Stop what you’re doing.
Do I live in Wales?
If not, you should visit of course, it’s lovely. A beautiful land of fine food, drink, song and sport. As an Englishman, it can be mildly perilous around Six Nations time, but as long as you don’t go round the streets of Cardiff belching ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ (no seriously, don’t do it), it’s really a genuinely friendly place.
If you are here though, I urge you to consider this – how long it has been since you last went to the Brecon Beacons? In my case, other than a couple of times passing through, it has been about 26 years. Shocking. And totally inexcusable. I could pretend I didn’t know what I was missing, but I did. I was just lazy/unimaginative in planning my weekend activities. Like the distant aunt you really ought to call but don’t, or clearing out the cupboard under the stairs, I just hadn’t got round to it. I also had the crazy notion in my head that the Beacons were a million miles from Cardiff and not somewhere to go without serious planning.
But this simply isn’t the case. If you’re in South Wales you’re likely to be only an hour away from some seriously sexy landscape. That’s practically on your doorstep. So take the plunge, you won’t regret it.
My adventure took place over the Easter weekend and my wife Clare and I were lucky enough to be able to spend a good five days in the wild paradise of the Brecon Beacons. First stop was two nights up at the Penderyn Bunkbarn. A great little place based at Pantcefnyffordd Farm which has all your standard issue cute farmyard animals, but also some actual peacocks. I’m not sure if one keeps them for their eggs, but they do make a fabulously camp addition to any menagerie. The bunkhouse itself was clean, warm, cheap and within booze-soaked stumbling distance of the legendary Penderyn Distillery. What a stroke of luck! Of all the places I could have picked to stay, eh?
And this brings me on to an exercise-related point. Work and reward. I didn’t think you’d ever find me exerting myself physically purely for the sake of it, so it was important for me to have something to treat myself to after a bit of walking. So that was the plan on the first day – walk to Sgwd yr Eira waterfall and then come back for a whiskey tasting lesson and distillery tour.
However, as it transpired, and became increasingly obvious during the holiday, the walk really was its own reward. The views were so sublime, they were all the motivation I needed to keep going. Just as a rousing piece of music can help you keep up your pace or manage that extra mile when running, the splendid, rolling hills of South Wales made me want to keep going long after my legs had put in a written request to cease and desist, to seize up for good.
The waterfall was spectacular. It took a bit of mountain goat style clambering to get to, but it was certainly worth the effort. You can walk beneath it and just stand and listen to the unending roar of tonnes of water falling past each second, just a few feet in front of you. And after the light trek to the waterfall and back, we hit the Penderyn Distillery. A funny and fascinating tour of the facility by the irrepressible Alan was followed by a tasting. I’m a malt whiskey aficionado so I was very surprised at my restraint, only purchasing one bottle to take home with me.
The following day, with both of us nursing very slightly foggy heads, my wife and I headed off to tackle Pen Y Fan, South Wales’ highest peak. Given it was Good Friday and the weather was fine, the traffic in the area was pretty heavy. This meant it was easier to stop a couple of miles short of the peak itself and set off towards it over the bracken coated hillside by the Beacons Reservoir. And a good choice it was too. The peak itself was thronged with people, most of whom had trekked up via a gently sloping path. This meant that the summit was fairly busy and noisy and so the couple of hours we spent walking across the rougher terrain of the surrounding hills was a magically peaceful experience. We stopped to sit down on several occasions, and on the whole this wasn’t to rest, but more to drink in the landscape, the greens, browns and reds of the grass, heath and ferns that coat the mountains in the area.
This blog is getting long, so I’ll wrap it up here. I’m still learning the art of writing, but I doubt I’d ever be able to put across the majesty of the mountains in the Brecon Beacons. Even with a few photos thrown in you only get a hint of what’s in store if you go yourself. My childhood involved many trips to the Scottish Highlands and so I know what beauty the UK has to offer, but I am certainly also now in love with the Beacons too.
I suggest you do what Visit Wales are encouraging locals and visitors alike to do and ‘Find Your Epic‘, your own adventure. And for those in South Wales and nearby, you have an adventure waiting for you on your doorstep.