A Scenic Drive from Tan yr Eglwys Cottages.
Much of South Wales can easily be reached from the cottages, providing a wide array of different places to visit and contrasting topography. Whilst beaches and rugged coastlines are easily reached, there is nothing quite like a scenic drive inland through valleys and over mountains to confirm that you are on holiday with very different scenery. On these occasions when a scenic drive is the requirement of the day, two routes instantly come to mind, places we became familiar with from childhood, but we continue to be amazed by the beauty that unfolds on these car journeys whatever the season.
Y Mynydd Du / The Black Mountain
This can offer a round trip of 55 miles in theory, taking an hour to reach Myddfai and returning via the A40 down through Ammanford. We have always travelled up to Llandovery and beyond via the mountain road beyond Upper Brynaman. The Mynydd Du translates rather ominously as the Black Mountain, such a gloomy threatening name for such a beautiful wilderness.
There are a number of possible stopping off points during the journey, it would be easy to expand the journey into a full day trip starting at maybe the Black Mountain Community Centre, originally the village school building on the roundabout in Upper Brynaman. Park just before the Centre in the old school yard and have a coffee or discover tourist info regarding the area. Move onward and as you climb the up onto the mountain, you leave behind the once thriving coalface of South Wales. The scars of the coal industry in the form of the open cast site still visible to the East above Ystradgynlais.
Drive along the open moorland road, passing sheep, cattle and certainly the meandering mountain ponies. It is essential to stop and park at either of the car parks on the right hand side, observe the changing seasons on the patchwork fields of the Carmarthenshire countryside, watch vehicles negotiating the hairpin bend known locally as Tro’r Gwcw (the cuckoo bend), read the information boards or take a short stroll up to see the remains of the industrial heritage of limekilns and quarries. Soaring high above may be the occasional red kite, a hint of activity each afternoon down in nearby Red Kite Feeding Station at Llanddeusant. At 2pm during the Winter and 3pm in the summer, since 2002, the red kites have been fed, by now between 50 to more than a hundred birds swoop down to be fed. Arrive early, pay in cash, children are welcome, but it is important to keep calm and quiet. The kites seem to dislike the rain, for more info read our Paid Family Attractions Blog for more info and check out their website or Facebook page.
The village of Myddai is nearby, Prince Charles has a home there, but aim for a break at the Myddfai community Hall and Visitor Centre – gifts, good food, refreshments and home made cakes!
Drive onto Llandovery, wander the eclectic mix of a few shops, cafes and pubs, parking in the large car park overlooked by the striking statue of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.
Move on towards Llandeilo, passing the Plough at Rhosmaen, a lovely place to eat, though almost impossible to fit this in to the day’s schedule. just beyond Rhosmaen and before Llandeilo are both Aberglasney Gardens and also Newton House within Dinefwr Country Park, the latter a National Trust property and parkland. There are many choices to be made and all worthy of several hours.
If a confident and careful driver, travel back home via narrow country lanes to Carreg Cennen Castle or if happier on the main A40 to Ammanford and then backtrack a little to see the picturesque clifftop castle. This again can almost be a day trip itself, with the exploration of the underground tunnels and nearby farm attraction. We have always confidently roamed the country lanes and never fail to be impressed by catching a glimpse of the rugged hilltop castle through a gap in the hedgerows.
The Neath and the Swansea Valleys
Tan yr Eglwys Cottages are positioned above the Swansea valley , but also only 4 miles from the picturesque Neath valley. Thus it has been natural for us to often travel up one valley and then return via the other when visiting the Brecon area. This is a road trip of 70 miles, scheduled to take 2 hours, when not making any stops. Equally there are umpteen places to call off at and so this can easily become a blueprint for a full day trip and more.
In particularly the autumn, I view both valleys as spectacular with the deep valley sides containing a mixture of native deciduous trees and forrestry woodland, interspersed with colour changing bracken and undergrowth.
Many guests chose to book a tour of the Penderyn Whisky Distillery. The tour requires booking, but the entry fee seems to be easily reimbursed in samples, either consumed at the end of the tour tasting or brought away to sample later in front of the cottage log burner. The tour is informative to all, from those with a scientific understanding of distilling, an appreciation of fine alcohol or simply wishing to learn of journey of whisky, all levels are catered for. This is an interesting and rewarding way to spend a few hours and highly recommended.
