Brecon Beacons

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Brecon Beacons
Protected Area
Brecon beacons arp.jpg
Part of the Brecon Beacons, looking from the highest point Pen y Fan, 886 m (2907 ft), to Cribyn), 795 m (2608 ft)
Country Wales
State United Kingdom
Council Blaenau Gwent, Carmarthenshire, Merthyr Tydfil, Powys, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Monmouthshire, Torfaen, Caerphilly
Highest point Pen y Fan
 - elevation 886 m (2,907 ft)
Area 1,344 km2 (519 sq mi)
National Park of Wales 1957
IUCN category V - Protected Landscape/Seascape

The Brecon Beacons (Welsh: Bannau Brycheiniog) is a mountain range in South Wales. In a narrow sense, the name refers to the range of Old Red Sandstone peaks popular with walkers which lie to the south of Brecon. Sometimes referred to as "the central Beacons" they include South Wales' highest mountain, Pen y Fan. The range forms the central section of the Brecon Beacons National Park (Parc Cenedlaethol Bannau Brycheiniog), a designation which also encompasses ranges both to the east and the west of "the central Beacons". This much wider area is also commonly referred to as "the Brecon Beacons".

The Brecon Beacons[edit]

The Brecon Beacons, seen from the south

The Brecon Beacons range, in its narrower sense comprises six main peaks: from west to east these are: Corn Du (873 m or 2864 feet), Pen y Fan, the highest peak (886 m or 2907 feet), Cribyn (795 m or 2608 feet), Fan y Big (719 m or 2359 feet), Bwlch y Ddwyallt (754 m or 2474 ft) and Waun Rydd (769 m or 2523 ft). These summits form a long ridge, and the sections joining the first four form a horseshoe shape around the head of the Taf Fechan river, which flows away to the southeast. To the northeast of the ridge, interspersed with long parallel spurs, are four round-headed valleys or cwms; from west to east these are Cwm Sere, Cwm Cynwyn, Cwn Oergwm and Cwm Cwareli.

The Brecon Beacons are said to be named after the ancient practice of lighting signal fires (beacons) on mountains to warn of attacks by invaders, or more recently to commemorate public and national events such as coronations or the turn of the millennium.

The round of the Taf Fechan skyline forms a popular ridge walk commonly known as the Beacons Horseshoe. Many other fine walks exist in this part of the National Park.

The Brecon Beacons National Park[edit]

Settlements in and around the Brecon Beacons National Park (green area)
Sgwd yr Eira, on the Afon Hepste near Ystradfellte

The Brecon Beacons National Park was established in 1957, the third of the three Welsh parks after Snowdonia in 1951 and the Pembrokeshire Coast in 1952. It stretches from Llandeilo in the west to Hay-on-Wye in the northeast and Pontypool in the southeast, covering 519 square miles (1344 km², 332 100 acres) and encompassing four main regions - the Black Mountain in the west, Fforest Fawr (Great Forest) and the Brecon Beacons in the centre, and the confusingly named Black Mountains in the east. The western half gained European and Global status in 2005[1] as Fforest Fawr Geopark. This includes the Black Mountain, the historic extent of Fforest Fawr, and much of the Brecon Beacons and surrounding lowlands.

The entire National Park achieved the status of being an International Dark Sky Reserve in February 2013.[2]

Most of the National Park is bare, grassy moorland grazed by Welsh mountain ponies and Welsh mountain sheep, with scattered forestry plantations, and pasture in the valleys. It is known for its remote reservoirs, waterfalls including the 90 foot (or 27 metre) Henrhyd Waterfall and the falls at Ystradfellte, and its caves, such as Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. The Brecon Beacons Mountain Centre was opened in 1966 to help visitors understand and enjoy the area.

