Brecon Beacons, Wales (review published 2008)

The hills are alive with the sound of music!
Cool cats will be performing in the shadow of the Brecon Beacons when the HSBC Brecon Jazz Festival takes place from August 7-10.
The stellar line-up includes Courtney Pine, Joan Armatrading, Cerys Matthews, Neil Cowley and Jools Holland with his guest vocalists Marc Almond and Ruby Turner.
The festival swings into action with Jools on the Thursday evening and the pretty Welsh town – just two hours from Birmingham – will stage a total of 100 performances.
Jazz greats Lee Konitz, Mark Murphy, Scott Hamilton, Joe Temperley, Maceo Parker, Roy Hargrove, Martin Taylor, Harry Allen and Jesse Davis will all be appearing.
And the curtain will be brought down on Sunday by the world renowned pairing of Dame Cleo Laine and her bandleader husband Sir John Dankworth – both 80 this year.
The festival provides a great soundtrack to some amazing scenery and visitors and performers come from far and wide to experience its special ambience.
This year is its 25th anniversary and many of Brecon’s favourites will be returning to join in the celebrations.
There will also be free street entertainment and outdoor gigs in the town centre, creating a carnival atmosphere.
Tickets and full concert listings are available at www.breconjazz.org and on 0870 990 1299.

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10 Things to do in the Brecon Beacons
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1) Hit the capital: Visit the charming market town of Brecon, with its castle ruins and Georgian architecture. Walk the promenade along the River Usk where you can hire a pedalo or rowing boat. You can also take a boat trip (07831 685222) from the canal basin. The Regimental Museum (01874 613310) commemorates more than 300 years of military history, including Rorkes Drift of Zulu fame. Surprisingly for a town of modest size, there’s an impressive cathedral (01874 623857), an art gallery (01874 624121), a theatre (01874 611622) and a cinema (01874 622501). The cathedral is home to the largest font in Britain and the 17th century tithe barn next door is now a heritage centre and craft shop with restaurant. There’s a monthly farmers’ market, a monthly craft market and a monthly antiques and collectors’ fair. With a wide choice of accommodation, Brecon is the perfect place from which to explore the rest of the national park.

2) Ramble or scramble: The variety of the landscape means there’s something for everyone, from canalside strolls to treks to the top of the imposing 886m summit of Pen Y Fan in the centre of the Brecon Beacons. In the east of the park, towards the Herefordshire border, are the Black Mountains with a high point of 811m at Waun Fach. There are guided walks or you can pick up laminated guides from information centres. A good place to plan your walks is The Mountain Centre (01874 623366), high on an upland common, six miles from Brecon. The centre boasts views to the highest mountain in southern Britain, which you can enjoy over a locally-sourced snack or meal in the tea room / restaurant.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACanal basin in Brecon

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3) Get on your bike: Five leisurely routes start from the canal basin in Brecon while there are 16 graded mountain bike routes in the Beacons catering for both novices and experienced bikers. Six traffic-free routes have been developed and you can cycle all the way to Cardiff in one day along the Taff Trail. Bring your own bike or hire one.

4) Take the plunge: Waterfalls abound between the villages of Pontneddfechan and Ystradfellte where the Rivers Mellte, Hepste and Nedd Fechan plunge their way down steep-sided, tree-lined gorges. To walk behind the curtain of water at Sgwd yr Eira (Waterfall of the Snow) is an exhilarating experience. The newly-refurbished Waterfalls Centre in Pontneddfechan provides a great starting point to explore this beautiful area. There is also a spectacular cascade at Blaen y Glyn, near Talybont.

5) Go with the flow: You can hire canoes from Glasbury or Hay and drift gently down the River Wye with your lunch stowed safely away. The canoes are designed for beginners and you will be picked up downstream and returned to base. Langors Lake (01874 658226) is also perfect for messing about in boats, which can be hired there.

6) Cast your net wider: Anglers are in heaven in the Beacons. The River Usk is renowned for wild brown trout and Llangors Lake is a popular venue for fly fishing for pike.

7) Get in a hole: The Beacons boasts one of Britain’s third longest caves, Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. OFD, as it is known,  also has Porth yr Ogof – the largest cave entrance in Wales and one of the largest anywhere in the country. This spectacular entrance can be admired by anyone but you should not be tempted in without an experienced guide.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATrekking in the Brecon Beacons

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8) Saddle up: Riding on horseback is a good way to appreciate the natural beauty of the Brecon Beacons. There are no fewer than 11 trekking and riding stables in the area offering half / one-day treks or 2-6-day riding holidays.

9) Get a ticket to ride: Catch the Brecon Mountain Railway (01685 722988) from Merthyr into the Beacons.

10) Watch the wildlife: Otters inhabit the rivers while red kites and peregrines wheel above.

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