The Brecon Beacons (Welsh: Bannau Brycheiniog) are a mountain range located in the south-east of Wales. They form the nucleus of the Brecon Beacons National Park (Parc Cenedlaethol Bannau Brycheiniog), one of Wales's three National Parks.
The Brecon Beacons range, properly speaking, consists of the mountains to the south of Brecon. The highest of these is Pen y Fan (886 m); other notable summits include Corn Du (873 m), Cribyn (795 m), and Fan y Bîg (719 m). These summits form a long ridge which forms a horseshoe around the head of the Taf Fechan river to the south-east, with long parallel spurs extending to the north-east. The round of the Taf Fechan skyline forms a popular ridge walk known as the 'Beacons Horseshoe'. Many other fine walks exist but the mountains are well known for swift changes in weather conditions. The Brecon Beacons are so named after ancient practice of lighting signal fires (beacons) on the mountains to warn of attacks by the English.
The National Park
The National Park was established in 1957, the last of the three Welsh parks (Snowdonia was first in 1951). It covers 519 square miles (1344 km²), significantly more than the Brecon Beacons themselves, stretching from Llandeilo in the west to Hay-on-Wye in the east. It encompasses the ranges confusingly named the Black Mountains (in the east of the park, on the border with England) and the Black Mountain (in the west). The area to the west of the Brecon Beacons range is known as the Fforest Fawr (Great Forest), and was designated a geopark by UNESCO in 2005. Most of the national park is moorland, with some forestry plantations, and pasture in the valleys.
On 22 May 2005, it was announced that the first walk to span the entire length of the Brecon Beacons National Park has opened. The 100-mile route runs from Abergavenny, through Crickhowell and ends in the village of Bethlehem, Carmarthenshire.
Popular activities in the park include walking, cycling, horse riding, sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, fishing, rock climbing, and caving. The Taff Trail passes through the Beacons on its way from Brecon to Cardiff.
The park is known for its waterfalls, including the 27-metre Henrhyd Waterfall and the falls at Ystradfellte, and its caves, such as Ogof Ffynnon Ddu.
Welsh mountain ponies may be seen grazing.
Due to its remoteness, parts of the parks are used for military training. The Special Air Service (SAS) is known for holding especially demanding and dangerous training exercises here.
Mountain rescue in Wales is provided by seven groups, with assistance from local Police, and in serious situations an RAF helicopter from RAF Valley. These are:
- BMRT - Brecon Mountain Rescue Team
- SARDA - Search and Rescue Dog Association
- C/Beacons - Central Beacons
- W/Beacons - Western Beacons
- LMRT - Longtown Mountain Rescue Team
- NEWSAR - North East Wales Search and Rescue
- SARA - Severn Area Rescue Association
Most are staffed by local volunteers and funded primarily by donations. Their work is not restricted to mountain and wilderness rescue; often teams are utilised by the local police to search for missing or vulnerable persons in the community.