The Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark stretches from Llandovery in it’s North West, to Merthyr Tydfil at it’s south-east. It covers much of the western Brecon Beacons and covers 300 square miles. This area has been awarded Global Geopark status due to its unique and fascinating geology.
It was Wales’s first Global Geopark and has now been joined by Angelsey in the north. Geoparks celebrate the areas’ unique culture, history, myths, archaeology, as well as focusing on its outstanding geology, and its inhabitants’ connections with the landscape.
Credit with thanks: Fforest Fawr Geopark
David, one of your hosts at River Tawe Holiday Apartment, is both a Brecon Beacons National Park Ambassador and an Ambassador for Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark. Don’t hesitate to ask him for hints on how to get the most out of the Geopark and please download the factsheets below to help you enjoy your stay at River Tawe Holiday Apartment.
The Geopark Website states:
“You will find that each Ambassador has a special knowledge of this unique place and an ongoing commitment to celebrating it and helping visitors too to get the most from their stay. These Ambassadors have taken time out of their business to make sure they offer outstanding information and service.”
Every year the Geopark hold a series of walks talks and family events celebrating the Geopark.
- The oldest Ordovician and Silurian rock layers are named after ancient Welsh tribes that lived in the area.
- Magnificent old red sandstone, from the Devonian period 419-359 million years ago, has created the striking landscape of flat-topped mountains, we see an example of surrounding Llyn y Fan Fach.
- Water eroding the rock over millennia has carved the immensely beautiful carboniferous limestone layers into pavements, and cave systems. This layer was once a tropical sea and fossilised brachiopods and branching corals can be found. Originally limestone was formed from shell debris.
- The millstone grit separates the limestone from the coal layer which fueled the industrial revolution. Both lime, coal and ironstone were mined in this area during the time.
- Silica Rock was mined at the Cribarth and used to form heatproof silica bricks used to line the furnaces for copper and iron smelting.
- Newer rock layers were laid down in the Carboniferous period 359-299 million years ago.
- The Geology of the Geopark and the landscape it has created truly is a natural wonder.
In ancient times people settled here leaving their standing stones and traces of their settlements, there are iron age hill forts and medieval manors and Roman roads, such as Sarn Helen, to discover and much more.
The more recent history of Geopark is heavily linked to the birth of industry, the South Wales Valleys fueled the Industrial Revolution.
You can see how the landscape was changed by the people who lived here and how the landscape influenced the activities of its inhabitants.
The Lady of the Lake, Llyn y Fan Fach and the physicians of Mydffai
Llyn y Fan is a lake in the Brecon Beacons or in fact two lakes. Llyn y Fan Fawr and Llyn y Fan Fach lie on a mountain just north of Ystradgynlais, where River Tawe Holiday Apartment is situated. It is a short drive and a beautiful walk to visit these ancient and mysterious lakes which have been the subject of legends throughout the ages.
The Red Book of Hergest, an ancient manuscript which was one of the sources of the Mabinogion, written just after the year 1382, holds a tale that starts by the shores of Llyn y Fan Fach.
The lady of the lake
One day a farm boy was tending to his animals by the shores of the lake when to his surprise a beautiful and wise woman rose from the lake. She prophesied that if he were to marry her, he would become wealthy and well respected.
The condition of this marriage was that he was not allowed to strike her more than three times or she would return to the lake and the marriage would be over. The boy married the strange lady and they gained many animals and became rich and successful, unfortunately at some point he struck her more than three times and she left him returning to the lake and all her animals followed her into the water.
The Physicians of Myddfai
All he had left were his children, legend has it that these children went off to become the Physicians of Myddfai having learnt their mother’s magical plant lore. Historical records show that in the 13th Century there was a renowned physician called Rhiwallon Feddyg from Myddfai and he had three sons, Cadwgan, Gruffudd and Einion. Their herbal remedies have survived, recorded in the Red Book Of Hergest, along with their possible ancestors’ legend. The physicians of Myddfai continued to pass their knowledge down to their descendants and the last known member of the line died in 1739 named John Jones.
The Legend of the Twrch Trwyth (The Boar Trwyth )
Cwmtwrch is named after the legendary boar Twrch Trwyth, the cursed son of a Tared Wledig a prince of Wales. At the behest of a giant eager to secure a magic comb from the boar, king Arthur and his cousin and Arthur’s dog Cabal chase the huge boar into the sea to die.
Places to Visit
Craig y Nos Country Park
Craig y Nos Country park is open every day except Christmas day and has 40 acres of grounds to explore, with easy and accessible paths. There is also a good cafe and some artists’ studios.
This was once the grounds of Craig y Nos Castle, which is now a hotel and wedding venue. In 1878 until 1919, it was the home of Dame Adelina Patti, a world-renowned Opera Singer. She extended the castle massively and even had a miniature copy of La Scala in Milan built, it is now a grade one listed opera house and is well worth a look. From 1922 until 1959, it was used as a TB hospital. A small exhibition is usually housed up near the castle, in winter it tends to be about the castle’s use as a TB hospital and in summer about the extraordinary life of Dame Adelina Patti.
The pay and display car park entrance is on the A4067 from Swansea, past Abercrave and Pen-y-cae. Turn right just after Craig-y-Nos Castle. Postcode for sat nav: SA9 1GL. Hourly T6 Bus service from Brecon and Swansea except for on Sundays. For a free parking option, there is a layby on the right before the castle.