The drive up the Neath valley to Penderyn is picturesque and on a fast road. Once in the village, there is a roadside chapel that now is an antiques for sale. Up to the left of the village is church road which has a quaint and historic pub – The Red Lion. From 12th century origins as a drovers inn, it is steeped in history, from flagstone floors, log fires, a warm welcome, traditional real ales and good food.
The Red Lion is across the road from St Cynogs Church, Cynog being a 6th century Saint. The graveyard of this church is large, it was once considered an honour to be buried her and 10,000 burials are said to have taken place here over the centuries.
Return down to the village of Penderyn and turn left back onto the A4059, travelling initially on open moorland before the road drops down to the valley floor and joins the A470 and onto Brecon.
As you are passing Libanus, take a left turn up to the Visitor Centre if only for the views and walks cut into the bracken on the rolling hills.
Decisions then have to be made as any of the following places are worthy destinations, depending on your group make up, interests and the season. Brecon, Hay on Wye, Llangorse Lake, Talgarth Flour Mill, Brecon Catherdral (and cafe), the Canal Basin, boat trips and canal walks are all feasible possibilities – many choices!
Chose to call at either the Pen y Cae Inn for food, with the added attraction of the owners micro zoo which can be a welcome distraction for children. Just a few minutes further down the valley on again the right hand side is the Ancient Briton, generally recognised by the colourful hanging baskets outside, parking is the nearside of the pub. this is a Real Ale/ camra pub.
A mini tour of the Neath and Swansea Valleys
This may be taken in either direction, up or down either valley, in all a round trip of about 35 miles. Start by turning left at the main road in Rhos, then going up the Neath valley on the A465. Keep on this dual carriageway, passing the McDonalds on the roundabout which is the first signpost for GlynNeath. Continue on to the next exit which enters GlynNeath at the far end then take the A4109.
Although drawn by the views to the right looking over at the Brecon Beacons, a minutes detour to the left and the Dove Centre in the Banwen may be appropriate, call in to their Meat & Greet Cafe for breakfast or lunch. Banwen itself is just a row of terraced houses, now the remnants of a once proud mining community, the Dove Centre having once been the Mining Offices, now an Education Centre. There are walks up to the Sarn Helen Roman road, only the route and fine views remain there. There is also the tale of St Patrick being a Welshman!
However then return to the main road, the A4109 then becomes the A4221 and shortly to the right is the village of Coelbren where you can park to visit Henrhyd Waterfall, the highest in S Wales with a 27 m drop.
To return to the Swansea valley continue further on the A4221 until it drops down to reach the A4067, where the choice has to be made whether to explore a little way further up the Swansea valley to experience more of the Brecon Beacons or return home to the cottage by turning left?
Just 9 miles up the Swansea valley is Crai Reservoir and it is easy to park up in the layby and just appreciate the wild landscape, then turn back and stop off at a pub for a drink or a meal.
Travelling to the right on the A4067, notice the Ancient Britton on the left, a Camra / Real Ale pub that also serves great traditional pub meals. Just a little further on in the village of Penycae is on the left hand side a pub /restaurant called the Penycae Inn. The chef who owns the pub has a mix of innovative and traditional local produce, also has created a micro zoo behind the pub, this can be a welcome distraction for younger family members.
Travel on for less than a mile or so and on the right is the baronial castle, now a hotel but known to us as Craig y Nos Castle. This building was developed by a once very famous female opera singer called Adelina Patti who lived there from 1855 until her death in 1919, during which time she toured the world from Craig y Nos. The tale is absolutely fascinating and warrants a blog of its own at some point. However just beyond the castle wall is an entrance into the Brecon Beacons Country Park, the area that was once the beautiful cultivated gardens of the Castle and where Adelina Patti would relax and entertain, all under the magnificent backdrop of the Brecon Beacons. Enjoy the cafe and admire the changing seasons of surrounding nature.
If you continue up the valley, just a 3-4 miles , the road climbs upwards into the Beacons and soon Crai reservoir appears in front, once the main water supply for the Swansea valley, now superseded by the Llyn Brianne reservoir in Carmarthenshire.
On the way back down, notice Dan yr Ogof Caves up on the hillside, a full day out with not just caves, but additional family appeal.
Further down the road, now below Craig Y Nos is a left turning on a bend, marked as Penwyllt – the name indicates a wild place at the head of the valley. In recent years there was a quarry operating from here, there are only a few hints the industrial heritage of this area, lime having been extracted from the hills. in the past. The additional point of interest is the empty rail station that was built to allow Adelina Patti to travel the world, leaving Penwyllt in her private train. It also allowed her guests which included international and British royalty to visit.