The Severn Bridge was our gateway to Wales. The Welsh dragon welcomed us in Gaelic and English at the other end. That mystical creature put me in mind of Arthur and Merlin, and other timeless Welsh myths and legends. We were on our way to Brecon and the Brecon Beacons, Brecknockshire, to hike up the hills and see my husband’s birthplace.
We drove past the entrance to the trail at the Brecon Beacons National Park at noonish but balked at the number of people walking up and down. It was Sunday and the weather was perfect, sunny and warm. We decided to come back later.
We drove into town. Brecon is a quiet little town, at least on a Sunday. Few people about, most shops closed. The shopfronts and houses are painted in pastel colours or stark white, although yellow seemed prominent. The buildings are two or three storey high, mostly Victorian or Edwardian from I could gather.
Too early to check in at the hotel, we took a pleasant walk. We made our way up the hill to the cathedral, Eglwys gadeiriol in Welsh. Funny that eglwys to me sounds like iglesia, Spanish for church.
The cathedral is not too big, it feels cosy yet strong like a fortress. The walls and columns are made of stone and the ceiling, wood. The history of the cathedral goes back to the year 1093. That’s 925 years ago! It started as a Benedictine priory built by the Normans. It only became a cathedral in 1923 for the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon. Two objects remain from the times of the Benedictine monks: the baptismal font and the Cresset stone. Its cups contained oil or wax candle and the monks used it to light the buildings at night, so they didn’t stumble on steps on their way to the 2:00 am prayers.
The cathedral has a fascinating link with the Battle of Agincourt (1415). Local Brecon men and boys went to war in France under Henry V. These were the famous Welsh archers who won the battle for England. In the South Transept, there is a sharpening stone used by Agincourt/Brecon bowmen to sharpen their arrows, as well as a replica indenture, the contract that listed the names of every man sent to war in France.
At the end of our visit, an organist started to play the organ. Was he rehearsing? Was he tuning the instrument? Who knows, but I loved to hear the sound reverberate in the empty cathedral.
The wound our way down the hill towards the centre of this historic market town. The views from the top are spectacular and you can see the highest peak in Wales, Pen-y-Fan, in the distance. We found a lovely café and sat down for a light lunch. If you visit Brecon, give The Café a try. Not far from the café, Bethel Square is a gorgeous little Victorian shopping mall and square. The centre of town is rather small but a lovely place to stretch your legs after a long drive.
We stayed at the historic Wellington Hotel.
Brecon Beacons hike
Our plan was to do a 4-mile hike up Pen-y-Fan. We bought water and chocolate and up we went. I was wearing hiking boots and jeans, not the best combination. I thought the hike would be easy. I was proved wrong. The trail is not steep at all but it goes up steadily. Up, up, up. I started huffing and puffing. It was uncomfortably warm. Whole families walked past me. Some wore flipflops, for goodness sake! They were locals, used to walking up and down hills. I live in Dallas, flat as a pancake. Halfway up, I’d had enough.
Later, we hung out at the hotel’s pub. I ordered a pint but changed it to a half. “Chicken”, the barmaid said. I love the British sense of humour.
The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh (Brecon) – Amgueddfa Gatrodol y Cymry Brenhinol (Aberhonddu)
This museum is located in The Barracks. The barracks buildings are beautiful and I was very close to start snapping pictures until I saw a sign forbidding photography. It’s a military facility, dummy! Anyway, the museum’s building dates from 1805 and was built to serve as an armoury during the Napoleonic Wars. It’s a beautiful classical red brick construction.
The collection consists of artifacts that tell the story of the Royal Welsh regiment since its inception in 1689: medals, uniforms, weapons, flags, diaries, objects recovered from the front line, letters. The main attraction, however, is the Zulu War Room. It displays artifacts from the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War and the battle of Rorke’s Drift, modern-day South Africa, between the Zulu and the B Company, 2/24th Regiment. Rorke’s Drift was made into a film, Zulu, with Michael Caine.
Beacons Water Trail
The trail along the River Usk is so beautiful! We walked along the river, enjoying the peace and quiet. The river crossed the town but stopped at the bridge under the castle. Some people walked their dogs, some, went for walks, some were canoeing, some brave souls went for a swim kitted in wetsuits.
Brecon is part of the Agincourt Wales Trail, developed in 2015 to commemorate the 600the anniversary of the battle. The trail links eight locations in Wales that have a connection with Agincourt, like Brecon Cathedral and the local archers who joined the king’s militia.
I do encourage you to visit this beautiful corner of South Wales!
Hi, I’m Ana. I’m originally from Argentina but I’m currently living in Dallas (USA) with my British husband. I’d like to share my experiences as an expat and as a traveller.