Winging it in South Wales: an amateur's guide to the Brecon Beacons
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by Chloe Green @SharedBucketList
Planning a trip to the South of Wales but not sure where to begin? This article should be particularly helpful if, like us, you are new to hiking, a little bit useless when it comes to navigating your way around mountains and have a tendency to arrive to places ill-equipped. Full details below...
We've always loved getting out and about in nature but there was something miraculous about the landscapes we witnessed in South Wales last weekend. It was an impulsive trip that we booked last minute over the Bank Holiday and, feeling spontaneous, we hadn't even checked the forecast or fully planned an itinerary before we went. Fortunately for us, we had a lovely time however we thought it might be helpful to shed some light on the dos and don'ts for others so that you might turn up better prepared (and perhaps even have a better time than we did)! Here, we've summarised everything you need to know about what to take, where to stay and what to do/most certainly not do:
Whereabouts in South Wales? Brecon Beacons National Park
Key attractions? The Four Waterfalls Walk and Pen Y Fan
Approximate budget? We paid £75 for a one-night stay at Sgwd Gwladys Lodge, £5 for all-day parking at the Cwmporth (Four Waterfalls) car park, approx. £60 for dinner and a little extra on breakfast/lunch snacks during days out. Camping is definitely an alternative option which would bring costs down if you wanted to.
Accommodation? Our double room at Sgwd Gwladys Lodge (booked on Booking.com) was a little on the snug side but it had everything we needed in terms of standard amenities and the food at the restaurant was fantastic. (Be sure to book in advance as it is very popular!) The lodge itself was nice and close to The Four Waterfalls Walk too which was ideal after a long day of hiking. A great venue to have a couple of drinks and unwind!
Key tips (and precautions) for your trip:
Pack your walking boots
If you don't currently own a pair (like Connor), I cannot emphasise enough how much it is worth investing in some before you go. Not only are they practical for the significant amount of walking you will be doing, your knees will thank you for it because it helps to alleviate some of the impact you'll be putting on them as you venture up and down endless steps and slopes across the different types of terrain. Plus, you will totally look the part! The Brecon Beacons are full of eager hikers - ones with all the gear AND a very good idea about what they are doing (unlike us).
I, stupidly, fell for Connor's fashion policing when I was packing so I didn't take mine with me but I regretted it the entire time I was there. Never again will I succumb to such needless peer-pressure. Trainers do not suffice for a trip involving so much incline! (Can you guess what I'll be getting Connor for Christmas?)
Check the weather forecast before you go
This one sounds pretty obvious but we don't mean you should check whether it is going to be dry or rainy during your trip. Instead, we mean to advise you to check in advance whether all the graft you are putting in to go and watch a sunrise or sunset will actually amount to anything. Sadly, when we got up at 4am to climb the highest peak in South Wales (Pen Y Fan) because we thought we were going to be one of the lucky few watching glorious beams of light at day break, we were gutted to reach the very top and discover that the horizon was shrouded in a blanket of fog. Having said that, it was still pretty amazing to watch the sky transform from complete darkness to light; it's just that we'd pictured it to be a lot more striking than it was and felt somewhat cheated following all our efforts to get up and go so early. Hence, merely checking what time sunrise/sunset is won't necessarily be enough.
While we are on the topic of climates, we did read a little bit on Pen Y Fan before going and found out that the temperature drops at the very top so it is suggested to take gloves and a hat. Despite reading this very useful piece of guidance, we (knowing sod all) felt this would be a little bit excessive... by now, I'm sure you can work out where this point is going... learn from our mistake! Take the hat. Take the gloves. You might be sweating buckets and removing layers on your way up but you'll soon be putting them on again once you reach the summit. Cover those ankles too - I didn't even think about the length of my leggings/socks until it was too late to do anything about it. (I did warn you we were absolute amateurs, didn't I?)
Time of year to visit?
Despite not having the clearest sunrise and being chilly at the top of Pen Y Fan, we'd still recommend visiting South Wales in mid September as it was fairly warm and dry in most parts but there was also a cosy autumnal feel that made nature seem all the more breathtaking.
We're certain that August would be enjoyable too but can imagine that popular tourist spots would get very busy. There were already more people than we were expecting during our visit in September and we felt that too many more could have spoilt the feeling of remoteness you go there for.
Take a torch when climbing a mountain in the dark
I can't believe we're actually typing this and sharing it with the world. It seems ludicrous now that we even thought it would be possible, let alone a good idea. Long and short of it is we thought our smartphones, being super handy and all, would emit enough light and hold enough power to get us to the top of Pen Y Fan. If it wasn't for a fellow hiker, who had been zipping up his tent by the entrance just as we were about to start our ascent in the pitch black and lead down a pathway which he quickly described as 'hazardous with a risk of fatality', we genuinely might not have lived to tell the tale. So, Richard - if you're out there and happen to be reading this - you and your headtorch are our saviours. Thank you!
Wear waterproofs to the waterfalls
Following on from that last point about potential risk of death, this one seems rather dull and unextraordinary but we wanted to give some well-deserved credit to the phenomenal Four Waterfalls Walk we did on day one (which, personally, I preferred). When we arrived, we couldn't believe there were such monumentous waterfalls here in the UK! The woodland trails and stony hillsides could have easily been mistaken for the backdrop of a scene in Lord of the Rings. One waterfall in particular (the farthest from the Cwmporth car park) was absolutely jaw-dropping and you could actually walk behind it. See our reel, where it is heavily featured, here! Bear in mind that you will get splashed and do take care when walking behind it as it's very slippery.
The best part about this enchanting location is that, other than the £5 we paid to the National Trust for all-day parking, you can spend as long as you like there and access to all of the waterfalls is completely free. We'd strongly encourage you to pack your own snacks for lunch and find a rocky spot to sit and just enjoy the splendour of your surroundings. If you do happen to forget to bring your own refreshments, there is a food and drinks van situated at the entrance along with toilets. (Other car parks are available too but we're not sure about their facilities)
So, there you have it! We really weren't lying when we told you our combined hiking expertise was limited but, hopefully, you have found this guide useful if you are due to be visiting the wonders of South Wales in the near future. If you are going, we wish you an amazing and safe adventure! We will certainly be visiting again.
If you have any further questions you'd like answered, please don't hesitate to comment below or get in touch with us through the contact page on our website or sending us a DM on Instagram.