|An illustrated guide to fishing, walking, wildlife conservation and other attractions in and around the Brecon Beacons National Park, South Wales, the country of the Red Kite|
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From its source high on the Black Mountain above the Usk Reservoir (see Map 3) , the River Usk tumbles for most of its upper and middle reaches through the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park. After passing through the market town of Brecon (see Map 2) and the pretty little town of Crickhowell (Map 6), the river leaves the Park at Abergavenny and meanders through the farmland of the broader valley beyond. Shortly after the attractive town of Usk the river becomes tidal and enters the estuary at Newport, where it mixes with the waters of the River Severn in the Bristol Channel. As a salmon fishery the Usk is traditionally second only to the River Wye in Wales, although salmon only come to the upper reaches in Kite Country much later in the year. However, there are some signs that salmon stocks in the Usk are beginning to improve and in 2002 the ten-year rod catch was found to have increased by 54 per cent, making it the best in Wales for the third year running. The average weight of the salmon caught is also increasing, with two fish over 30lbs caught and released in 2002.
On the River Usk the salmon fishing season extends from the 3rd March to the 17th October, although fly fishing is the only permitted method between 3rd March and the 31st May. All salmon caught between the 3rd March and the 15th June must be returned unharmed. Between the 1st June and the 15th June fly fishing and spinning are permitted, with certain other baits being allowed only between the 16th June and the 15th September. Fly fishing and spinning are the only methods allowed between the 16th September and the end of the season.
The sewin (sea trout) season extends from the 20th March to the 17th October, with the types and dates of permitted methods being broadly similar to those for salmon above.
The brown trout season extends from the 3rd March to the 30th September.
In the Brecon Beacons area it is very much a spate river and the salmon fishing will be very dependent on rainfall. However, it is for its wild brown trout that the Usk is renowned throughout the British Isles, especially in the early part of the season, when there can be prolific hatches of March Browns. These are succeeded later in the year by Mayflies and then sedges in the Summer, when runs of sea trout are a bonus to the holiday angler. Good wild brown trout can be found throughout the river, although the visitor should endeavour to stalk these in the magnificent surroundings of Kite Country.
In its upper reaches the river flows fast across rocks and through heavily wooded land. Although these are the most beautiful places to fish, it is often necessary to wade to avoid overhanging branches. This can be dangerous if practised alone or without care and suitable precautions. Although much of the best fishing is private,a great number of beats in the upper stretches are available to book through the Wye & Usk Foundation. The stretches at Penpont House, off the main A40 road West of Brecon, are particularly attractive. You can also get self-catering accommodation at this lovely old house in a most attractive parkland setting. Cheap fishing is available in Brecon itself, although the river can be a little slow there. Further downstream, an excellent place to try is the Gliffaes Hotel, which has very good accommodation and its own salmon and trout fishing on two and a half miles of the Usk. The interesting old hotel building is situated in beautiful large gardens, which are particularly stunning in May and June when the rhododendrons and azaleas come into flower. A little further downstream is the beautiful Glanusk Estate, which offers fishing and accommodation. There is some club water available in Crickhowell, which is well worth a visit in its own right.
Although the variety of fishing available in Kite Country is a real magnet, there is no doubt that it was the Brecon Beacons mountain range which drew my wife and I to live here in the first place. Strictly speaking, the Brecon Beacons are only the central part of the range falling within the Brecon Beacons National Park, which also encompasses the Black Mountains to the East and Fforest Fawr to the West. Confusingly, the remaining westernmost part of the range, near the Tawe valley, is known as the Black Mountain. The National Park was established in 1957 and covers some 520 square miles of mountainous terrain, pasture, woodland, rivers and stillwaters. The mountains are not as dramatic as those in Snowdonia, North Wales, and could accurately be described as a series of high grassy ridges. Nevertheless, some of these are very high - the highest mountains in Great Britain South of Snowdonia, in fact. The largest of all is Pen y Fan, at 2907 feet. The mountain and some 8000 acres of land around it are owned by the National Trust.
The title "National Park" is something of a misnomer, as almost all of the land is privately owned and used in the main for agricultural purposes, especially sheep rearing. However, there is still a public right of access to hundreds of square miles of beautiful countryside and countless waymarked trails. The Park is crossed by two long distance footpaths - the Offa's Dyke Path to the East and the Taff Trail, which runs from Brecon to Cardiff and which is especially popular for cycling. You should make the most of the walking by purchasing one of the excellent Ordnance Survey large scale maps and walking guides beforehand. These are readily available in Brecon, where you will find a lot of shops selling mountaineering clothing and equipment. Alternatively, you can get them at the National Park Visitors Centre near the village of Libanus, about five miles South of Brecon off the A470. This is an excellent place to visit at the start of any trip to the National Park, as there is a good exhibition, gift shop/bookshop and restaurant. The panoramic views are also excellent and there is some good, easy walking up there too. You will find more information about the National Park on my Mountains page, where there are also some suggested walks for all abilities. On my Links page you will find plenty of links to other sources of information on the mountains of Kite Country.
