Snowdonia and other higher peaks. That’s a mistake, for the Brecon Beacons National Park is breathtaking in its beauty and full of things to see and do.
We found a self-catering cottage online at Bailea Farm, which is located in the National Park, near the town of Brecon. One always wonders how well reality will match up with cyberspace: in this case, we were astounded. Among the four of us on this trip, we’ve stayed at countless self-catering cottages in the British Isles. While many were of excellent quality, the Coach House surpassed them all.
Marjorie Morgan, the innkeeper, has overlooked no detail in renovating outbuildings on the farm to create two semi-detached cottages: the two bedroom, two bath Coach House and the one bedroom, one bath Bailea Stable. Both cottages are spacious, comfortable, tastefully decorated, well-equipped, and spotlessly clean. (One example that speaks to the whole: nicely upholstered footstools were provided for each of the supremely comfortable armchairs and sofa.)
Usk Valley’s glorious patchwork farmland. The sunken lane next to which it sits is flanked by hedgerows teeming with plants, including hazelnut, holly, and hawthorn trees, and flowers with names like Herb Robert and Rosebay Willowherb, to name just two.
There’s no place I know of for walking quite like the British Isles, replete as it is with centuries-old rights of way, and Wales is definitely part of that tradition. Our first day out, a brief consultation of Ordinance Survey Map OL12 (the cottage had an excellent and well-organized collection of maps and walking books) led us to Cefn Llechid, a hill with a 360 degree view that included the Brecon Beacons, the Black Mountains, and the Usk Valley. On another day, a stroll up local lanes offered beautiful views of mountains and valleys all along the way.
Constable paintings come to life. Most afternoons, the clouds lifted to reveal large swatches of blue sky, and the sun tinged mountain ridges and valleys with gleaming light. The air was clear and comfortably cool, perfect for walking and good sleeping at night.
There is so much to do and see, the biggest conundrum for a visitor is where to start.
castle and cathedral. Aside from its many sights, there are two excellent supermarkets and plenty of places to have a good meal out. (Though we generally ate at the cottage, our choice for dinner out was the very good Indian restaurant Zeera.)
Brecon, it’s possible to take a canal boat ride on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, and, if you wish, a pleasant walk back to town along the River Usk. The nearby Mountain Centre (National Park Visitor Centre) offers excellent information for walking, including several good walks right out its door (though these you will not have to yourselves). Its café is a great place for lunch or afternoon tea and cake. Not far out of town, the Brecon Mountain Railway, with its restored steam engine, is a fun way to see a bit of the countryside, too.
Coach House, though, it isn’t necessary to stray far if you don’t wish to. Sitting out of an evening, surrounded by flower boxes overflowing with well-tended geraniums and lobelia, Marjorie’s husband Evan may stop by, a basket of fresh-picked rhubarb and potatoes in hand. As he explained in his musical Welsh cadence, “I’m taking them to our neighbor. 103 she is. Yes, yes.” The farm has been in his family for at least three generations. Marjorie, a relative newcomer, has lived there a mere forty-seven years. (She was born and raised ten miles away.) They’re wonderful innkeepers and gracious neighbors. We hope to visit again soon.