South Wales Valley Day Trip

Take a day off in the Brecon Beacons National Park and enjoy some Medieval and Victorian Architecture – strongly recommended for fans of Doctor Who.

If you’re in Cardiff and you’d like to escape the fuss of the city, I strongly recommend taking a day trip to the Brecon Beacons. This National Park with it’s majestic mountain ranges (including the so-called Black Mountains and the Pen-y-Fan, Wales’ highest point), stunning lakes and splendid waterfalls will show you the core of Wales’ beautiful nature.
Whether you enjoy a scenic drive and are an avid wanderer – you’ll definitely get to see an amount of sheep you’ve never encountered before. Except maybe if you’re an Irish farmer. In that case, you’ll feel right at home. Wales has more sheep than human beings, which guarantees woolly socks for everyone. Though I guess that’s not the reason they got them in the first place.

We decided against a rental car and chose to take a South Wales Valley day trip with Where When Wales. This way, we saved some money, could relax a little more and got to know other friendly travelers. Our tour guides Jan and John, a beautiful couple and wonderfully charismatic people in general, gifted us with a stunning day.

Castell Coch:

36600002Castell Coch is a 19th century Gothic revival castle built above the village of Tongwynlais in South Wales.The first castle on the site was built by the Normans after 1081, to protect the newly conquered town of Cardiff and control the route along the Taff Gorge. Abandoned shortly afterwards, the castle’s earth motte was reused by Gilbert de Clare as the basis for a new stone fortification, which he built between 1267 and 1277 to control his freshly annexed Welsh lands. In 1760, the castle ruins were acquired by John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute as part of a marriage settlement that brought the family vast estates in South Wales. The ‘eccentric genius’ William Burges was then given free rein by the marquess, to create a rural retreat to complement the opulence of his main residence, Cardiff Castle. He didn’t hold back. Dazzling ceilings, over-the-top furnishings and furniture were liberally applied.

Detailed architectural drawings still survive today and following Burges’s death in 1881, colleagues faithfully continued work on the interiors for another ten years. The castle was not suitable for, nor was it intended to be, a permanent residence and the family’s visits were infrequent.

Since 1984 it is open to the public and has already been seen in several Doctor Who episodes. Geronimo!

Caerphilly Castle

36600026Caerphilly Castle is one of the great medieval castles of western Europe. Several factors give it this pre-eminence – its immense size (1.2h), making it the largest in Britain after Windsor, its large-scale use of water for defense and the fact that it is the first truly concentric castle in Britain. Of the time of its building in the late 13th century, it was a revolutionary masterpiece of military planning. It was built by Gilbert de Clare in the 13th century as part of his campaign to conquer Glamorgan, and saw extensive fighting between Gilbert and his descendants and the native Welsh rulers. Surrounded by extensive artificial lakes – considered by historian Allen Brown to be “the most elaborate water defenses in all Britain” – it occupies around 30 acres (12 ha).

36600011It’s stone structures create great contrasts when using b/w photography. We were blessed with incredible sunshine that day we were there, making this October day truly a late summer’s day. Again, if you’re a fan of Doctor Who, you’ll be surprised to recognize several corners you’ve seen before on television. The castle has also hosted the show Merlin for a long time. Stepping inside the gates, you see that it truly still gives you the feeling of traveling back in time to the Middle Ages. For actors, this must be an even greater privilege, diving fully into character in the medieval scenery.

Brecon Beacons

Wales advertises the Brecon Beacons to be “one of Britain’s breathing spaces”. Carved in the Stone Ages, the grassy, heather-clad mountains of the Brecon Beacons National Park have been moulded by nearly eight millennia of human activity. Today, this is a fantastic place for walking, biking and horse riding to see the beautiful mountains, waterfalls, caves, forests and a historic canal – plus characterful towns, pubs, and farmers markets. The Brecon Beacons have a rich agricultural tradition and are genuinely refreshing for mind and eye.

Some of the things I definitely recommend you to do and see are the Pen-y-Fan, the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal with their beautiful ships (you can also take a private tour on the water there) as well as the Taff & Rhymney
Valley, which will give you an amazing view. I also recommend taking a little lunch break in the picturesque Brecon, a medieval market-town in Mid-Wales. 36600031With St. Mary’s Church in the centre and lots of good options for a delicious meal and a pint of lager, the historical town of Brecon remains a treasure.

The Brecon Beacons are a large area, and if you have the time, you should definitely remain longer than only one day. However, if you’re traveling on a budget, a day tour is a great opportunity to get a first impression of the beauty of Wales.  as always, if you’d like to see more Wales photography, check out my Cargo here.


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