Activities in the Park include walking, cycling, mountain biking, horse riding, as well as sailing, windsurfing, canoeing and fishing, rock climbing, hang-gliding, caravanning, camping and caving. A long-distance cycling route, the Taff Trail, passes over the Beacons on its way from Brecon to Cardiff, and in 2005 the first walk to span the entire length of the Brecon Beacons National Park was opened. The 100-mile (160 km) route, called the Beacons Way, runs from the foot of Ysgyryd Fawr east of Abergavenny and ends in the village of Bethlehem in Carmarthenshire.

Due to the relative remoteness and harsh weather of some of its uplands, the Park is used for military training. UK Special Forces, including the SAS and SBS hold demanding selection training exercises here, such as an exercise called the Fan dance. The infantry regiments of the British Army train at Sennybridge, where NCO selection also takes place.

In 2006 and 2007, controversy surrounded the government decision to build the South Wales Gas Pipeline through the Park, the National Park Authority calling the decision a “huge blow”.[3]

Mountain rescue[edit]

The Beacons in winter

Mountain rescue in south Wales is provided by five volunteer groups, with the police having overall command. In serious situations they are aided by RAF helicopters from RAF Chivenor or RAF Valley. The five groups are:

  • BMRT – Brecon Mountain Rescue Team [2]
  • CBMRT – Central Beacons Mountain Rescue Team [3]
  • LMRT – Longtown Mountain Rescue Team based in the east [4]
  • WBMSART – Western Beacons Mountain Search and Rescue Team [5]
  • SARDA South Wales – Search and Rescue Dog Association covering South and & Mid Wales [6]

The groups are funded primarily by donations. Their work is not restricted to mountain rescue – they frequently assist the police in their search for missing or vulnerable people in the community.


The area was inhabited during the Neolithic times and the succeeding Bronze Age, the most obvious legacy of the latter being the numerous burial cairns which adorn the hills of the west of the National Park.

Over twenty hill-forts were established in the area during the Iron Age. The largest, and indeed the largest in south Wales, were the pair of forts atop Y Garn Goch near Bethlehem - Y Gaer Fawr and Y Gaer Fach - literally 'the big fort' and 'the little fort'. The forts are thought to have once been trading and political centres.

When the Romans came to Wales in 43 AD, they stationed more than 600 soldiers in the area. Y Gaer, near the town of Brecon was their main base. During the Norman Conquest many castles were erected throughout the park. One of the most famous is Carreg Cennen Castle but there are many more. Brecon Castle is of Norman origin.

The area played a significant role during the Industrial Revolution as various raw materials including limestone, silica sand and ironstone were quarried for transport southwards to the furnaces of the industrialising South Wales Valleys.

Local government[edit]

The Brecon Beacons National Park Authority is a special purpose local authority which exercises planning functions across the designated area of the park. The park extends across the southern part of Powys, the northwestern part of Monmouthshire and parts of eastern Carmarthenshire. It also includes the northernmost portions of several of the unitary authority areas which are centred on the coalfield communities to the south and including the county boroughs of Neath Port Talbot, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent together with very small parts of Caerphilly and Torfaen.

Numerous town and community councils operate within these areas and include those for Brecon and Hay on Wye (town councils) and Cefn Coed; Llanfihangel Cwmdu with Bwlch & Cathedine; Llangattock; Llangors; Llanthony; Llywel; Pontsticill, Pontsarn & Vaynor; Talybont-on-Usk; Trallong; Trecastle and Ystradfellte (all community councils).


The Brecon Beacons National Park attracts many visitors due to the range and quality of outdoor activities the park offers. These include hill walking, climbing, gorge-walking, caving, horse-riding and mountain biking.

View north into Cwm Llwch from Corn Du, in the Brecon Beacons range
180° Panoramic view of Dinosaur Park in Brecon Beacons National Park.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Welcome - Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales. Retrieved on 2014-05-24.
  2. ^ [1][dead link]
  3. ^ Controversial National Grid Pipeline given the go ahead! Brecon Beacons National Park Authority

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°53′N 3°26′W / 51.883°N 3.433°W / 51.883; -3.433