Set within this valley is also Dan Yr Ogof Showcave Centre where you can venture underground to see caves for yourself, the HQ of the South Wales Caving Club at Penwyllt, and the Cribarth Hill, known as the Sleeping Giant, which looks remarkably like one from Ystradgynlais.
Cribarth and Penwyllt
Guarding the entrance to a picturesque and mysterious valley, called Penwyllt, full of caves, quarries, ancient monuments, cosy pubs and stunning scenery lies the Sleeping Giant. This hill, overlooking the village of Abercraf, called Cribarth looks like a huge sleeping giant. Legends have it that the giant will awaken to help his people in a time of need.
According to Nigel Phillips on the Brecon Beacons park society website:
“Cribarth must be one of the most intensively quarried mountains in Wales, but this actually adds to its appeal. The hey-day for this activity was between the opening of the Swansea Canal in 1794 and the 1890s. Limestone, silica rock and rottenstone were extracted in huge quantities for the iron, copper and tin industries further south around the Swansea Valley.
There were thirty-three large quarries and innumerable smaller ones, served by 10.5 miles of tramroads and railways and by eighteen inclined planes, four of which ran steeply down to the canal at Abercrave.”
This has created a beautiful and rugged landscape full of mystery due to the presence of two cairns and Craig y Nos Castle, a hotel and Craig y Nos Country Park, which contains 40 acres of Scenic Park Land.
Easy Mountain Walk
Drive from Craig Y Nos drive back towards Ystradgynlais and take the first turn left, left again and follow the road all the way up the hill past a quarry and into a large car park. You will see a disused railway station, partly funded by Dame Adelina Patty in 1861, from there she would take her own railway carriage attached to any train, so she could travel in style to and from her castle at Craig Y Nos.
Part of the UNESCO Fforest Fawr Geopark, Penwyllt is home to The South Wales Caving Club, based in a row of terraced miner’s cottages and of course, hidden beneath your feet is the massive Ogof Ffynnon Ddu Cave System, one of the longest in Britain with over 40km of Passages.
This landscape was folded into an arch or anticline and many different layers have been exposed this folding happened three hundred million years ago due to lateral pressure and is part of a longer fault line called the Swansea Valley Disturbance.
Glaciers carved through the valley, more recently a mere 18,000 years ago, removing some of the top layers. Man has then added to the scarring, this area being intensively and repeatedly mined over the years. it makes for a very interesting landscape.
You can walk some of the way along the Old Brecon to Swansea Railway Line, back towards Ystradgynlais before the line becomes overgrown, and the views down the Swansea Valley will be stunning.
Always let us know if planning to adventure as the weather can turn extremely quickly. There are several pubs in the area providing excellent food and drink.
Waterfall Country, Waterfall walks and Waterfall Centre
Within a 15-minute drive from the apartment are several places you can park to explore waterfall country. Ystradfellte (Park: CF44 9J) or Pontneddfechan, where there are some delightful pubs and easy parking. It is the geology of the area with its mix of limestone, sandstone and millstone grits and earlier glacial erosion, which cause such spectacular waterfalls. Dinas Rock (Park: SA11 5NU) is also a good starting place for several walking routes of differing length and difficulty, including one short one.
There are also harder routes where you can spend all day taking in many of the Falls. see leaflet Penderyn and Hirwaun walking trail. There is a large car park with picnic benches. The village has several pubs and a tearoom that is open at weekends. There is a children’s play area that is always open behind it.
While in the area, why not visit the Penderyn Distillery CF44 0SX which is 22 Minutes from the apartment and close to the Waterfalls.
Sgwd Henrhyd or Henrhyd Falls
Henrhyd Waterfall is South Wales’s tallest waterfall with a 90ft drop. It is situated near Coelbren on the river Nant Llech. A spectacular and mysterious sight. For the sure-footed, it is possible to walk behind the falls although not recommended.
Fossil trees were found here by Sir William Edmond Logan, one of which still stands outside Swansea Museum. He later became the head of the Geological Survey of Canada. The waterfall was also the entrance to the bat cave in the film Batman – The Dark Knight Rises.
It is a steep walk that can sometimes be slippery, wear waterproofs if planning to get close on wet days, but wet days are the best to appreciate this spectacle.
From the apartment, take Pantyffynon Rd to College Row/B4599. Then turn left onto College Row/B4599. At the roundabout, take the 2nd exit onto Trawsffordd/B4599. Turn right onto the A4067 and A4221toOnllwyn Rd. Then take a road called Heol Eglwys to Dol Henrhyd, where you will find the car park entrance. Park: Brecon Beacons National Park, Dol Henrhyd, Neath SA10 9PG. There is a free car park for the falls with a picnic bench.
Blog Posts about other special places to visit in the Geopark:
Factsheets for GEOPARK Days out to download:
Sustrans Cycle routes
places to visit to find out more:
National Park Visitor Centre (or ‘Mountain Centre‘, Libanus nr Brecon LD3 8ER)
Cwm Porth Information Point (Ystradfellte, Waterfall Country OS grid ref SN 928124)
Craig-y-nos Country Park (Upper Swansea Valley SA9 1GL)
Black Mountain Centre (Brynaman)
Garwnant Visitor Centre (Cwm Taf)
Visit Brecon (Lion Yard, Brecon, LD3 ) NEW in 2018!