5 of the Brecon Beacons’ prettiest villages (2022)

Sarah Riches | 26 June 2021

Lively markets, riverside walks and an award-winning high street: visitors to South Wales won’t want to miss these towns in Brecon Beacons National Park

4 mins

1. Hay on Wye

5 of the Brecon Beacons’ prettiest villages (1)

Hay on Wye (Shutterstock)

Best known for a book festival held every June, Hay on Wye sits beside the River Wye, just inside the border of England and Wales on the Welsh side. If you miss the festival, browse the bookshelves in the grounds of Hay Castle, dropping a donation into the honesty box. Look out too for rare titles in Hay on Wye Booksellers or second-hand books in Richard Booth’s Bookshop, a multi-storey shop named after a local who is credited for establishing the town’s reputation for books.

Visit mid-week or out of season and you may wonder where everyone is. But the town comes alive every Thursday when 40 traders set up shop around the clock tower. The Cheese Market and 1830s’ Butter Market also feature stalls packed with locally picked produce, homemade apple juice and sheepskin rugs. Missed market day? Then browse the town’s antiques shops, buy a handmade woollen poncho from The Welsh Girl or visit galleries such as the Hay Makers instead. The cultural centre Globe at Hay, housed in a former church, also hosts exhibitions.

In summer, stroll along the old railway line that lines the Wye to The Warren, a popular wild swimming spot. You can also swim in a rock pool by the bridge at the glamping site By the Wye. With more time, hire a bike from Drover Cycles and explore the country lanes around the town or rent a dugout canoe from Want to Canoe? opposite By the Wye and paddle west to Glasbury or east to Whitney-on-Wye in Herefordshire. Keep an eye out for otters, kingfishers and leaping salmon.

On sunny evenings, dine in the garden of The Swan hotel, which is bordered with blooms, or book a table at the tapas restaurant Tomatitos. Come the weekend you can mingle with locals in the 17th century Old Black Lion, the family-run Blue Boar, which is draped in ivy, or the Three Tuns, which dates back to 1600.

2. Talgarth

5 of the Brecon Beacons’ prettiest villages (2)

Llangorse lake near Talgarth (Shutterstock)

Almost equal distance from Hay on Wye and the town of Brecon, Talgarth may see fewer visitors but that is part of its charm.

Every August bank holiday locals and visitors flock to Talgarth Festival of the Black Mountains, which sees food stalls line the market square, live bands and street performers and demonstrations of local crafts such as candle making, wool spinning and sheep shearing.

But the town has all the right ingredients for a day trip all year round, with stone cottages, St Gwendoline’s Church and the confluence of the River Ennig and River Ellywe, known locally as The Rocks. Visitors can also climb three floors inside Bronllys Castle or take a tour of Talgarth Mill, a working 18th century mill that grinds wheat grown from Llowes nearby. Buy a loaf, browse pottery, silver jewellery and handmade soap in the shop then have a pitstop in the café.

Llangorse lake is nearby. During the day you can cycle around the lake and stock up on local produce at The Kitchen Garden nearby. Alternatively, hire rowing boats, windsurfs, kayaks and paddleboards from Llangorse Multi Activity Centre or walk the footpath that curves around the lake’s western shore to a bird hide at Llangasty Nature Reserve – look out for warblers, swifts and Canada geese. On clear days it’s worth lingering to stargaze at night, as the lake is set within an International Dark Sky Reserve, one of just 18 around the world.

3. Brecon

5 of the Brecon Beacons’ prettiest villages (3)

Brecon (Shutterstock)

Like Hay on Wye and Talgarth, the town of Brecon can easily be explored on foot.

Built by the Normans in 1093, Brecon Cathedral looms over the north of the town, close to woodland known as Priory Groves. The High Street runs from the cathedral towards Brecon Market Hall – the site of antique and craft fairs, and monthly farmers’ market held on the second Saturday of each month (except August).

The River Usk is at the end of Market Street. Christ College is on the far side, while a path on the northern bank meanders past old town walls. From there it’s a short walk to Theatr Brycheiniog; catch some comedy or hop on a boat to explore the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.

Back in the centre of town you can explore Brecon Antiques Centre and galleries such as Found and Y Gaer Museum and Gallery, housed in the Grade II-listed former Shire Hall, then go for dinner at The Three Horseshoes Inn.

4. Crickhowell

5 of the Brecon Beacons’ prettiest villages (4)

Crickhowell (Shutterstock)

It might only take five minutes to walk down Crickhowell’s high street, but the town has made the most of it – in 2018, it won the Great British High Street Awards.

The road is book-ended by two historical pubs: The Bear, a 14th century coaching inn, and The Dragon Inn, which was built in the late 1500s. It’s also home to a handful of cafes and gift and book shops such as Book-ish.

But what the cinched the award was the town’s sense of community. Locals successfully protested against a chain supermarket buying an old pub, then bandied together to transform it into three flats and a trio of independent shops now known as The Corn Exchange.

The remains of the 13th century Crickhowell Castle are at the southern end of the street, close to a 12-arch stone bridge over the River Usk. Ramblers can stroll along the river or trek the three-hour loop to Table Mountain nearby.

5. Abergavenny

5 of the Brecon Beacons’ prettiest villages (5)

Abergavenny castle (Shutterstock)

The River Usk flows 9.5km south of Crickhowell to Abergavenny, which is on the south east outskirts of Brecon Beacons National Park.

The town is known for its lively food festival, held every September, which attracts national chefs such as Jose Pizarro and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. But you might spot street entertainers and brass bands at any time of the year. The festival takes place in and around Abergavenny Market Hall, which also hosts markets most days dedicated to bric-a-brac, crafts and local farmers’ produce.

Visitors can start your visit at Abergavenny Museum. As well as Roman exhibits, it has a permanent Welsh farmhouse kitchen on display, an example of a 19th century saddler shop and a reconstruction of an air raid shelter. Display boards among the ruins of the 11th century Abergavenny Castle also give an insight into the town’s past. Footpaths guide you from the castle and along the River Usk to Linda Vista Gardens, which has views of Sugarloaf Mountain nearby.

Essentials

5 of the Brecon Beacons’ prettiest villages (6)

By the Wye, Hay on Wye (By the Wye)

5 of the Brecon Beacons’ prettiest villages (7)

By the Wye, Hay on Wye (By the Wye)

Where to stay: By the Wye in Hay on Wye is a new family-run glamping site with five safari tents and barbecue decks overlooking the River Wye in Hay on Wye. The Bear in Crickhowell dates back to the early 1400s, when it was a coaching inn.

For more information visit Visit Wales.

Read more about the Brecon Beacons:

5 outdoor activities you must try in the Brecon Beacons

7 of the best walks in the Brecon Beacons National Park

The Wanderlust guide to Brecon Beacons National Park

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