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The Brecon Beacons: a natural playground for outdoor activities holiday cottages

The Brecon Beacons: a natural playground for outdoor activities

Clare Willcocks 03 March 2020

Sprawling across 520 square miles of majestic Welsh scenery is the ineffable Brecon Beacons National Park. A place of enchanting beauty which can only be truly appreciated in person, its landscape of snow-capped peaks, rolling moorland, gushing waterfalls and ancient ruins makes it a giant playground for outdoor enthusiasts.

Brecon Beacons activities outdoors

The number of ways to enjoy the national park is endless, from white-knuckle adrenaline pursuits to sedentary pastimes with an emphasis on slowing down and soaking up the magic.

Below you’ll find some of our favourite Brecon Beacons activities which will immerse you in the epic scenery and have you thirsty for more. Be captivated by the vibrant communities, take that minute longer to gaze at the view and get ready to leave a piece of your heart in the Brecon Beacons… Let the adventure begin!

Walking in the Brecon Beacons

Walking in the Brecon Beacons

When we think of Brecon Beacons activity holidays, it’s walking which most often springs to mind. It’s arguably the easiest way to explore the national park and there are no end of walking routes to choose from. Whether you’re looking for buggy and wheelchair-friendly paths, or have your sights set on conquering the heights of Pen y Fan, the Brecon Beacons has something for everyone.

Some of the more easily reached peaks such as Sugar Loaf Mountain offer awe-inspiring views, while other routes swap jaw-dropping vistas for beautiful natural features such as tumbling waterfalls and glistening reservoirs. Strike out on some of the lesser-trodden paths and you’ll likely not encounter a soul, or plump for family-friendly trails where you’re never far from refreshments and facilities.

Take a look at our guide to the best walks and hikes in the Brecon Beacons to find walks across all of the four regions: the Brecon Beacons, Black Mountains, Fforest Fawr and Black Mountain (Y Mynydd Du).

Horse riding in the Brecon Beacons

Horse riding in the Brecon Beacons

There are many Brecon Beacons activity centres which offer horse riding as a way to explore the landscape. With over 600 miles of bridlepaths and tracks, there’s plenty of terrain to cover, and on horseback, you can enjoy parts of the national park which may be tricky to get to on foot.

Riding and trekking centres offer a range of options, from half-day rides to full-day treks with pub and sightseeing stops en route. There’s something to cater for all abilities, from those who have never sat in the saddle before, to advanced riders wanting to make the most of their skills with challenging routes or fast-paced adventure.

Llangorse Multi Activity Centre, Cantref Riding Centre and Tregoyd Mountain Riders are a few of the schools offering riding experiences. Trek up into the mountains and admire the views from the saddle – as a novice, you may even find you develop a passion for riding to pursue at home!

Mountain biking in the Brecon Beacons

Mountain biking in the Brecon Beacons

Mountain biking in the Brecon Beacons is not just a thrill; it’s also a great way to experience the variety of landscapes, from dense forest to open moorland and rolling countryside. The national park has long been a popular destination for mountain bikers and as such it has a tantalising menu of trails emanating from the five main mountain biking hubs in Brecon, Crickhowell, Sennybridge, Talgarth and Talybont-on-Usk.

If you’re new to mountain biking, it’s the perfect opportunity to give it a go in the company of a qualified instructor who will help you master getting the most from your bike on different terrain. Hiring a guide is also a good plan even if you’ve been mountain biking for a while, as their local knowledge is second to none when it comes to identifying the best routes for you and putting your skills to the test. Of course, bike hire is available from many Brecon Beacons activity centres or, if you’ve brought your own bike, take your pick from the astounding variety of graded routes across the park.

The Brecon Beacons National Park uses a standard, colour-coded grading system to enable you to identify the best route for you: from challenging Black Routes with sections most wouldn’t even consider riding, to mellow Yellows which are fairly flat and free of surprises. In terms of where to go, each hub has something for everyone, but Brecon, Sennybridge and Talybont-on-Usk are well set up for beginners, while Talgarth and Crickhowell offer more hair-raising trails for seasoned experts.

Wild swimming in the Brecon Beacons

Wild swimming in the Brecon Beacons

Wild swimming is growing in popularity, fuelled by the desire to get closer to nature and embrace the simple things in life. The Brecon Beacons is blessed with a plethora of gorgeous beauty spots with glistening lakes, bubbling rivers and exhilarating waterfalls providing a range of experiences not to be missed.

One of the top spots in the Brecon Beacons to immerse yourself in an invigorating body of Welsh water is Llyn y Fan Fach, an 18-metre deep glacial lake which legend has it is home to the Lady of the Lake. Lying on your back in the cool water, cradled amongst the mountains, you may see red kites gliding silently above – a truly memorable wild swimming experience.

Another enchanting lake surrounded by incredible scenery is Llyn Cwm Llwch, overlooked by the iconic peak of Pen y Fan. It’s easy to reach following the footpath and, once there, you’ll be treated to a magical swim which is particularly rewarding in the height of summer.

Pontneddfechan in the Brecon Beacons

To the south of the Brecon Beacons National Park, the fairy-tale setting of Coed-y Rhaiadr (Waterfall Woods) is sprinkled with dreamy and unusual bathing opportunities, with waterfalls, plunge pools and canyons framed by mossy rocks and lush vegetation.

