What is your favourite wild flower?

Chances are many people would vote for the beautiful nodding bells of Endymion non-scriptus, the much beloved Bluebell. At their absolute best right now in the month of May. The Upper Usk Valley probably has more than its fair share of fantastic bluebell woods and if you are in the area do seek them out and be amazed by both the sight and scent of these wonderful flowers. Particularly associated with ancient woodland it is protected under UK law and should not be picked or uprooted.

Bluebell flowers are rich in pollen and nectar, and are chiefly pollinated by bumblebees. Bluebells synthesise a wide range of chemicals with potential medicinal properties.

Did you know?…..In the Bronze Age, people used bluebell glue to attach feathers to their arrows. Bluebell sap was used to bind pages to the spines of books and the Victorians used the starch from crushed bluebells to stiffen the ruffs of their collars and sleeves!

These images were taken in the Crai Bluebell Woods by Carole Gledhill.


Click on the link if you would like some more details about the fascinating bluebell.


April 2014 Community Walk

Upper Usk Valley

Upper Usk Valley Community Walks

Upper Usk Walking Group

Our next walk takes place on Sunday 27th April from Trecastle Community Hall.

Please meet at 2.00pm, parking in the layby opposite the Hall, near the red phone box, or slightly further down the road beyond the Antiques Centre

The route takes in some of the ancient track ways around Trecastle, taking in the old roman road, bridleways around the village, crossing the River Usk and heading through old woodlands.

Spring is here, so there are plenty of opportunities to see the bird life and wild flowers en route.

The route is suitable for all ages, dogs on a short lead are welcome, though please ensure they are kept on a lead as there are young lambs in the fields on the route.

Some areas may be wet and muddy and the weather forecast suggests a possibility of heavy showers, so please arrive prepared for these.


Your invitation to the launch of the Upper Usk Rural Alliance

The newly formed Upper Usk Rural Alliance invite all members of the communities of Sennybridge, Trecastle, Crai and Defynnog to come to their launch event on Wednesday 30th April between 2 – 8 pm. Find out what’s happening in the local area and meet other local residents and businesses. Be amongst the first to see the wonderful new local guide leaflets highlighting local walks and history in each community. Refreshments served all afternoon and drinks & nibbles served before evening entertainment from your local YFC. Everyone welcome, drop in or stay throughout!    Invite to the launch of UUV

March 2014 Community Walk

Upper Usk Valley Community Walks

Spring is officially here, so perhaps we may be blessed with some reasonable weather for the next Community Walk?

Sunday 30th March 2014 – meet at 2.00pm: Crai Village Hall

Continuing our tour of the Upper Usk Valley area, the next walk is based from Crai, taking in Fforest Fach hill and the Crai Valley.

Starting from Crai Village Hall, the route will take us along ancient bridleways and tracks, above the old Neath to Brecon railway, the embankments and bridge foundations of which are clearly visible as you turn into Crai. The Fforest Fach hill itself, sits above Cwm Crai and Cwm Treweryn, which both show evidence of glacial formation.

The Northern summit of Fforest Fach overlooks Sennybridge and Defynnog and offer’s views of the Crai, Senni and of course Usk Valley itself. Please follow the Facebook Page Upper Usk Valley for updates.

Cray - Google Maps

Crai and Fforest Fach Google Satellite View

Around the Usk Reservoir

Upper usk Valley

The route around the reservoir

Any visit to the Upper Usk Valley is a delight with so many natural features including majestic mountains and meandering rivers and hidden lanes. One man made attraction has to be a visit to the Usk reservoir. Straddling the county boundaries of Powys and Carmarthenshire, the Usk reservoir sits in the shadow of the mighty Black Mountain/Mynydd Du. It is one of the great secrets of the west of the national park. Traditionally the majority of visitors go to either the central beacons or the east of the park. To the more discerning visitor there are so many gems to be discovered in the area known as the Upper Usk Valley and one of these is the reservoir itself. This area is far more remote and often bypassed by visitors who stick to the main roads. So there can be days when on a walk you rarely meet a soul.