IMPORTANT. The grassy mountains might look benign and you will frequently share a trail with quite a lot of people. However, in cold weather or conditions of restricted visibility these hills can be extremely dangerous. It is very easy to lose your bearings and stumble across one of the many precipitous slopes or into a gorge. Even trained special forces soldiers have died here. If you must go out in winter or in questionable weather, do not go alone and make sure that you are properly equipped. Make sure somebody knows where you are, your route, and when to expect you back. To get a weather forecast go to Yahoo for a brief guide. For more detailed information try the Meteorological Office.
In addition to the walking and fishing, there is much the visitor can see and do in the Usk valley and the National Park. The centre of most of this activity is the market town of Brecon. Although this attractive little place has a permanent population of less than 8000 people, it boasts numerous facilities to cater for the many more thousands of visitors who come here every year. These include ample accommodation of every type, a hospital, a sports and recreation centre and a fine, modern theatre. Despite its size, Brecon is entitled to be called a city, as it has a very impressive Cathedral that is well worth a visit. The Pilgrims Tea Rooms in the grounds serve excellent teas and snacks. Nearby you will also find the remains of the castle constructed at the end of the 11th century by Bernard de Neufmarché.
For a manic three days during the second weekend of August every year, thousands of music fans converge on the town for the world famous International Jazz Festival, when formal and informal concerts are held throughout the town, both inside and out, taking advantage of the fine weather at that time of year.
For a fabulous view of the whole of the Brecon Beacons range and a good round of golf over 18 holes, try Cradoc Golf Club situated up in the hills to the North-West of Brecon.
The first weekend of August usually sees the holding of the Brecon Show. In common with many towns and villages throughout Wales, this is largely an agricultural show and a celebration of the countryside. There is something for everyone here and it is marvellous entertainment. There are displays of country pursuits such as shooting, falconry and fly casting, together with other diverse entertainments such as floral competitions and a gymkhana for children, all set against the beautiful backdrop of the Brecon Beacons. Farmers and other country dwellers feel themselves under increasing attack from other commercial interests and today's government policies. The annual show is one of their ways of seeking mutual support and getting their message across to visitors who may only have a limited knowledge of what the countryside is about. You will find more information about the agriculture of Kite Country on my Farming page.
Starting at the basin in front of the new Theatre in Brecon (known in Welsh as Theatr Brycheiniog), the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal runs for some 33 miles to Pontypool in Gwent, at the very South-Eastern edge of the National Park. Constructed in the early nineteenth century to cater for the iron industry, it is now used almost entirely for recreation and pleasure, as is most of the extensive British Waterways network. Escorted trips can be arranged locally and boats and traditional barges (narrow boats) can also be hired for extended periods. You can even take trips in traditional horse-drawn barges. For further information contact the Information centre in Brecon. Apart from boating, the level canal towpath is excellent for easy, shaded walks and you can fish there too - but only for coarse fish! For much of its route the canal runs parallel to the River Usk and there are many pretty little pubs at which to stop along the way, especially in the village of Talybont on Usk, some eight miles South-East of Brecon, where there are three (see Map 9).
Further East, the little town of Crickhowell is certainly worth a visit, and not just for its fishing opportunities. Although small, the town has some interesting shops and lots of good pubs and restaurants. The best place to stay is the lovely old Bear Hotel, where you can also get excellent beer and food, although for me the best food is to be had at the Nantyffin Cider Mill pub, just to the West of Crickhowell on the A40. When visiting the pub, try to spend some time at the beautiful Tretower Court nearby, just at the junction of the A40 and A479. This is a superb medieval manor house, which is still in the course of restoration. There is a thirteenth century tower, part of a former castle, in the grounds, which have also been laid out according to medieval practice. In early Summer you can wander here amongst lavender bushes, old fashioned roses and flowering meadows trying to compose medieval love poetry in your mind. For more information on Brecon and Tretower see my page on the Norman history of Kite Country.
Just across the main A40 road is the huge Glanusk Estate, complete with the stately home of the Legge-Bourke family, close friends of the Prince of Wales and senior figures in the county of Powys. The fishing on the Usk, which runs through the estate, looks absolutely marvellous and has only recently been opened to the general public. Day tickets for trout and salmon fishing can be booked through the excellent Wye and Usk Foundation, who are also able to offer fishing on many other stretches of the Usk between Crickhowell and Brecon.
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