An Excellent Insight to the History of the Brecon Beacons

The Uplands of Wales, a nation defined.

A new publication has revealed a fascinating insight to the historic landscape of the Western Brecon Beacons…

“Y Mynydd Du. My Spiritual Home. It’s in my soul.” Roy Noble

A new survey has uncovered the history of a key area of the Welsh uplands in central south Wales. The Western Brecon Beacons stretches from Talsarn in the north to Penderyn in the south, and from Brynaman in the west to Heol Senni in the east. Within the 270 square kilometre range of the uplands of Mynydd Du and Fforest Fawr are some of the finest archaeological remains relating to settlement, farming, burial, ritual and industry spanning several millennia, and offer a fascinating insight into how generations of people survived in this harsh landscape.

© Crown: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales

The Royal Commission’s publication, The Western Brecon Beacons: The Archaeology of Mynydd Du and Fforest Fawr by David Leighton with a foreword by BBC Radio Wales’ Roy Noble, provides detailed maps and images of a landscape of mountains and moorlands, an archaeological treasure trove revealing evidence of human activity since the end of the Ice Age. The book is the latest in the Royal Commission’s series, Discovering Upland Heritage, based on extensive fieldwork and research.

Uplands form a significant component of the Welsh landscape. Half the land mass can be classified as upland either because of its altitude, 800 feet or 244 metres above sea level, or because of the nature of the topography. However, as late as the 1970s it was mistakenly believed that the mountains and moorlands of upland Wales were devoid of intensive land use.

Bryn Elen in the upper Usk Valley. A lone round cairn situated in open moorland to the north of the Fans escarpment. 2 metre scale, viewed from the north ©

Years of exploratory fieldwork, through the Royal Commission Uplands Archaeology Initiative, has finally revealed the archaeological richness of these environments. Potential threats from forestry, quarrying and moorland conversion led to the project with the immediate aim of recording archaeological features to inform the planning process.

The Royal Commission, founded in 1908, is the national body of survey and record for Welsh archaeology and buildings. It maintains the National Monuments Record of Wales, which is the largest visual archive in Wales, with over 2 million photographs and 125,000 drawings as well as many other records.

The landscape today is now better understood and tells the story of the economic importance of these uplands through the constantly changing social, economic and climatic conditions experienced by the people who lived there. From evidence of glacial activity to Bronze Age burial sites, and large-scale rabbit farms to second world war anti tank defences, this upland region provides a fascinating view of a nation in constant evolution.

Low cloud over the cliffs of the northern escarpment above Llyn y Fan Fach. ©

Roy Noble in his foreword comments, “I now live in Aberdare, so I’m still based west of the A470, the area covered by this book. Geography was my college subject, history is my added real interest, but a sense of place and the tales it unfolds is what fires my passion. This place becomes alive in its deeply rooted vibrancy. It immediately lassoes its sons and daughters.

“There are so many tales and messages from this special, sacred spread, some mythical, some historic, some entirely personal. All underline the human traffic or tribal activity that I associate with this magical moorland.”

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