Before the invention of sophisticated satellite systems British monarchs relied on a system of early-warning fires to alert them of an imminent invasion. In South Wales, the pivotal point of this network, visible across fifteen counties, was Pen Y Fan. Over time the beacon leant its name to the entire range of hills extending to either side of it. The Brecon Beacons National Park is made up of these four separate ranges, distinguished by their scrarps of Old Red Sandstone, usually dark burgundy in colour. From the west to the east these are the Black Mountain (singular), Fforest Fawr, Central Beacons and Black Mountains (plural).
In the east of the Park are the Black Mountains which rise to 811m at Waun Fach. The Afon Honddu climbs along the flanks of Darren Llwyd and then flows through the Vale of Ewyas to join the River Monnow on the Park boundary. In the centre of the Park, dominating the skyline is the aforementioned Pen Y Fan, the proper Brecon Beacon. This giant of a mountain is the highest point in southern Britain. At its base is the Usk Valley where the tidy forms of hedged green fields contrast with the unkempt moorland on the hill above. To the west is Fforest Fawr. This area sweeps from the Afon Taf Fawr across to the Afon Tawe as a series of hills – Fan Fawr, Fan Dringarth, Fan Nedd, Fan Friath and Fan Gyhirych. Between the hills are the headwaters of the River Neath. Here pretty rivers become spectacular waterfalls. Black Mountain is the most westerly sedenta on this great plain. It rises from the floor of the Tawe Valley to a height of 802m at Fan Brycheiniog.
Visitors to the Park would be mistaken for thinking it was a geological one-trick pony. Pretty streams and spectacular waterfalls will take your breath away too, especially in the awesome ‘Waterfall Country’. Located right on the south-westerly edge of the Park, is the splendid series of tree-lined gorges. The rivers Melte, Hepste, Pyddin and Nedd-fechan wind their way down deep gorges over a series of spectacular waterfalls before joining to form the River Neath.
Due largely to the diversity of the landscape there is something here for everyone – stately mountains to reach and fields, woods and canals to stroll along too. The Park is blessed with an extensive network of public rights of way covering more than 1,980km and in places walkers can come off paths onto open countryside and registered common land thanks to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) 2000. This access land is clearly marked on Ordnance Survey maps. And the Park Authority has provided information and signage at main access points such as car parks and visitors centres. Over 70% of the land in the park is privately owned.
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