There was a time when all I knew of Wales was its northernmost reaches. Abersoch, Anglesey and pretty Portmeirion were the places I spent my early childhood; but there is more to Wales than that, and more of Wales than that in me. About a quarter of me comes from the Valleys, the industrialised area of South Wales where my Nana grew up — before she fled to medical school in Cardiff, and then to England.
But there is more to Wales even than these places. Plenty more. One of the places I have longed to go is the Brecon Beacons. The Brecons are wild and beautiful — hard to get to, but worth the drive. The hard to get to bit is the pretty much the reason I have never been before, but I’m so glad that I went to the effort of hiring a car — for the first time in the UK — so that I could fully explore this remote and peaceful part of the British Isles.
And getting there was a bit of a fiddle. After work on Friday evening I jumped on the Heathrow Express — not to get a flight, for once — but to meet my boyfriend and pick up our hire car. Once we got clear of London, the drive was actually totally straightforward and plain sailing.
In the Brecons themselves, everywhere is surprisingly accessible thanks to wide, smooth dual carriageways that are nearly always deserted, which made it super-easy to find our holiday cottage. We were greeted by a warm, silent night and a sky bright with all the stars we never get to see in London.
When Saturday morning rolled around we were welcomed properly by licks, woofs and wags from the farm’s dogs as we set out for a day of exploration. There were many things on our agenda, but primarily we wanted to check out the local delicacies.
In Brecon itself we enjoyed the most enormous ice creams from Llanfaes Dairy. There was an enormous array of flavours on offer, all of which were superb. Yes, we tried many.
The most noteworthy thing about all of them though was that distinctive taste that I can only really describe as dairyful. Fresh and pungent, it hits you full in the olfactory gland like a mixture of mown grass and cow (in a good way). If you haven’t had proper, farm-made ice cream from the UK it’s possible you won’t know what I’m talking about, because I’ve never tasted ice cream like this anywhere outside the British Isles. As you can see, three scoops was more than enough for one human being.
Onwards and upwards! We took to the hills to take in the views and find ourselves some ponies. Neither of us get to drive in London and we both miss it, so it was glorious just to sail along the wide open roads watching the changing light dance over the fields.
It was a warm day, and when we happened upon Talybont reservoir, it took all our willpower not to jump in — there was no swimming allowed — but we still paused to take in the scenery. These photos are courtesy of my boyfriend, who captured the beauty of the scene better than I ever could.
Talybont was stunning, but I was itching to find some water that I could swim in. Ever since I was little — with a brief teenage intermission when I didn’t like getting my hair wet — I’ve started to simmer like a pot on the boil as soon as the mercury rises, and I won’t shut up until I can plunge into a cold pool of one form or another.
Fortunately, the Brecon Beacons is waterfall country, so after much pestering on my part we were on our way to the Wood of Water — a magical, fragile alley of mossy trunks clustered around clear pools, which tripped gently down the hill. After parking up at Pontneddfechan, we wandered upstream looking for a private place for me to take a dip. On warm days, however, the locals heads to the waterfalls in force, so I found myself the subject of more than a few stares as I bobbed up and down awkwardly.
I obviously hadn’t thought to bring a towel — this was spontaneous wild swimming, after all — so after drying out on a rock, I put my clothes on and we headed for dinner.
We made our way to Talgarth Mill where we had a reservation and took our seats by open doors overlooking the stream. Talgarth Mill is a proper local secret — a den of beautiful light, fresh baking at the foot of the Black Mountains. The Baker’s Table is the cafe there, but what many people don’t know is that they serve their own pizza, baked in a round stone oven, on Saturday evenings.
Deliciously rustic, the pizzas were a thin and uneven and the toppings packed with flavour. They were as good as any you can get in London, and better than most (my two favourite London pizzerias are Santa Maria in Ealing and Franco Manca). I had blue cheese on my pizza, which is just about my favourite topping in the world when done properly. I find blue cheese can often be overly diluted in pizza-topping format, but this was zingy and had that lovely pungent kick that causes an intense lactose love-in across the whole facial region.
The sun shone in and we devoured dessert between us. All the while, locals popped in to pick up takeaway from this clearly much-valued little haunt, which has my seal of approval in a big way.
Plus, it was BYOB, which is always a win. We obviously headed back to the cottage to finish most of the wine, as we were being responsible drivers (I say “we”, it wasn’t me doing the driving at this stage).
Sitting out in the garden in the shadow of the Black Mountains, we tried to remember how it was to endure the starless nights in the city. Far away from life, from yesterday and from tomorrow, in that moment it seemed unthinkable that we ever did.
Disclaimer: My visit to the Brecon Beacons was courtesy of Brecon Beacons Tourism and Brecon Beacons Holiday Cottages. This was a press trip and I did not receive any money in exchange for writing this blog post. All opinions and words are my own.