The Brecon Beacons National Park is only half an hour's drive north of Cardiff, and comprises four mountain ranges and an interesting terrain of old mining valleys, bare escarpments and sprawling sheep farms. Most visitors are walkers heading for Offa's Dyke Path, which passes along the eastern border, or the Taff Trail, heading south from Brecon. Offa's Path runs through the Black Mountains, which boast spectacular views including sights such as the ruins of Llanthony Priory, the River Honddu, the ancient hill forts at Y Garn Goch, and the pretty church at Patrishow.
There is much to see and do in Brecon Beacons, and popular activities include hiking, horseback riding, fishing, rock climbing, canoeing, spelunking (cave exploring) and sailing. The popular mountain bike route, the Taff Trail, traces 100 miles (160km) along Beacon's Way across the park.
The highest point in the Black Mountains is Waun Fach and the tallest peak in the Brecon Beacons is Pen-y-Fan. Don't be surprised if you bump into groups of soldiers in the park - this is a major army exercise area and a main training ground for the SAS, who you might see bounding up the mountains, doing the Fan Dance. Around the park are the historic market towns of Brecon and Hay-on-Wye, a fascinating little town with Norman and Jacobean ruins and a famous collection of second-hand book shops.
One of many cave systems in Brecon Beacons National Park, the Dan-yr-Ogof Caves are an 11-mile (17km) cave complex located about 15 miles (24km) southwest of Brecon. Only the first portion of the system is open to the public, but the spectacular limestone rock formations of the three available caves, the Dan yr Ogof Showcave, the Cathedral Showcave and the Bone Cave, should not be missed. Formed 315 million years ago, the formations include vertical stalactites and stalagmites, and also rare helectites, which grow sideways. The Bone Cave is named for the 42 human skeletons that have so far been discovered in the chamber. Many of the skeletons date back to the Bronze Age, more than 3,000 years ago. The cave now contains some award-winning exhibits on humankind's cave-dwelling history.
The National Showcaves Centre for Wales also has a dinosaur park with more than 50 life-size statues; an Iron Age farm with a replica village; a Victorian farm where kids can interact with numerous domestic animals; the Shire Horse Centre; an adventure playground which will delight kids; and replicas of some of the famous stone circles found in Wales. All these attractions, the caves, and a museum are covered by the admission fee.
Culture vultures visiting the UK are urged to visit Hay-on-Wye, a charming market-town located within the boundaries of Brecon Beacons National Park. Widely referred to as the 'Town of Books', Hay-on-Wye is the bibliophile's equivalent of Mecca, featuring more than 30 second-hand bookstores, many of which stock collector's items and hard-to-find rarities. Hay-on-Wye hosts the annual Hay Festival, one of the biggest literary festivals on the planet, drawing crowds in excess of 80,000 people, who come to attend lectures and readings given by some of the world's most eminent writers. The festival is held annually in May or June.
There is more to Hay-on-Wye than simply books as the town also boasts lovely architecture, a celebrated collection of quaint pubs and restaurants, the fascinating ruins of two Norman-built castles, and a popular Thursday Market, where all manner of things can be bought, from antiques to hand-made cheeses. The town is also beautifully situated, located on the east bank of the River Wye, just north of the Black Mountains, and surrounded by some lovely countryside, which visitors can explore walking, cycling or driving. For mature visitors to Wales looking for a memorable cultural experience, a visit to Hay-on-Wye is an absolute must.
Famous Tintern Abbey, a monastery established by William Marshal ('the greatest knight that ever lived') to give thanks to God after surviving a narrow escape at sea, is one of the most inspiring and enduring tourist sights that Wales has to offer. The abbey, whose first inhabitants were Cistercian monks, dates from the early 13th century and has been well preserved, affording visitors great views of its majestically-ruined nave, chancel, tower, cloister and chapel. The surviving buildings span a 400-year period between 1131 and 1536. Even more beautiful, the grounds around the abbey consist of green fields, craggy, moss-strewn hills, and a stone bridge that leads across an inlet from the sea.
Gorgeous Tintern Abbey has a long history of inspiring works of art, from paintings by William Turner to poems by William Wordsworth, Lord Tennyson and even Allen Ginsberg. Located a mere stone's throw from the English border, Tintern Abbey makes a wonderful first stop on a memorable sightseeing tour of Wales. A stroll up to the Devil's Pulpit provides views over the Abbey from above, and there are many great pubs near the ruins for a bite to eat. Be sure to take a camera as Tintern Abbey provides wonderful photo fodder.
Popular for nature excursions out of Cardiff, or as a holiday destination in its own right, the Brecon Beacons National Park is packed full of attractions. The dramatic natural scenery is the main drawcard: the spectacular views earned by climbing the many peaks of the Black Mountains will single-handedly justify travel to the region. Pen-y-Fan, the highest peak in southern Wales, is a particular favourite with hikers. For those interested in exploring underground as well as touching the sky, Brecon Beacons also boasts some impressive caves. The National Showcaves Centre for Wales allows visitors to explore the Dan-yr-Ogof Caves as well as a number of cultural attractions.
Speaking of cultural attractions, the village of Hay-on-Wye is world-famous for being the home of the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts, and is paradise for book lovers at any time of year. The town of Brecon is also charming and a popular base for travel in the region, as is Llanelli. Outside of the lovely little villages, the mountainous region is strewn with Iron Age hill forts, Roman roads, Norman castles and ancient standing stones, providing fascinating sightseeing fodder. One of the most popular ruins is the Carreg Cennen Castle. Also in Brecon Beacons, Tintern Abbey is one of the most popular and atmospheric attractions in Wales.
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