Call it serendipity, call it making the most of a bad job — this week-end we found ourselves, unexpectedly, in South Wales. The rain cleared and the winter sun peeped over the hill blinding us with its reflection in the reservoir.
So we set out to explore this big splodge of green on the map of South Wales, north of the industrial Valleys and the metropolitan south. The Brecon Beacons National Park stretches from Brecon in the middle of the country right down to the Heads of the Valleys Road, along which you can drive and (if you want to) turn down each of the famous coal mining valleys that once fed the industrial revolution — that criss-crossed the area with canals and railways that turned the stone of the terraced houses, bridges and the tree trunks black and scarred the hillsides with mine workings and slag heaps.
All that has changed now but the Heads of the Valleys road still marks the boundary between valley bottoms of dense habitation and a wild paradise, though on the wild side there are still some signs of the human activities in the past — hillforts, burial mounds, quarries, mine workings and, of course the dams and reservoirs that still satisfy our needs.
Under the sward, the moss and the lichen the industrial history is written into the hillsides.
To the north is Brecon, a garrison town — the first soldiers who stayed near here were probably Roman in the first century AD, now they are Welsh and Ghurkas and that is why this sleepy little town has a Cathedral and Nepalese restaurants.
Driving along the northern edge of the Brecon Beacons after visiting Brecon Cathedral we see the peaks in the distance
Within the National Park the River Usk separates the peaks of the Brecon Beacons from those of the Black Mountains to the east. The sun, setting in the west, bathes the eastern side of the Usk Valley in golden light, beyond is the Sugar Loaf. An epic sunset reminds us what a bonus sunny winter’s day we have had in the company of one of our children.