‘Croeso i Gymru‘ Tom and I cheered as we entered Wales and travelled thusly into Brecon Beacons National Park. We had just enjoyed a delightful stay in St Briavels just over the border in England and now we are kick-starting our Welsh Wanders in the fabled and mysterious land just west of England. (To find out more about our travels in Wales, check out out tweets including contributions from our facebook pages and instagram using the hashtag #travelWALES).
That ‘Welcome to Wales’ sign in Welsh was followed immediately by ‘Araf’ marked on the road surface. Slow. We knew we felt like we had travelled into another country if another language was being spoken that’s far from the English tongue. It’s amazing to see that a language survived since the 1536 Act of Union brought about by King Henry VIII to break the power of the Lords of the Marches and consolidate his soverign power on this principality, first brought to heel by King Edward I 300 years earlier. What followed became the British Empire ruling a quarter of the world at its height, and thus dominating the English language on its colonies, some more successfully than others. Wales, the closest to England, managed to hang on to its Celtic language and to this day, sees the consonant beffudled language reclaiming ground in its home country. Immediately, as we travelled further west and climbing the Black Mountains, place names became more impossible to pronounce and more benign to us English speaking backpackers. We were truly in another country and I couldn’t wait.
Arriving at our YHA Accommodation just out of the town of Brecon at Libanus, we had outstanding views of Pen Y Fan, the highest mountain in Brecon Beacons, and what’s more we definitely started to feel like we were in Wales when a flock of sheep started baaaaa’ing around us. As it was late afternoon, we thought to check out the National Park headquarters first and also the town of Brecon.
Brecon Beacon National Park
Rocking up in the car park of the headquarters of the Brecon Beacons National Park in the late afternoon amidst the gorgeous clear sky offering plentiful picturesque views of Pen Y Fan, we needed to figure out what to see within a short timescale here as we would be driving through Snowdonia National Park to the North Welsh Coastline of Caernarfon tomorrow.
We needn’t have worried so much, the staff proved to be as helpful as ever. Maybe she was attracted to me? Anyway, pondering over the best route to take to Caenarfon, she then helped us to see what’s the best waterfall to see. You see, at the southern part of Brecon Beacons National Park, there lies a fantastic area full of waterfalls called Ystradfellte Falls. There, you can take the opportunity to go on several walks. Recommended to us by the staff, we were told to undertake a 4 hour walk taking in most of the Ystradfellte Falls. We didn’t really have time to do that. Therefore the staff reccommended us, instead, to drive over Brecon Beacons and reach a little village of Coelbren, just off the A4221, and admire the splendour of Wales’s highest single drop Waterfall. More to come in the next post.
With sound and warm welsh advice ringing in our ears, we thanked them and before leaving I promptly bought a fantastic travel book by Jasper Rees who throughout his Welsh Wanderings, he reclaims his Welsh roots. Bred into Heaven. A definite hoot, I guarantee you.
Hungry, and in need of to start out our much anticipated love affair with Welsh cuisine, Tom of TomarHawk Travels and I drove into Brecon, only 10 mins away by car from our YHA Hostel in Libanus, and promptly took advantage of the free car parking after 5pm. However, as it was a bank holiday Monday, we were perplexed to see the town so quiet. Even so many food establishments closed down for the day, which I thought was ludicrous seeing it’s a busy weekend for the UK. But at the same time, it wasn’t so surprisingly seeing the lack of any life on the streets.
But we did find a slice of travel wonderment as we reached the Brecon Canal. It was such a change from the ‘dullness’ of the town.
What followed was possibly our first greeting in Welsh as we tried to discover if a local pub served food. A ‘regular’ turned to us with a huge welcoming smile and we smiled in response as he greeted us in Welsh. Staggering from the alcohol fumes emitted from him, he realised we were English and talked to us in what I thought was his extremely thick Welsh accent in English. Guess what guys, I had absolutely no clue and went on the fail safe method of smiling with no comprehension and thereforecopy his emotions… like laughing when he laughs or look angry if he does. He could have been talking about his long lost affection for a bulky ewe… What an experience! However, we found out that no food was served here so we bade farewell to our first Welsh friend who I nicknamed ‘Gruff’ and went to explore more.
But with hunger pangs playing on our minds, we ended up throwing in the towel and going into a Welsh version of Wetherspoons called Brains. Walking in the establishment, we wondered if they needed our brains to serve us them. Why? Because we definitely got a ‘League of Gentlemen’ vibe from the locals and staff who viewed us with dismay and suspicion as we came from ‘outside of the village.’ Ordering our selection was extremely painful. The staff would take the order with a blank expression, giving no hint of any acknowledgment, and then tell us in their gruff voice to go back to our seat. I would cower and wonder if the English was really welcome to visit Wales. Would we survive? Am I not going to wake up in the middle of the night with hoardes of Welshmen brandishing axes above my bed? Who knows…
Brecon in many ways was a disappointment to me. I’ve always expressed a desire to come here ever since I failed to reach Brecon Beacons in 2008 by bike due to storms and instead went to shockingly awful Newport.
Leaving In the clear early evening, we wondered if it was going to be as good as it got. Brecon didn’t really offer us anything. But obviously, I was looking in the wrong place. I should cast my eye out far and wide to the small dotted beacons that stood precipitously on the cusp of the black mountains. And what’s better than the most famous one of them all. Pen Y Fan.
Pen Y Fan
This is my Beacon of Hope, I surmised to myself as we rapidly approached this mountain leaving the town of Brecon traili behind. The sunset bathed Pen Y Fan with warmth and at once, I knew this is where I needed to be looki at to feel Welsh. It’s not the people, it’s nature that truly makes the country as it is. Only nature plays a fundamental part in e every day life of a Welshman, whether he’s mining, singing at the Valleys, dotting the sheep everywhere and Tom Jones’ voice, a force of nature indeed. Jumping out of the car at our YHA Hostel (Llwyn-y-Celyn), I rushed up a nature trail leading up to a great clearing of trees and thus only with you and the sheep on a rolling green field with the majestic towering Pen Y Fan rising up. I was in awe. Dumbstruck and mesmerised. Here are my photos, experienced with an amazing app called ‘AutoStitch‘ to get the best panoramic view and also using ‘Snapseed‘ to ‘tone’ up the photos. Enjoy.
That hour spent just looking at the mountain and watching sheep procreate in front of me (some perhaps more incestuously more than others, may I add thus getting intrigued in their family affairs), It was without a doubt, my best Welsh moment of the day.
Pen Y Fan – you are my Brecon Beacon.
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Great article. I’ve travelled around North Wales quite abit but I haven’t been to the Brecon Beacons before – will have to make a visit in the future.
I thought South Wales had more to offer but I was wrong. North Wales and Snowdonia is absolutely fantastic!