Camping in Brecon Beacon

The beauty of this life is that there are many mountains to climb and new limits to reach. (Location: Pen Y Fan)

Last summer we decided to spend a one week holiday in the South of Wales mainly in the Brecon Beacon area, like most summer holidays we typically enjoyed as a family an exciting an adventurous holiday in the mountains than on a beach watching the sun setting on the horizon, (there is nothing wrong with that and we sometimes do it but summer on a beach in the UK is too crowded and busy which can be very stressful than relaxing).

Llyn Brian Dam and Reservoir

I remembered passing this part of Wales on one of our way holiday trip to Mount Snowdon and I remembered wishing that time to climb up on those mountains.  To some tourists Wales might not be as popular choice of holiday destination as compared to its other neighbours like England and Scotland but during our stay I realized that this part of the country got so much to offer especially if one loves to explore the outdoors, such as the enthralling mountains, beautiful beaches, the lush forest and mesmerising waterfalls, its picturesque villages with its charming and unique shops.

The campsite

A remote location tucked at the foot of Carmathenshire mountains

For one week during the month of August we decided to camp to a remote place closer to Beacon Beacon. Surprisingly, I found the place great to recharge and reconnect with my family without the distraction brought by internet. We even had plenty of time to play monopoly games which is the kids’ favourite pastime activity after dinner.

And as night time approached the sound we heard outside our tent is the burbling and trickling sound of water from the nearby river…

The campsite can be located in Rhandirmwyn area, just outside the Brecon Beacons National Park. It is a small village north east of Carmathenshire. Although it is an hour’s away from central Brecon, it has great location with stunning views of the mountains and the rivers on one side. Most importantly it was relatively clean and serene during our entire stay (it’s only bustling later in the afternoon when most of the campers have come back from their day trips). And as night time approached the sound we heard outside our tent is that of the burbling and trickling sound of water from the nearby river which we found soothing and relaxing for a goodnight sleep.

“In a cool solitude of tree,
where leaves and birds a music spin,
mind that was weary is at ease,
new rhythms in the soul begin.”
-WILLIAM KEAN SEYMOUR

(For some who can’t live without internet connection the campsite might not be a suitable place to stay. But this slow connection has brought some great benefits to us for it gave us an opportunity to really reconnect with one another without the distraction brought by technology. )

Climbing Pen Y Fan:

Top of Pen Y Fan: 886 metres above sea level

The climbing to Pen Y Fan is probably the highlight of our camping trip. This famous mountain is the highest mountain in south Wales standing at 886 metres above sea level. There are many routes to hike this mountain but we chose the one closer to Pont Ar Daf where we park our car (this car park is managed by National trust which as a member we didn’t have to pay). The other car park is in the Storey Arms which was very busy when we got there; this car park also has a trail that leads to Pen Y Fan.

A shadow of a cloud moving slowly as we head back from the mountain

Truth be told, we were still undecided for the climb even if we’re already in Wales, if not for the fine weather we might not be able to do it. I was initially reluctant with fear that the youngest children might find it strenuous to climb this mountain but as I continued browsing for more information I found that Pen Y Fan is an easy hike with a trail up to the top although of course extra caution should be considered because the trail is rocky and steep.

Whichever way we look the views are spectacular

It was passed two o’clock in the afternoon when we arrived at Pont Ar Daf car park which was a bit late for what we had plan but we decided to pass by at the grocery shop on the way to get some essentials like food and water for our climb. We noticed there were still a few climbers who were about to embark a hike to the summit so we decided to continue with our plans, we packed our bags full of snacks and drinks and start the hike. On our way we saw small children going down the mountain and noticed that the path that leads to the top is wide enough for all five of us to walk together until reaching the middle part of the trail when I slowed down and realized that the kids had left me behind.

The run down the mountain

Although the couple of days was tinged with rain and cloudy weather prior to our climb; that afternoon as we stood at the foot of Pen Y Fan the weather was surprisingly beautiful, it was neither rainy nor hot for August weather. The thing with climbing mountain is that the weather can still change. Although it was ok to wear shorts and short sleeve at the bottom of the mountain we know that once we reach to the top the temperature can dramatically drop quite unexpectedly so we decided so wear layers that can be easily remove.

Stopping by to say hello to the mountain sheep

There are two peaks in the central Brecon, the first peak before reaching Pen Y Fan is the Corn Du. We had a short break upon reaching Corn Du to have our lunch. Each of us had a sandwich in one hand and drinking mug on the other. Only few words were exchange amongst us at that moment for we were all mesmerised by the breath-taking view right in front of us. Whichever way we look the views are simply stunning.

The climb around Corn Du peak

After we had our break we continued hiking to the next peak—the Pen Y Fan. There are two ways in reaching Pen Y Pan, one is to climb the Corn Du or to walk around it which we did. We thought that with children it might be proving too exhausting for them if they climb Corn Du first and might not continue going to Pen Y Fan. I’m glad we made that decision because I found Corn Du quite stressful to climb with kids in tow.