The reservoir takes its name from the embryonic River Usk /Afon Wysg, which rises on the northern slopes of the Black mountain about two kilometres to the south west. From the reservoir the river flows for about 100 miles past the settlements of Trecastle and Sennybridge and onto Brecon then Abergavenny where it changes directions and heads south to Newport and out into the Severn. The river has played a key role in the shaping of south Wales as a major transport route along with the Brecon to Newport canal. Around the reservoir are several sites of archaeological interest including the Roman marching camp and a spring known as the Physicians Well.

The route around the reservoir can be accessed either from the car parks at the dam head or the forest car park at Pont’ar Wysg on the minor road from Trecastle to Llandeusant. Both are excellent starting points and the Forestry Commission (now known as Natural Resources Wales) along with the national park have excellent information panels. The circular route is on made up track and the ascents and descent are moderate so weather dependant accessible to most visitors. The circular route is just over 8Km or 5 miles. It is both a walking and cycling route and meanders through a mixture of woodland, mainly conifers but also some deciduous trees so there is a mix of habitats and associated wildlife. Recent woodland work has opened up great views of the reservoir and the Black Mountain itself. At the dam head you get a great view eastwards of the Usk Valley and Pen y Fan in the central Beacons and beyond. There are several picnic around the reservoir, so you can stop enjoy the views and have a great picnic too!

One of many picnic areas

One of many picnic areas

The reservoir and the River Usk are well know to fishermen. Along its one hundred miles you can regularly see a wide range of fish including salmon, trout and lampreys. Not surprisingly bird life is rich along the river and the majestic red kites  enjoy high numbers in this area.  A worthwhile extension to any visit to the Usk reservoir has to be a trip to Llandeusant to see the red kite feeding station where during the winter at 2pm and in the summer at 3pm you can see large numbers of these superb birds of prey.

The reservoir is close to the Upper Usk Valley settlements of Trecastle, Crai, Sennybridge and Defynnog where there are a range of quality accommodation including inns and self catering accommodation which are open all year round. Sennybridge has several shops, petrol stations and a post office and visitors are very welcome at the local pubs and Inns.

Chris Gledhill

Upper Usk Valley Signpost

Upper Usk Valley Signpost

Stormy Sunday Stroll

Usk Reservoir Walks

Wandering down towards the Usk Reservoir

I guess after our experiences so far, the title might be a more apt name for our Community Walks!

9 hardy souls ventured out on Sunday, all well equipped and ready for a couple of hours of thorough testing out of waterproofs and boots. In fairness, only around 30 minutes were actually spent out on the open moorland, experiencing a thoroughly natural and very efficient exfoliation from the elements, with plenty of shelter in the forestry for the rest of the walk and a change of start point to ensure some added shelter at the start and finish.

To quote local Brecon Beacons Ambassador, Carole Gledhill:

There is some perverse kind of pleasure in being out on open moorland in this kind of weather. Not sure why but there it is, that’s what we experienced on the community walk this afternoon! I expect it was the good company.

Initially venturing through Aled’s “20 metres of mud”, the route took us North of the Usk Reservoir, heading swiftly to the edge of the forestry and a brief description of the many hidden elements of Mynydd Myddfai and the Roman Road over Mynydd Bach Trecastell including ancient earthworks, cairns and the Roman Marching camps at Y Pigwn and Waun Ddu – the walking with Romans app is available from the App Store (iOS) or Google Play (Android)

brecon beacons mountain ponies

Mountain Ponies doing their best in the weather

Having being ignored by some equally unimpressed mountain ponies, we ventured over the moorland, eventually dropping back into the forestry some 100 metres from Physician’s well – try finding this spot without some local knowledge – where a few braved a taste of the healing waters.

Now nicely sheltered from the wind and drizzle, we wandered through the forestry, witnessing some brief views above the reservoir itself, before the cars and some dry conditions appeared.

Sadly we were finished too early to visit the Castle Coaching Inn, though we would like to take this opportunity to wish John, the landlord well as he goes into hospital for surgery this week.

