Brecon Beacons, Wales © Arpingstone
The Brecon Beacons National Park is only half an
hour's drive north of Cardiff, and comprises four mountain ranges
and an interesting terrain of old mining valleys, bare escarpments,
and sprawling sheep farms.
Most visitors are walkers heading for Offa's Dyke
Path, which passes along the eastern border, or the Taff Trail,
heading south from Brecon. Offa's Path runs through the Black
Mountains, which boast spectacular views including sights such as
the ruins of Llanthony Priory, the River Honddu, the ancient hill
forts at Y Garn Goch, and the pretty church at Patrishow.
There is much to see and do in Brecon Beacons, and
popular activities include hiking, horseback riding, fishing, rock
climbing, canoeing, spelunking (cave exploring), and sailing. The
popular mountain bike route, the Taff Trail, traces 100 miles
(160km) along Beacon's Way across the park. The highest point in
the Black Mountains is Waun Fach and the tallest peak in the Brecon
Beacons is Pen-y-Fan.
Don't be surprised if you bump into groups of
soldiers in the park - this is a major army exercise area and a
main training ground for the SAS, who you might see bounding up the
mountains, doing the Fan Dance. Around the park are the historic
market towns of Brecon and Hay-on-Wye, a fascinating little town
with Norman and Jacobean ruins and a famous collection of
second-hand book shops.
Dan yr Ogof © Sloman
One of many cave systems in Brecon Beacons National Park, the Dan-yr-Ogof Caves are an 11-mile (17km) cave complex located about 15 miles (24km) southwest of Brecon. Only the first portion is open to the public, including the unmissable Dan yr Ogof Showcave, the Cathedral Showcave, and the Bone Cave. Formed 315 million years ago, the formations include vertical stalactites and stalagmites, and also rare helectites, which grow sideways. The Bone Cave is named for the 42 human skeletons that have so far been discovered in the chamber. Many of the skeletons date back to the Bronze Age, more than 3,000 years ago. The cave now contains some award-winning exhibits on humankind's cave-dwelling history. The National Showcaves Centre for Wales also has a dinosaur park with more than 50 life-size statues; an Iron Age farm with a replica village; a Victorian farm where kids can interact with numerous domestic animals; the Shire Horse Centre; an adventure playground which will delight kids; and replicas of some of the famous stone circles found in Wales. All these attractions, the caves, and a museum are covered by the admission fee.
Address: 15 miles (24km) southwest of Brecon; Website: www.showcaves.co.uk
Wye River, Hay-on-Wye © Claire Ward
Culture enthusiasts are urged to visit Hay-on-Wye, a charming market-town located within the boundaries of Brecon Beacons National Park. Widely referred to as the 'Town of Books', Hay-on-Wye is the bibliophile's equivalent of Mecca, featuring more than 30 second-hand bookstores, many of which stock collector's items and hard-to-find rarities. Hay-on-Wye hosts the annual Hay Festival, one of the biggest literary festivals on the planet, drawing crowds in excess of 80,000 people, who come to attend lectures and readings given by some of the world's most eminent writers. The festival is held annually in May or June. There is more than books to Hay-on-Wye as the town also boasts lovely architecture, a celebrated collection of quaint pubs and restaurants, the fascinating ruins of two Norman-built castles, and a popular Thursday Market, where all manner of things can be bought, from antiques to hand-made cheeses. The town is beautifully located on the east bank of the River Wye, just north of the Black Mountains and surrounded by some lovely countryside. Visitors can explore by walking, cycling, or driving. For mature visitors to Wales looking for a memorable cultural experience, a visit to Hay-on-Wye is an absolute must.
Tintern Abbey © MartinBiely
Famous Tintern Abbey, a monastery established by William the Marshal to give thanks to God after surviving a narrow escape at sea, is one of the most inspiring and enduring tourist sights that Wales has to offer. The abbey, whose first inhabitants were Cistercian monks, dates from the early 13th century and has been well preserved, affording visitors great views of its ruined nave, chancel, tower, cloister, and chapel. The surviving buildings span a 400-year period between 1131 and 1536. Just as beautiful are the grounds around the abbey, consisting of green fields, craggy, moss-strewn hills, and a stone bridge that leads across an inlet from the sea. Gorgeous Tintern Abbey has a long history of inspiring works of art, from paintings by William Turner to poems by William Wordsworth, Lord Tennyson, and even Allen Ginsberg. Located a mere stone's throw from the English border, Tintern Abbey makes a wonderful first stop on a memorable sightseeing tour of Wales. A stroll up to the Devil's Pulpit provides views over the Abbey from above, and there are many great pubs near the ruins for a bite to eat. Be sure to take a camera as Tintern Abbey provides wonderful photo opportunities.
Address: Saltmills, New Ross; Website: cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/tinternabbey/?lang=en