Great Britain has some phenomenal national parks. We’ve been lucky to visit a few, like our trip to Snowdonia National Park in Wales last summer. Recently, we returned to Wales to challenge ourselves with a hike and check out Brecon Beacons National Park.
Andrew, our trip planner extraordinaire and the mastermind of our upcoming Alps hiking trip, also planned this excursion. After searching the Saturday Walkers Club itineraries for the most difficult hikes, he found the Brecon Beacons in Wales. Not only would the walk be difficult, it would be stunningly beautiful. The Brecon Beacons would be the perfect spot to put our training so far to the test.
Brecon Beacons, Wales
Getting to the Brecon Beacons From London
It’s not a small journey to get out as far the Brecon Beacons. They are certainly off the beaten path, but visiting them is well worth it. Renting a car is the most direct route. If you do not want to drive there, you can take public transit. We took the train from London and from the train, a bus to get into Brecon Beacons National Park.
We took a 4:15pm Great Western Railway train from Paddington Station to Neath, which took about three hours. At Neath, it was a quick walk over to the bus station where we caught the TrawsCymru T6 bus to Ynyswen. We arrived at our inn, The Ancient Briton, at 8:15pm. We bought our train tickets in advance with our TwoTogether Railcard and were able to buy our bus tickets on the bus.
Because of works on the tracks, our journey back was a little bit more complicated, as it included a shuttle bus for part of the train and a canceled train. Still, we were able to go for a lovely hike and make it back to London by 5pm.
Hiking in the Brecon Beacons
Brecon Beacons National Park is gorgeous and there are many ways to enjoy the area’s stunning landscapes and interesting geology there. Whether it’s playing mini golf in view of the ridges, exploring the large cave network under the area or getting outside on foot or bike, there is a lot to do in this national park.
For us, the purpose of visiting was for the hiking. There were people of all levels at different parts of the trail enjoying what turned out to be a beautiful Saturday. We hiked a challenging and long circular route on Saturday up in the Brecon Beacons and an easier, shorter circular in the woods on Sunday.
The locals call it walking, but what we did was definitely hiking in my mind – ha!
Brecon Beacons – The Black Mountain
On Saturday morning, we loaded up our backpacks and took the 9am bus a couple stops to Glyntawe, to the start of the trail. Using the Saturday Walkers Club The Black Mountain walk as our guide, we set out to explore the park via the Black Mountain and return via the shake holes.
It was wonderfully sunny when we set out. The trail first led us by a farm. This farm was wild! There were so many different types of animals and they were all squawking and bleating away. I couldn’t help but think, wow, my nephews would love this, because the animals were so animated.
From there the hike got real, quick. We climbed and climbed along the Beacon’s Way, and climbed some more. Pretty quickly we had climbed out of view of the farm, and then the town and then the valley.
We ascended the first ridge, Fan Hir, and followed along the ledge, admiring the views. It was stunning to see the hills all around!
We continued on along the ridge, climbing up to the tops of the other mountains, admiring the ever changing and amazing views as we went. The tallest peak was Fan Brycheiniog.
From there, we decided to turn off Beacon’s Way and take a teeny, tiny trail down the side of the ridge.
The trail made its way around Llyn Fan Fach, a glacial lake nestled in the hills. It was beautiful.
We climbed back up along the ridge and stopped for lunch overlooking the lake in the sun. It was awesome!
After this, our hike got a little more interesting. We opted to go the shake hole route, which meant we headed into the bog unknown. With no marked trail, we were relying on the accuracy of our OS Maps compass to get us through the next stretch. Soon after we took off, we passed a field of grazing ponies!
In this part of the hike, we had a couple river crossings. These are always scary for me, but I made it, even with the backpack.
After a while, the landscape began changing from bogland to an otherworldly landscape. Giant depressions in the ground started appearing all around us. We had made it to the shake holes.
These holes were caused by the collapse of the limestone underneath. They are very dramatic and so cool to see, especially to see what has continued to grow inside these holes.
After crossing another river, we ascended for the final time, up rolling hills along a well-defined path. The rocky landscape looked alien, and the odd, dead tree added to that sense.
The descent was quick and steep. We forged yet another river, following a group of hikers on a shortcut to the pub. We passed a children’s train trolley coming up the hill on the way, which was very interesting because who knows why this train trolley was roaming the farmlands of Wales?
In all, we walked around 14.5 miles and finished up at 3pm. It was a fantastic day.
To avoid getting back to London near midnight, we opted for a shorter hike on Sunday, Henrhyd Waterfalls. We walked a shorter section of the trail that leads to Henrhyd Falls.
Though it was not a far hike, it was a challenging trail in that it was filled with rocks, roots and slippery mud. It took us a while as we carefully made our way along the hillside and up and down the banks of the river.
It was stunningly beautiful. Moss in every color green, a beautiful river and a trail that moved up and down the along the banks of the river.
The hike ended at the Henrhyd Falls, which are the highest falls in Wales. The waterfall was beautiful.
We made our way along the same trail back to catch the bus home.
Where to Stay in the Brecon Beacons
We stayed just outside Pen Y Cae at the Ancient Briton, which provided us easy access via bus to the local sights and trails. We had never stayed at a pub before, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. Lucky for us, the food was great and the pub was lively!
Our room was comfortable and the staff working there were all very nice. We got to have breakfast by the fire in the pub each morning and that was a great way to prepare for a day of walking ahead. We highly recommend it!
Where to Eat in the Brecon Beacons
Lucky for us, everything we needed was right there at the Brecon Beacons. They even have a gluten-free menu! We ate very well during our stay.
We started off our days with a full English breakfast.
On Saturday night, we dined in the dining room, snagging the last table, fortunately. I got the madras chicken curry and Andrew got the rump steak special. It was so so good.
We packed a lunch from London to have on our hike in the Brecon Beacons, which was a great idea. There is nothing out there.
Where to Drink in the Brecon Beacons
On our way back home after our long hike, we grabbed a bev at The Gwyn Arms and sat outside in the sunshine, resting our feet. We grabbed the bus after that to the Pen Y Cae stop. Noticing another pub there, we decided to check that out too. We sat outside again at the Pen Y Cae Inn, but inside was super funky, decorated with lots of exotic animals.
The pub to visit, however, seems to be the Ancient Briton. It was packed!
Our weekend in the Brecon Beacons was wonderful. The hiking was fabulous and the location beautiful and invigorating.