A new green initiative has been launched in the Brecon Beacons. The Eco Travel Network was established by local researchers and business owners to offer a pool of electric vehicles to visitors who want to explore the region while keeping their carbon footprint low. These Renault Twizys carry two people and run on batteries that can be topped up at a number of local charging points.
Rough Guides sent two writers to unearth the best of the Brecon Beacons by quadricycle. Here Rachel Mills seeks out the region’s most eco-friendly initiatives and activities. Read Tim Chester’s foodie exploration here.
The Brecon Beacons in mid-Wales conjures visions of scenic countryside peppered with villages and market towns. The gentle wilderness of this National Park covers 520 square miles and the rolling hills, craggy peaks and hidden waterfalls are a paradise for devotees of the great outdoors.
A growing number of people are feeling a prickling of conscience over the environmental impact of their holiday choices and as more tourists embrace sustainable holidays and staycations, green initiatives are popping up across the Brecon Beacons. Businesses and attractions are blazing an eco-friendly trail by turning to renewable sources for energy; wood chips, solar panels and ground- and air-source heat pumps are all the rage. A recent campaign to reduce light pollution means that the National Park has become the fifth international dark sky reserve in the world. The stars haven’t shone so brightly in years.
We pick up our Twizy, called “Tracy”, from Westview Guesthouse, a few miles outside Hay-on-Wye. Owner Ian is incredibly helpful, giving us a hand with the roof rack, showing us how to drive and charge the vehicle and supplying us with maps and advice. Tracy can do 50mph, but driven flat out at this speed the battery will only last for 30 to 35 miles. Driven at 30mph, on the other hand, she can do 45 miles in winter and well over 50 miles in summer.
We drive into town and park to explore the cute narrow streets packed with bookshops, pubs and tearooms. The town straddles the border with England and is most famous for the Hay Festival of literature and the arts (read more about it on Rough Guides), but the weekend we’re here sees the first Hay Bike Fest with an expo and food stalls in the castle grounds. This very green themed festival aims to get locals and visitors on their bikes and exploring the trails and lanes in and around town.
Founded by the Normans in 1093, this intimate cathedral is set in a walled close north of the town centre. The vaulted ceiling is outstanding and there are small fascinating historic exhibits as you wander around. The cathedral is proud of its military connections and faded regimental Colours are on display, alongside poignant memorial plaques to the fallen. We recharge the Twizy and ourselves at the adjacent licensed Pilgrims Tea Rooms, where the home-cooked food is locally sourced and often organic.
Then it’s onto the pretty market town of Llandovery and The Castle Hotel. We take the scenic route along the back lanes, which means stopping for sheep as they are herded along, and pulling over for the odd tractor. The weather is not kind and I can’t deny the wind and rain has a bit of a dampening effect! I’d recommend sticking to main roads unless it’s a lovely day; back lane hills can be pretty steep and going up tends to drain the battery – and the lack of windows mean that any puddles splash the person in the back seat! On the plus side, Tracy raises a smile and provokes a chat wherever we go.
We are the first Twizy to visit here and the friendly staff go out of their way to help with charging the vehicle and making us feel at home. Parts of the building date back to the 16th Century and the charming rooms, complete with creaky floorboards, are full of character. Tasty cookies, Myddfai Trading Company bath products, wi-fi and a flat screen television are a bonus. The delectable daily specials in the restaurant depend on seasonal and local produce (some from their own farm); try seared Welsh lamb and caper terrine (£6.50) followed by whole chargrilled lemon sole with lemon, caper and rosemary sauce (£18.50).
Rural regeneration is the name of the game here; a development grant from the Big Lottery SOS programme and support from their close neighbour, the Prince of Wales, means that this tiny community has been able to create an energy efficient community hall and holistic trading company at the heart of their village.
Run by local volunteers, the little café here offers a simple, tasty menu ideal for walkers and cyclists dropping in for a light lunch (jacket potatoes, soup or sandwiches are all around £4). Walls are decorated with information boards about local history and folklore, including the Physicians of Myddfai and the Lady of the Lake.
Explore Rachel’s highlights from the Brecon Beacons by hovering over the blue dots below:
The park’s visitor centre (Libanus, Brecon, Powys, LD3 8ER; open daily; 01874 623366) is a great place for viewing the night sky, gathering information and attending lectures. Dark skies are promoted at regular star gazing events throughout the year. Dark Sky Wales is a guide group who offer nighttime sessions to enthusiastic stargazers and astronomers.
Dolaucothi Gold Mines
The most archeologically significant property owned by the National Trust in Wales, Dolaucothi is both a geological and biological Site of Special Scientific Interest. For tourists the interest lies in the mines that were used during the Roman era and again during the Industrial age in the nineteenth century. We explore the yard buildings and then don safety helmets to take a guided underground Roman tour.
A spectacular route through the heart of the Brecon Beacons takes us to the remote Clyngwyn Farm Bunkhouse, where we plug Tracy into the mains and meet up with Dave from Adventure Britain. Completely out of my comfort zone, I confess to not really knowing what gorge walking is. It turns out to mean getting very wet by throwing yourself into rapids and clambering behind waterfalls (as if the back seat of the Twizy wasn’t adventure enough). All this and a final 20ft leap of faith into a deep pool. I would never manage any of it but for our knowledgeable, funny and dependent guide who along the way tells us about the geology and wildlife of the gorge.
After all that activity, a stiff drink is needed. Producing just one cask of whisky a day, this award-winning distillery takes advantage of the natural Brecon spring water to create some of the finest malt whisky in the world. There’s a small exhibit about why a group of friends became Wales’ first distillers in more than a century, including information about their unique “Faraday Still”. A short tour leads to the bar!
This inn just off the main road is the antithesis of the chain hotel. Each room is individually decorated, cosy and spotlessly clean. Downstairs in the restaurant, the thoughtful menu uses produce from their organic kitchen garden out back, or from suppliers local to the Welsh borders. Congenial staff at the bar serve up ales from nearby breweries and can tell you about the wines on their extensive list; we choose hot chocolate and thaw out by the log fire on a squishy sofa. We have a top quality meal while Tracy recharges in the car park for the journey home.
Need to know
- Dark Sky Wales provide all the necessary equipment and prices start from £100 for groups of up to 25 people; get in touch with Allan Trow (07403 402114; [email protected]).
- Penderyn Distillery (Penderyn, CF44 9JW; visitor centre open daily, 9.30–5pm; £6 entrance fee includes a tour and tasting).
- The Eco Travel Network offers a variety of itineraries in the region – check their site for more information.