Keeper’s Pond, right on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park near Blaenavon, is easily accessed and offers an ‘infinity pool’-type swimming experience as it is higher in places than the surrounding landscape. Combine it with a walk, or just hop from the car park into the lake for a dip at sunrise or sunset.

There are numerous other delightful places for wild swimming in the Brecon Beacons, many where you’ll be the only swimmer in sight. It’s a feeling like no other, and if you haven’t tried it before now, make the Brecon Beacons your first.

Please note: Swimming is not permitted in the reservoirs of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

Kayaking in the Brecon Beacons

Kayaking in the Brecon Beacons

From swimming in the water to floating on it, kayaking is another sport which you can enjoy during Brecon Beacons activity holidays. There are lots of Brecon Beacons activity centres which offer hire or guided tours. The River Wye, which meets the Brecon Beacons National Park at Hay-on-Wye, is a good choice if you’re looking for a leisurely cruise down the river under your own steam. Surrounded by beautiful views of the Black Mountains and with the chance to spot wildlife along the way, there’s little more peaceful than gliding through nature in a kayak.

Glistening Llangorse Lake is also a tempting destination for kayaking. South Wales’ largest natural lake, here you can spend a pleasant few hours paddling around as you drink in the gorgeous scenery. Boat hire is available seasonally from Lakeside Boat Hire.

The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal and River Usk at Brecon Promenade are also well-loved kayaking spots. If you’re serious about touring the best canoeing and kayaking locations, take a look at the Beacons Water Trail which runs from Brecon to Talybont-on-Usk. It provides a lot of useful information about where to get in the water, distances and what to look out for and avoid.

It is possible to kayak on some of the reservoirs of the Brecon Beacons, but only as part of a group or organisation who have a Reservoir Passport, for which there is a charge. A licence is also needed for paddling on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, which is included in Canoe Wales membership, or British Canoeing membership.

Cycling in the Brecon Beacons

Cycling in the Brecon Beacons

If you like to experience a place on two wheels, you’ll be blown away by the road cycling opportunities on offer in the Brecon Beacons. Combining muscle-trembling climbs with speedy descents, topped off with awe-inspiring views, it's one of the Brecon Beacons' top adventure activities.

To really test your grit, the 6km, 10% gradient of renowned route ‘The Tumble’ is not to be missed. The notoriously tricky uphill climb takes you all the way up to summit The Blorenge where you can catch your breath and massage your calves as you drink in the view from the top, before the vertiginous downhill.

The long-distance National Cycle Routes of the Taff Trail and Lôn Las Cymru also cross the Brecon Beacons. The former runs 55 miles from Cardiff to Brecon along riverside paths, railway paths and forest roads, with highlights including plentiful mountain scenery, tumbling weirs and enchanting Castell Coch. Lôn Las Cymru traverses the whole of Wales from Cardiff Bay to Holyhead.

The Brecon Beacons section climbs up through the Black Mountains, passing by the River Usk and onwards into the Vale of Ewyas and out into rolling countryside before heading up Gospel Path and dazzling cyclists with views of the Wye Valley.

Besides the National Cycle Routes, there is also a touring route which runs from Llandeilo to Abergavenny along a Roman Road and country lanes offering dazzling views and serene countryside scenes.

Stargazing in the Brecon Beacons

Star gazing in the Brecon Beacons

Outdoor activities in the Brecon Beacons don’t get much more memorable than lying on your back and gazing up into the vastness of the velvet sky, with not even the faintest glimmer of light pollution in sight.

The whole of the national park is an accredited International Dark Sky Reserve, qualifying due to its exceedingly dark skies and lack of light pollution. Look up anywhere in the park on a clear night and you’ll be treated to a breathtaking astrological display, but head for the top spots for the most atmospheric experience.

Carreg Cennen Castle is one such gem; foreboding ruins set atop a limestone cliff provide a magical backdrop for a night of stargazing. Sugarloaf Mountain, Hay Bluff and Pen Rhiw Ddu offer outstanding natural viewpoints, where vast skies drape over the sleeping landscape. Family-friendly stargazing can be found at the Usk Reservoir and Llangorse Lake – with picnic spots aplenty perfect for a midnight feast.

There are frequent stargazing events where knowledgeable guides will explain the astral landscapes you see before you. If you’re serious about stargazing, pack a telescope and time your visit with meteor showers or lunar eclipses. Even just with the naked eye, you’ll be able to spot the Milky Way, a dazzling array of constellations, striking nebulas and shooting stars – twinkling jewels in the blackness of the firmament.

Our tip? Wrap up warm, even on summer nights, as temperatures plummet after dark and there’s nothing like being snuggled up with a hot flask beneath the stars.

For more inspiration, take a look at our guide ‘Top things to do in the Brecon Beacons’.

Staying in the Brecon Beacons

Stay in the Brecon Beacons

With so many Brecon Beacons adventure activities to entice you to the national park, taking a week’s holiday or a short break is the best way to enjoy everything you want to do. Our collection of welcoming cottages in the Brecon Beacons provide the perfect base for exploring, whether on two feet, two wheels or in a kayak!

Spend your days enjoying the adventure pursuits on offer, and your evenings indulging in some well-earned rest and relaxation in the beautiful surroundings of your chosen Brecon Beacons holiday cottage. Browse our collection below – but be warned, one visit to the Brecon Beacons and you’ll be planning the next!

Brecon Beacons cottages

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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