The Brecon Beacons are an incredible mountain range and National Park in Wales. It contains the highest peak in the South of the UK. There are many beautiful villages, sites, and natural landscapes to explore, all made better with a beautiful driving route. We have set out a route worth considering where you can see some of the best highlights of the Brecon Beacons.
We recommend starting the journey in Hereford if possible and heading west. Hereford is a lovely Cathedral city with plenty to explore. It has an impressive cider museum along with the Black and White House – a maintained Tudor house.
When you’re ready to leave head down the A438 and eventually onto the B4352 following the signs or sat nav for your next stop, Hay on Wye. This will let you cross the River Wye, pass a selection of small villages like Hardwicke and drive by the beautiful Priory Wood. If you wish you could deviate and see Arthur’s Stone, a Neolithic tomb from 3,700 BC!
Hay-on-Wye or just ‘Hay’ is a picturesque literary town well worth the visit. It opened its first secondhand bookstore in 1961 and is now filled with them along with Tudor-style houses and medieval architecture. It holds a literary festival every summer and there is a local market on Thursdays. Whether you want to stop for a coffee in one of the many adorable cafes or spend a bit more time in a Bed and Breakfast, it makes for a perfect stopping point.
The next route you want to take is south down the A479 toward the Black Mountains area. If you go the whole way it will take just under an hour and a half. If you want to break up the journey you can stop in a local town such as Crickhowell or Llanthony just 40 minutes away. Nearby Crickhowell is Tretower Court and Castle, a medieval fortified manor house. It’s worth considering staying in either of these towns for a few days to truly explore the next area.
The Black Mountains area
The Black Mountains area are a group of hills extending around 80 miles. There are plenty of routes to explore for both novice and experienced hikers. It is a mystical place full of majesty. With so much to explore it’s worth considering exactly what hiking routes you plan to take if you intend on staying in the area. Many people spend a few days sleeping in local medieval villages, of which there are plenty to choose, and hiking during the day. If you stopped at Llanthony there’s an excellent circular route that can be taken. Be sure to try and see the Llangattock Cliffs as well as Buckland Hill, which gives an excellent view of the Black Mountains and Sugar Loaf mountain.
However long you spend in the area you won’t be disappointed. Once satisfied it’s time to backtrack a bit and head to the highest peak in Southern UK, Pen-y-Fan. From the Black Mountain area, it is an hour to an hour and a half west on the A40.
It is a stunning drive from Crickhowell to Pen-y-Fan with great photo opportunities. Along the way, you will pass Llangorse Lake, the largest natural lake in mid to south Wales. It is nearby the actual market town of Brecon. This could be a good base as it is only a thirty-minute drive away. There are four popular routes to reach the 886 m summit of Pen-y-Fan each varying in difficulty.
The easiest would be right from the car park, Pont ar Darf. You will walk across open moorland and the gradual rise up makes it very manageable. Simply start from the Storey Arms Outdoor Centre and follow the footpath. Also from the Storey Arms is the alternative route, which is a bit more challenging. You will also get to see the plateaus Corn Du and Cribyn – both of which were Bronze Age burial sites. The other ones include the path that takes you past Cefn Cwm Llwch ridge, and the hardest – The Horseshoe Ridge. Once you’ve conquered Pen-y-Fan we head south down the A470. It is twenty minutes from Storey Arms to Brecon Mountain Railway.
The Brecon Mountain Railway
If you book ahead you can leave the car and go for a train ride. The Brecon Mountain Railway offers an exhilarating ride behind a real steam locomotive. The original route was closed in the ’60s but the company still offers a trip through the mountains and back. Along the tracks, you will see some of the best views of the Brecon Beacons. See sites such as the lower Ponsticill Reservoir, the original station at Dol-y-Gar. This along with quarries and open valleys – not to mention the mountain ranges.
You’ll be in an ‘all-weather’ observation carriage as you travel the original line from Pant to Torpantau, powered by the steam-powered locomotive. On the way back you have the chance to stop at Pontsticill where there is an excellent lakeside cafe and walks along the reservoir. Once disembarked get back in the car and head just forty minutes East to our final stop Abergavenny.
It should be noted that it is completely feasible to start and finish the route here if coming from England. Abergavenny is a beautiful market town known as the Gateway to Wales and is just under an hour from Hereford. We decided to use it as our finishing spot because of how much delicious food and drink can be found here! It’s the perfect destination after a long trip filled with castles, literary towns, mountains, and trains. So dust off the journey in this wondrous little town.
If you’re here in September they have an excellent food festival celebrating all their local produce for two days. Wine lovers will especially love the selection of excellent vinos sourced from the Sugar Loaf mountain vineyard. You may have seen this looming goliath while exploring the Black Mountains, but if you didn’t you surely will now as Sugar Loaf looms over Abergavenny. What’s also nice is that if you did miss places in the Black Mountains region, such as Llanthony Priory, you have the last chance to drive up to them now.