I happened to have a day free to go and walk in the Brecon Beacons the other day. Having done the central and eastern beacons to death recently, I decided it was time to visit the west. Normally this called for a traverse along Fan Hir or a visit to the lakes around Fan Brecheiniog. This time, having looked at the map in detail, I decided to do both a walk in the wilds and also do some history as well.
The area around Usk Reservoir has several visible Roman remains as well a couple of small but beautiful Bronze age stone circles and of course the reservoir itself.
The weather as I left the car in a layby was warm but very windy and wet. Although not ideal for a start to a walk, I soon forgot about this as I passed from cultivated landscapes into a very old and remote one, literally as I crossed the fence line. The Roman road presented itself as the path to follow and although submerged in many parts, still gave an eerie impression of a life long gone. Although I needed to follow the path for the majority of the walk, I had to detour onto the rough grassland thereabout in order to find the stone circles marked on the map. After a bit of searching and disturbing of the grazing sheep, I found what turned out to be a very fine stone circle and a smaller one just off to the side. Classed as late Neolithic/early Bronze age, the symmetry and solitude of them appealed to my inquistive nature for things long gone and almost forgotten…
Pushing on, I soon came up against the ramparts of theRoman marching camp placed atop Y Pigwn hill. The use of marching camps by the Romans is well documented and they can be found dotted all around the landscape of Britain, testament to the invasion during the 1st century. The best preserved ones are obviously in the least accessible places where there has been less damage due to development or intensive farming. Forming a crown surrounding the “peak” of Y Pigwn, there are actually 2 marching camps at slight angles to each other. Visibility of the ramparts is difficult to pick out from certain angles but close up the rise and dip of the walls is realtively easy to see. The Roman road passes by these marching camps and carries on to a ridge which runs pararell to the line of the reservoir called Mynydd Myddfai and so I followed this obvious line onwards.
Walking along the Roman road brought home to me the obvious isolation of the area and an appreciation of what the legionaries must have thought and felt as they trudged through this wild part of Wales.
At the top of the ridgeline I paused to take in the 360 view from the trig point marking the highest point. The mountains forming the Carmarthen Fan were still shrouded in mist although the rain had stopped and the sun peeped through in places. A good place to have lunch and spend a few minutes of quiet contemplation.
Having eaten and been refreshed by the view and peace of solitude, I continued along the line of the Roman road and ridge for a while longer until I dropped down towards the far end of the reservoir.
Usk Reservoir was built in 1955 and is home to fishing and boating and is the remotest of the Brecon Beacons reservoirs. Although there is an access road over the other side, the reservoir still manages to retain a feeling of being isolated. As I made my way back along the edge of the reservoir in the direction of my car, the sun started to dip towards the horizon and reminded me of the encroaching winter daylight conditions. An hour later I was safely back in my car, having negotiated the last part of my walk through dripping trees and rough grass again. Not a big walk and not a high walk, but a very satisfying way to spend a late autumn day amongst reminders of the past, in a remote landscape…