Brecon is situated on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park in Powys, Mid Wales. Brecon is a small market town that many pass by when travelling on the A470 between North and South Wales. However, it is a lovely little town and is well worth exploring. Visit the cathedral on the top of the hill or stroll the delightful Georgian streets. The Brecon Beacons are just a short drive, or walk away.
We, that is my wife Eira Wyn and I, chose to break our journey from Cardiff to North Wales by having a ten minute stop in Brecon. This became two hours and we will definitely visit again, next time staying for a few nights.
We parked in a car park along side the river and crossed the bridge into the town,
noting the Usk riverside walk for another day. The castle and church tower were prominent above the old town roofs, and we made our way up the hill past the fish and chip shop and the pub to the centre of the town.
The narrow bustling streets and small shops create a great ambience as the "developers" appear to have missed old Brecon town. It was a Saturday morning when we visited and as an added bonus the Farmers' Market was taking place in the Market Hall, complete with Town Crier!
There was a great choice of produce at the Market from colourful displays of fruit and vedge to bottles of locally made beers. I had to pass on the beers and settled on a good selection of delicious olives and spices. Shopping is not my favourite pastime but this was much more fun than usual with background music supplied by the fiddlers two, and boy scouts selling raffle tickets. The town centre may have been busy but the market was busier still. The café was doing a roaring trade but we managed to find a table and sat down to enjoy the best bacon butties I have eaten in a long time.
Time was short however and I left Eira Wyn to the pleasures of the Farmers' Market while I left to take pictures of the cathedral and castle. As Brecon is so compact it only took me five minutes to amble to the Honddu river and climb the hill to the cathedral. I am afraid there was no time to enter the cathedral but I noted that there is a "Pilgrim's Visitor Centre" in the grounds that presents information and history of the cathedral.
On leaving the cathedral grounds I took a detour en route to the Market Hall and found more quaint and interesting old houses close to the river; and I actually managed to take a picture of a row of nicely proportioned terrace houses that was void of any cars !
We were due to leave Brecon by now but the narrow streets invite further investigation and we strolled into Wellington Square. Here we found several delightful buildings: the Wellington Hotel pleasantly decked out in flowers; the Brecknock Museum; a statue of the Duke of Wellington himself; and the Church of
St Marys with its prominent embattled tower.
Tracking back we ventured down another side street to find a pleasant covered gallery of shops (similar to the arcades in Cardiff), which led to a shopping courtyard, Bethel Square. I suspect the "developers" have been at work here but they have developed in a sympathetic manner and in a style that retains the character of the town of Brecon. If only more market towns, or should I say Town Planners, could learn from Brecon's example.
Time flies when you're having fun and before we knew it, it was time to reluctantly say good-bye to Brecon. However we noted the good number of pubs and small hotels in preparation for our next visit to Brecon.
The church of St Mary's is in the centre of Brecon and the dominating height of its splendid 16th century tower makes it one of the most prominent buildings in the town. St Mary's began as a chapel of ease to the priory but most of the building is dated to later medieval times. Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham at a cost of two thousand pounds, built the magnificent West Tower in 1510. In the tower, there are eight bells, the heaviest of which is 16 cwt, which are rung regularly. At 90ft high, the tower is visible from all corners of Brecon town.
Latest news on the Bells of St Mary's. In March 2007 the Bells, which have rung out since 1750, have been removed from the church tower to be taken away and refurbished. They will be missing for a few months but once refurbished will be returned to their position some 80 feet above the streets of Brecon Town and will hopefully ring out for another 250 years.
Brecon Cathedral is the Cathedral of the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon in the Church in Wales, and seat of the Bishop of Swansea and Brecon. It was 1923 before the church was granted Cathedral status. The origins of the Cathedral date back to Bernard de Neufmarche, the half brother of William the Conqueror.
De Neufmarche defeated the local chieftain in battle near the town in 1094 and built a castle and priory at the confluence of the rivers Usk and Honddu. A walled town grew up around these buildings and that marked the beginning of the market town of Brecon. Three hundred years later the priory he established was developed into the fortified Priory Church of St John the Evangelist “half Church of God and half castle against the Welsh” as it was then described. The Church is a monument to the stubbornness of the Welsh nation and to the inability of the Anglo Normans to conquer the Welsh after 300 years of trying.