins of many such fortresses; the best example is Carreg Cennen, a crumbling walled and towered enclosure that remains perched on the sheer cliffs of a craggy hilltop.

Scenic Waterway The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal was once an industrial artery through the center of the modern park. Today its 35 miles (56 kilometers) of towpath wander through picturesque farmland and traditional villages of the Usk Valley from Brecon to Five Locks, Cwmbran. Cyclists can ride on two shorter sections of towpath, and public boat trips or canoe hires allow visitors to take to the water.

Waterfall Country Waterfall Country is a realm of steep, wooded gorges where the Mellte, Hepste, and Nedd Fechan Rivers roar over cataracts such as Sgwd yr Eira (Fall of Snow). The entire area between Pontneddfechan and Ystradfellte is open for exploration; some falls are easily accessible, but others take some work to get to them.

Blaenavon World Heritage Site Nearly half of the World Heritage site of Blaenavon—dedicated to landmarks of the Industrial Revolution—lies in the national park. The site was home to an enormous iron foundry, the Big Pit coal mine, and surrounding limestone quarries that once fed the iron industry.

Llangorse Lake Surrounded with grasslands and water meadows, Llangorse Lake offers an appealing abode for geese, warblers, starlings, ducks, and other birds, which can be seen from the lakeside hide. The lake also features the remains of an Iron Age crannog, or human-made rock island, on the northern shore. Historians believe the ninth-century King of Brycheiniog may have sheltered here from marauding Vikings.

How to Get There

The park is just an hour from Cardiff International Airport. Trains stop at Abergavenny, Llandeilo, Llandovery, and Merthyr Tydfil. Buses also run to these main centers and offer connections to smaller communities inside the park.

When to Visit

Anytime is a great time to visit Brecon Beacons, but literary lovers from around the world flock to Hay-on-Wye, a town with some 40 bookshops, for the Hay Festival in late May and early June. U.S. President Bill Clinton called the event “the Woodstock of the mind.” There's also a lower-key winter weekend each December.

How to Visit

On holidays and summer Sundays, visitors can take advantage of the Beacons Bus, which is based in Brecon and runs routes around the park. Visitors can hop on and off at their convenience.

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