As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the Brecon Beacons, Paul Bloomfield picks out a selection of natural and cultural attractions in this glorious National Park in south Wales.
National Nature Reserves, beautiful natural spaces and world-renowned literature and music festivals – there just aren't enough hours in the day. The rich history and hugely varied landscape means that there's a great wealth of natural and cultural attractions, from a vast Geopark rich in endemic wildlife to an ancient cathedral in the centre of Brecon.
Discover the history of the region by visiting UK's first UNESCO World Heritage Site, or by heading over to Hay-on-Wye and exploring over forty second-hand bookshops. Alternatively, book a seat on the traditional Brecon Mountain Railway or wander through unique Welsh woodland at the Craig-y-nos country park.
Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal
Most of the 35-mile long canal runs through the National Park and is considered one of the most scenic canal routes in Britain. Built between 1797 and 1812 to link Brecon with Newport and the Severn Estuary, the canal was used to transport lime but since fell into disrepair. Following a considerable restoration, the canal was reopened to the public in 1970 and now offers great opportunities for fishing, canoeing and canal boating. Also, an entire section of the Taff Trail follows the canal bank and is open to walkers only. Interestingly, a number of pubs and inns sit adjacent to the canal if you need a brief respite. mon-brec-canal-trust.org.uk
This amazing 11-mile stretch of caves was first discovered in 1912 and is now a National Nature Reserve, the first section of which is open to the public. Of particular interest is 'Bone Cave', which is so called because of the 42 human skeletons to have been discovered inside. Some of the animal bones date back around 7000 years, while the cave now contains a handful of award-winning exhibits explaining how the caves were first formed. Also take the time to visit the amazing structures found in the 'Cathedral Cave'. If interested, seasoned cavers can ask to gain access to the deeper regions of the system. Tickets also provide entry to nine other top attractions in the area, including an Iron Age village and a dinosaur park. Impressively, the National Showcaves Centre has just become the first self-sufficient zero carbon tourism business in Wales! showcaves.co.uk
Fforest Fawr Geopark
It is the forest's outstanding geological heritage that has led it to being named Wales' first Geopark. Comprising the western half of the National Park, from Llandovery in the north to Merthyr Tydfil in the south, the Geopark covers 300 square miles of mountain, moorland, rivers, villages, woods and meadows. The area is fantastic for rambling, cycling and horseriding or, alternatively, you could join a guided walk such as those that take place during the annual Fforest Fawr Geopark Festival each May/June. fforestfawrgeopark.org.uk
Craig-y-nos Country Park
Managed by the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, this stunning 40-acre country park has been developed around the River Tawe in the former grounds of Craig-y-nos Castle. Mostly flat, the park offers a great family day out with a number of easy walking paths following alongside rivers and through beautiful woodland. With a huge variety of flora and fauna, the park is a great place to learn more about Wales' natural heritage. When you're done exploring, the Changing Seasons tearoom and restaurant offers some locally-sourced goodies. breconbeacons.org
Carreg Cennen Castle
Carreg Cennen boasts possibly some of the best views in the National Park, sat on a 300ft crag overlooking a sea of farmland. The castle dates back at least as far as the 13th century, with evidence that Romans and prehistoric peoples occupied the site centuries earlier. To reach the castle you'll have to cross Castell Farm and climb the hillside, but the spectacular views at the top are more than worth the effort. carregcennencastle.com
Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival
Famously described by visitor Bill Clinton as 'the Woodstock of the mind', this ten-day literature festival draws writers, critics, filmmakers, musicians and other creative types from around the world. Having been started in 1987, the itinerary features talks from internationally acclaimed authors such as John Updike and Margaret Atwood, as well as numerous debates, lectures, art exhibitions and live music. With a population of just 150,000, Hay-on-Wye is home to around 40 secondhand bookshops and is one of the Brecon Beacons' top destinations. hayfestival.com
Penderyn Distillery is the only one of its kind in Wales. Nestled in the foothills of the Beacons, the distillery has won numerous awards and, in June 2008, opened its doors to the public. Learn all about the history of whisky making alongside the history of the country in the exhibition centre, or take a distillery tour in order to understand the distilling and bottling process at first hand. True enthusiasts can enroll in the whisky tasting master class, which includes a guided tour as well as the chance to sample a number of Penderyn's award-winning whiskys along the way. penderyn.wales
Formerly a Benedictine Priory under the control of Battle Abbey in Sussex, Brecon Cathedral and its surrounding buildings are some of the most architecturally important in Wales. The 16th Century tithe barn has been restored and now houses the Cathedral Heritage Centre, which was opened in 1995 and now boasts traditional features such as original roof timbers alongside exhibitions, videos and audio displays exploring aspects of Cathedral life and history. swanseaandbrecon.churchinwales.org.uk
Crickhowell Resource and Information Centre
If you're new to the area and are wondering where to go and what to do, this fantastic tourist information hub in the centre of Crickhowell is a great starting point. You'll find masses of material on things to see in the area – maps, booklets, interactive devices, all supported by a friendly team of volunteers. But the centre is much more besides: it also doubles up as a gallery and exhibition space displaying work by local artists, a gift shop selling local crafts, and there's a great cafe on the ground floor selling homemade cakes and Fairtrade tea and coffee.
For information on characterful places to stay, local food and drink, and nearby outdoor activities, see our Green Traveller's Guide to the Brecon Beacons