Friday, August 13, 2010

Traveling in Wales: The Brecon Beacons

Of places to visit in Wales, the Brecon Beacons are typically overlooked in favor of 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.)
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Bailea Farm is situated on a hillside looking out over the 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.

Off the local lanes are several public footpaths, some with open views of the mountains, that you’re likely to have all to yourselves (aside from sheep, birds, and cattle, that is).

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.  

Wales can be wet, but we were lucky in our weather.  Cloudy mornings were themselves beautiful, like 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.

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Brecon itself is a picturesque old market town, complete with a 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.)

Right in 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.

From the vantage point of Bailea Farm’s 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.

13 comments:

  1. Lovely post - and a bit of a rallying call for me. The nearest I've been to the Brecon Beacons is Abergavenny even though I only live 150 miles away - and you came all this way!

    I love that picture of the three cows (bullocks?) - it's like the Marlborough Man adverts for cattle... in ways I can't fully explain!

    *gets coat*

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  2. Many of these places are very familiar to me. I live in a little English pocket stuck into the Marches near Knighton and often travel across the border for pleasure. The only thing wrong with the area is that it rains so often and generously.

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  3. You have done a great job advertising the place and it's inhabitant - you deserve a discount on your bill!! :)

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  4. Brokenbiro, thanks for stopping by. Yes, do get out your hiking boots and go, if you're inclined. So beautiful, and, as you see, the sun does come out from time to time!

    Friko and Jinksy: Welcome, and thank you so much for your comments.

    To you all three: So happy to make your acquaintance, at least in cyberspace. I am enjoying your posts immensely.

    And as for rain in Wales: we were lucky in our weather, particularly given all advance reports. Though if we hadn't been, I was prepared, having vacationed in England in what turned out to be the wettest June in 100 years!

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  5. Once again RA, you've posted a wonderful travelogue! The photos are outstanding, I am sure you took them yourself but they look professional.

    I loved this glimpse into Wales - the Coach House sounds like a delightful place to stay on such a trip. Looking forward to more posts from your trip!

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  6. Know it well, lovely part of the world.Still have all my Ord Survy maps although I know I'll never use them again except for reference.

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  7. Love your Wales post and pics. The countryside is beautiful and I look forward to volumes II and III...or more!

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  8. I see you have time travelled back to my island of dreams! You are welcome to hang my painting anywhere you choose... LOL :) You could always print yourself a copy if you like.

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  9. Glad you had such a wonderful holiday at Wales. Beautiful photographs as always, you always capture your subject so well.
    I was so pleased you saw the "Lords and Ladies" in the hedgerows, I actually collected some more today. We are enjoying some sunny days so we have been out walking.

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  10. Von: I seem to recall you'd at one time thought you might live in Wales, no? And yes, those OS maps are too good to ever part with, aren't they? We've built up quite a collection over time.

    Jinksy: Thank you! Just wish I had a color printer!

    Milly: Thanks for stopping by. Really did enjoy seeing your Lords and Ladies in real life. Gives looking at your lovely paintings an extra dimension. Enjoy your sunny days!

    WOS & cybersr: Thanks, as always, for your very nice comments! And WOS, who knows, perhaps you and yours will get over there sometime, eh? To you both, well, I guess I'd best get cracking on vols II and III . . .

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  11. Wales was never a consideration for me but I am beginning to think otherwise. What a lovely place and thanks for putting together this presentation while you are ON VACATION (in other words, I hope you are getting some down time from the camera lens)! I am betting it has its rewards such as a trip down memory lane later on.

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  12. JM: It is a conundrum . . . I did actually put down the camera one day. But you are right that it has its rewards, not only as a trip down memory lane, but as a way to share the bounty with anyone who cares to look. And, as for considering Wales as a "destination," I say go for it!

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  13. Please don't put down your camera! Your photographs are always such a treat. I agree with brokenbiro about the photo of the three cows/bullocks - yes, the Marlboro Man ads...

    I hiked across that gorgeous landscape many
    years ago and the incessant rain didn't bother me at all. I can't imagine living with it, though. A daily thunderstorm a la Florida (or Johannesburg) followed by sunshine is more my cup of tea.

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