The four waterfalls walk

Sgwd-yr-Eira meaning the falls of the snow ( one of the 4 waterfalls)

Aside from the mountain the other fun activity we did in Wales was exploring the four waterfalls. I’ve never seen as many waterfalls in the UK as compared to the ones in Brecon Beacon. I felt like we’re in some tropical country and not in Wales the moment we hike to see these four waterfalls. The routes to the four waterfalls take us to lush woodland with its overhanging canopies of ancient trees and ferns. The place is so tranquil if not for the bustling chatters of some tourist hikers we met on the way since it was in the height of the summer season.

The trail that leads to the four waterfalls

The walk to the waterfalls was an exciting experience for the young children especially when they have to navigate the trail through slippery rocks, holding on to a fern or standing on a fallen branch to avoid a muddy path. It was lovely to hear them laughing, chattering and motivating each other when the hike gets tough and tiresome. The burst of excitement one can’t hide when one hears a sound of running water, signifying that perhaps a waterfall is not too far away.

The veil

Since we’re short of time we decided to see the two waterfalls. We first saw the famous waterfall Sgwd-yr-Eira meaning ‘falls of the snow’ – perhaps it got its name from how the water tumbles down which resembles to a white veil– it is a beautiful 10m waterfall in which one can walk behind it.

The walk behind the waterfall was probably the highlight of the day for the children, the fear of being soak in water and that unknown feeling of what’s it like behind a waterfall. A mixture of fear and excitement can be seen on their faces and the happiness they experience when they face that fear.

A mist of cold water pours overhead as children walk behind the waterfall

The descent to see this waterfall is steep and strenuous. It can be dangerous especially when muddy and wet, we had to use the handrail on our descent and were extra careful with our steps, reminding the children not to run and race down the steps. Once at the bottom, we were all entranced by the beauty and grandeur of this waterfall. There were a handful of tourist when we got there, some were simply sitting on the rocks enjoying the view, others were busy taking a photo, and one guy brave enough to swim in the cold water.  We found a rock to sit and decided to eat our snacks of sandwiches and crisps before venturing to walk behind the waterfalls.

Sgwd Y Pannwr (the third waterfall). Personally, I found this waterfall beautiful and dramatic

After we rested we then head to walk behind the waterfalls. It was a new and different experience for the children so it was nice to see them having fun. The younger one was probably the most apprehensive than the rest as he doesn’t want to get wet but with a bit of encouragement he then decided to walk with us and found the entire experience amazing as mist of cold water pours overhead. Just when we’re about to leave we saw a beautiful rainbow across the waterfall.

Feels like I’m not in Wales but in some tropical country.

We then head to see the third biggest waterfall- the Sgwd Y Pannwr which means the ‘the fall to the fuller’. Compared to Sgwd yr Eira I found this waterfall more beautiful and dramatic. Standing on this waterfall feels like I am in a tropical rainforest with its different shades of green sheltering the cascading water. The route to this waterfall is at least not steep. Some parts of the trail even have a wooden track.   

Getting to the waterfalls:

The long and quiet road to the waterfalls

There are two car parks to the waterfalls but we decided to take the Gwaun Hepste car park which has a longer walk as compared to the other car park.  We only found out the other car park when we got to the waterfall entrance which was too late for us. Surprisingly we didn’t see any sign posted on where to go so we decided to follow some of the tourists, assuming that they were also heading to the waterfalls. For about ten minutes we finally saw a signage that indicates the entrance to the waterfalls country.  The signage gives information on the appropriate footwear to use and at least a minimum of four hours if one is planning to see all four of the waterfalls.  Since we arrived around three o’clock in the afternoon we decided to see two of the four waterfalls so we can come back before it get dark.

The cave experience

Photo taken from inside the cave

Apparently, the campsite that we stayed has a cave close by which can be reached through woodlands, alongside a river bank and a steep climb up to the hill. All week the kids have been talking about this cave especially the youngest one who has an active imagination and has never been to a cave apart from when he was still a baby in a pram.

The trail to the cave

So that one cloudy afternoon when it finally stops to rain we decided to pack our bags full of foods and drinks and get into the car and look for this cave. I found the walk to the cave unnerving and strenuous than the walk to the waterfalls because it is along a riverbank; also the trail was narrow, wet and slippery from its rain that morning.

A walk along the riverbank

We felt deflated when we finally reached the cave and saw that it wasn’t what we expected—we expected a huge entrance but contrary it was the opposite. The entrance was too narrow that we have to leave our bags outside and squeezed through the small gap. The young children initially found it daunting to go through the gap of the cave and once inside they can’t wait to get out!

And Finally…

There are so many fun things to do in Wales that I think the one week holiday trip was not enough but we’re so glad to be able to explore this beautiful part of the country and maybe one day we might decide again to climb up those mountains where the sun rises on the horizon.