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Brecon Beacons

The Brecon Beacons in mid Wales is one of the most scenic and beautiful rural areas in Britain, more gentle than the dramatic and wild mountains of North Wales but with its own breathtaking views and stunning landscapes. The Brecon Beacons which give the area their name make up the main central mountain range of The Brecon Beacons National Park; an area which covers 520 square miles.

The region has rolling green hills, meadows and rivers contrasting with rocky and limestone terrain, steep escarpments, spectacular waterfalls and caves and wild moorland with ruined castles, medieval churches and picturesque pubs and inns dotted along the way. The area is rich in flora and fauna and has a wealth of “kissing gates” along its pastoral lanes and farm tracks while its unspoilt countryside includes wide open vistas and grassy uplands.

To the east The Black Mountains stretch to the Wye Valley and English border encompassing towns like Abergavenny and Crickhowell and mountains with gorgeously unusual names like “Sugar Loaf” and “Table Mountain”! To the west lies Fforest Fawr, once the Great Forest of Brecknock and royal hunting ground and now a mainly unforested limestone and sandstone landscape with rivers and waterfalls like the fantastic Sgwd yr Eira where you can actually walk behind the sheet of water! Also in the west is the brooding and remote Black Mountain (separate from The Black Mountains in the east) with the dramatic Carreg Cennen Castle in its foothills situated incredibly on a limestone outcrop hanging over the valley below.

In the central area Pen y Fan rises up 2907 feet above the Usk valley to form the highest peak in the Beacons with nearby Corn Du (2863 feet) sweeping up close behind. From the Brecon Beacons Mountain Centre near Libanus you can enjoy a magnificent panoramic view of the terrain on a fine day from the comfort of a lovely outdoor café terrace.

The county’s principal town of Brecon in the north is the biggest in the national park and includes an impressive, fortress looking cathedral; a former Benedictine priory which was elevated to cathedral status in the 1920’s. From the town with its Georgian buildings and good pubs and cafes, you can enjoy walks and rambles with superb views over the Usk valley and Brecon Beacon central peaks.

Abergavenny on the eastern edge of the national park is an attractive market town with an old medieval church (also part of a former Benedictine priory) and ruins of a castle. Its location on one of the main routes to and from South Wales make it arguably the gateway to the Brecon Beacons. From Abergavenny you can visit Holy Mountain (also called Skirrid Fawr or Ysgyryd Fawr) and so called because of the cleft in its ridge which legends claim was created by Noah’s Ark or at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. Also accessible from Abergavenny is the Sugar Loaf Mountain and the Brecon Canal which was originally built between 1797 and 1812 to ship coal and other produce to the south but is now a recreational canal.

Nearby lies the delightful village/town of Crickhowell on the banks of the River Usk. Crickhowell gets its name from the mountain north of the town “Crug Hywel” which is also nicknamed “Table Mountain” on account of its flat top. The town itself has some lovely old Georgian buildings and a fascinating 18th century stone bridge over the River Usk which has 13 arches on one side and only 12 on the other side while on the top of Table Mountain are the remains of an Iron Age hill fort. Crickhowell has some charming little teashops and award-winning hotel/pub food and you can even enjoy real cider at some of its quaint inns.

Tretower Court and Castle four miles from Crickhowell looks like something out of a period film set and is well worth visiting. Tretower Court is a late medieval house with a gatehouse, cobbled courtyard and fabulous Great Hall with a beam ceiling and in the summer Shakespearean plays are often performed there. The manor house has undergone many periods of reconstruction and alteration over the centuries from the succeeding generations who lived at Tretower and the house itself is actually the successor of a castle stronghold 200 yards away among the green fields of land. Tretower Castle consists of a 13th century round tower rising up from the walls of a shell of an earlier keep and is a distinctive landmark on the horizon in an important strategic position.

But the highlight of any trip to the Brecon Beacons may well be a visit to the “Sgwd yr Eira” waterfall (Fall of Snow) in the spectacular ravine and waterfall area of Ystradfellte, Fforest Fawr. Due to the erosion of the rock behind and below this waterfall you are actually able to walk and stand six feet behind the curtain of water and while it involves some strenuous and difficult walking and climbing to get there and great caution should be taken with the slippery wet rocks (suitable footwear is essential) you should even be able to manage to do it without getting wet! A few years ago I went on a working holiday to the Brecon Beacons to take part in a BBC costume drama being filmed on location there.

We stayed in a charming cottage on a converted farm in the Crickhowell area and I spent my days pottering round the farm and its beautiful surroundings, taking a snack lunch at the Cheese Press teashop on Crickhowell’s High Street before starting work late afternoon for nightshoots. I had been hired to play a country wench attending a barn dance and was dressed in period costume which included a corset and chemise, several layers of skirt, boots and a little white cloth cap over my long hair and I knew many of my fellow dancers from previous film shoots.

It was a hot, sunny August and by day the Black Mountains and Sugar Loaf Mountain looked serene and beautiful but by night the whole place took on an entirely different atmosphere. One night we filmed in a farmyard high up on the hills and bats with bright red eyes swooped at us in between takes. Then when the film crew fell silent all that could be heard was the sound of owls hooting and flapping in the distance. It was a memorable experience, the fiddler played his tune and we danced our stuff under the night sky. As the air grew colder and colder the BBC provided shawls/wraps for us to keep ourselves warm in between takes and at around 1.00 am served hot soup and bread to keep us going till 3.00am when we finally finished!

The Brecon Beacons and The Brecon Beacons National Park is a beautiful scenic area with much to offer visitors and is possibly one of Wales’s best kept secrets!

Ricki Crookes has worked as an actress in the film and television business throughout most of her life. She has appeared in numerous commercials which have been shown on television and cinemas world-wide. She has also worked as a model and been in many prestigious photo- shoots which have featured in magazines and bill-boards. In addition she has written articles for both newspapers and magazines and is an award winning poet.