Brecon Beacons Geopark
What attracts walkers to the Brecon Beacons? Is it the same thing that attracts much of the weather – the mountains? The National Park is very much the three-dimensional landscape; wide open breathable spaces sure, but beyond that, it’s got depth too. Lofty peaks above and deep caves below. What’s not to like?
When we set foot, map in hand, to follow the trails from the Walkers are Welcome towns of Crickhowell, Talgarth, or Llandovery we’re undertaking our own explorations of this protected space. No matter that many have trodden these trails before – we each come with our own knowledge and interests; we stride out on different days in different conditions in different seasons, in varying lights. That means we can encounter things that nobody has seen previously – a view revealed through the mist, a fiery sunrise, a flashing wing of plovers, a fresh tumble of stone.
But even beyond this, there is something more we can do to enhance our appreciation of what we enjoy on the day. It’s reaching out for the stories behind the landscape and its day-to-day dramas.
What the Fforest Fawr Geopark has done these last few years is emphasise the importance of the fourth dimension in this landscape. That of time, something which hangs thickly around these hills. But how do we reach out to claim it as part of our experience?
We might start by remembering that behind every hump and every hollow, there’s a story to be told. It may be one for the geologist to tell – of moraines and sinkholes (we have both aplenty here), or it may be for the archaeologist to relate – of Norman mottes or of borrow pits or perhaps for the ecologist to explain – anthill-bedecked grassland, undisturbed for centuries or maybe those unassuming bee holes.
Not so far from Llandovery in one of the lesser-visited parts of the Geopark is a tract of moorland over which history has been drawn and re-drawn. Around 1800 years ago Roman soldiers made an overnight stop at Y Pigwn. The legacy of several hours’ work on their part remains with us nearly two millennia later as the giant playing card imprint of their ‘marching camp’. Much later, just two centuries ago, in fact, quarry workers followed the geology and extracted myriad ‘tilestones’ from this same ground to roof local farmhouses. Their linear legacy cuts across the Roman one.
You need not venture far from Talgarth to journey some 400 million years in time. Within the Old Red Sandstone of the Black Mountains are fossilised lime-rich soils from that distant time; they are now hard bands of rock over which falls like Pwll-y-wrach now plunge.
And if you should find yourself in Crickhowell, look south to the great limestone cliffs of Craig-y-cilau – if this place had not been beneath an equatorial sea 330 million years ago, they would not be there. And if they had not been there, then south Wales may not have been one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution.
So time is key amongst these hills. Brush up beforehand or tag along with an expert; every mile walked through this landscape can brim with meaning if you have an eye to look and a curious mind to ponder on what it holds and where it has come from.
Alan Bowering, Fforest Fawr Geopark Development Officer