A (Geo)Park within a Park

  • Contributor information: CNP

18 February 2019

Fforest Fawr is the first Geopark in Wales and the one of 140 in the world! Alan Bowring and Clarissa Price share with us these incredible and evocative landscapes in the Brecon Beacons National Park.

The Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales has something no other National Park in the UK has – a geopark. Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark covers the entire western half of the Brecon Beacons. Designated by UNESCO in 2015, it was the first in Wales and is now one of around 140 geoparks worldwide. Taking its name from the mountain massif at its core, the Geopark is a cracked and crumpled layer-cake of rocks 470 million years in the making, a spectacularly wild landscape carved by ice and shaped by man.

Corn Du, Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark - credit Lewis PhillipsCorn Du, Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark. Photo credit Lewis Phillips

What is a geopark?

Let’s look firstly what it doesn’t mean – a Geopark is not a geological park. Sure, it’s got geology and world-class at that but it’s not just about rocks! It is however very much about making the connections between those rocks and the landscape and the people. It’s about telling stories that explore the links between the different ‘-ologies’ so as to engage and delight the visitor. It is all about local communities and their tourism businesses engaging with one another and other partners to provide something that people will want to come and see and hear – and if that gives a sustainable boost to the local economy then ‘job done’!

Matt-Botwood-Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark

Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark. Photo credit: Matt Botwood.

What is there to see and do in our Geopark? Discover the stories behind the landscape

Every rock has a tale to tell, there is a story behind every hill and every valley; tales of ice and industry, castles and caves.

Our glacial legacy is visible in the three mountain ranges that run across the centre of the Geopark; the Central Beacons, Fforest Fawr and the Black Mountain. All are formed from Old Red Sandstone some 400 million years old and carved by glaciers in the last ice age, creating our iconic skyline of flat topped mountains.

Just off the A470 near Storey Arms is Craig Cerrig-gleisiad; take a walk into a natural amphitheatre with steep sided crags created by the action of ice around 20,000 years ago. Also a National Nature Reserve, rare arctic-alpine plants thrive on its north-facing slopes, with some species not being found again until the Alps.

Our industrial past is visible in the marks left on the landscape by the industrial development of South Wales from the 18th to the 20th century. On the Southern fringes of the Geopark you will find abandoned limestone quarries; Herbert’s Quarry on the Black Mountain is particularly impressive with its far-reaching views. The former firebrick works at Penwyllt, once a hive of activity, is now visited for its limestone pavement, cave systems and neighbouring National Nature Reserve. Old tram roads criss-cross the landscape at Cribarth, echoing a time far busier than the present day.

Maen Llia, Standing Stone, Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark - credit Matt Botwood

Considered old by the Romans, the Maen Llia, Standing Stone. Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark. Photo credit: Matt Botwood

People have been shaping our landscape for over 7,000 years, from the Stone Age through to the present day. Maen Llia, a massive standing stone, was placed in the Geopark by our Bronze Age ancestors – it was old when the Romans laid their new road past it nearly two millennia ago. And now 21st century visitors can watch it reach down to the river to drink at midsummer. Dan Santillo.

The Iron Age Hillforts of Pen-y-crug and Twyn y Gaer offer 360 degree views of the valleys they were once built to defend and in the far west the romantic medieval ruin of Carreg Cennen Castle sits atop its 100m high limestone crag. Myths and legends are woven into the hills; there are stories of fairies at Llyn Cwm Llwch and King Arthurs sleeping warriors beneath Craig y Ddinas. You will have heard of The Lady of the Lake and the Physicians of Myddfai, one of our better known legends which originates from this part of Wales.

Craig-cerrig-gleisiad – Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark. Photo credit: Dan Santillo

Make a date with the Geopark in May for our annual Geofest which runs from the 25th May to Sunday 9th June. Later in the Summer a new Geopark hub will open at Craig-y-nos Country Park in the upper Swansea Valley; once the landscaped grounds of international opera superstar Adelina Patti, it’s now a fantastic starting point for walks up onto Cribarth and Penwyllt and the perfect place to begin your Geopark journey.

Written by Alan Bowring and Clarissa Price,

Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark.

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