Let’s hope for better health for John and better weather for our next walk on Sunday 30th March, details will be posted here.

Physician's Well usk reservoir

Usk Reservoir and Physician’s Well route map

Thanks to all that came along, we hope other’s will join us when the weather improves…..no wonder the Roman’s went home!

Reconstruction on the Roman fortlet at Waun Ddu:

Community Walks 2014

Usk Reservoir Car Park

Car Park next to the Usk Reservoir

The next Community Walk is on Sunday 23rd February 2014, starting from the Usk Reservoir Car Park and Picnic area at 2.00pm.

Sunday 23rd February – Meet at 2.00pm

Usk Reservoir Car Park

This month’s route takes us out on to Mynydd Myddfai, exploring the wilder side of the Upper Usk Valley area, with stunning panoramic views over the Towy and Usk Valley’s as well as tempting glances towards the Carmarthen Fans and the source of the Usk itself.

Dropping down off the common, we will enter the shelter of the forestry surrounding the Usk Reservoir, stumbling across the hidden Physician’s Well, the renowned healing water’s used the Physician’s of Myddfai, before trekking back through the forestry above the reservoir, quietly enjoying the peace and hopefully seeing woodcock, jay’s and woodpeckers on our return to the Car Park.

Some of the route involves walking on open moorland, therefore boots or wellies are required, the open moorland can be cold, so wrapping up warm is advisable, you may also want to bring a small drinking vessels if you feel like braving the water’s of the Physician’s Well.

Post walk gathering will be at the Castle Coaching Inn, Trecastle, where they may be the opportunity to warm up next to the open fire.

These free walks are being organised by Trecastle based activity provider – Expeditions Wales who run walking and camping activities for well over a 1000 people a year – so you’re in safe hands!

Upper Usk Valley Community Walks

Upper Usk Valley Community Walks

Want to improve your garden? Join the Community Garden Club!

Snowdrops at Madog Barn, Cray, Upper Usk Valley Brecon Beacons

Snowdrops at Madog Barn Self Catering Holiday Cottage, Cray


Snowdrops at Madog Barn in Crai, Upper Usk Valley

Following the hugely successful appearance of 6 Crai gardens in the 2013 National Gardens Scheme ‘Garden Open’ programme, a small friendly garden club was born which now meets on the first Monday of each month in Crai Hall at 7.30pm. All Upper Usk Valley residents are invited to join this informal group. By no means all experts, members aim to share ideas and learn from each other. Topics covered so far are such as – which plants best suit our local climate, the contained garden and a discussion around good seed & plant catalogues and useful websites to view. In the summer months it is planned to hold meetings in each other’s gardens.

With an eye already on participation in the 2014 Gardens Open programme, the next meeting on Monday 3 March at 7.30pm will welcome Mr Gareth Davies  to give an illustrated talk on 25 years of gardens under the National Garden Scheme. Everyone welcome, refreshments available. £2 at the door.

Why not come along and see what we get up to?

Garden Club contact is Robert 01874 636194

A walk on the wild (weather) side

Brecon Beacons Walks, Upper Usk Valley

Upper Usk Valley Community Walk Group

Our first Community Walk completed, big thanks to the 18 people who extracted themselves from the cosy surroundings of home, especially after a stormy Sunday morning.

A very pleasant mix of people came along, covering all ages and with some having travelled from Llanwrtyd Wells and Brecon to join us in our scenic surroundings. The route took in an ancient track past Maesydd Farm to the weir at Abersenni, with the Afon Senni flowing at an impressive rate.

It was then up to Twyn y Gaer – an iron age hill fort overlooking Defynnog & Sennybridge and offering great views over the Central Beacons and the Carmarthen Fans as well as the Senni & Crai Valleys, and unfortunately some great views of the incoming weather too!

Brecon Beacons Walking

Hail storm hurry’s group to Pub!

The exploration of the fort itself was cut short by some ominous grey clouds and we descended the final part of the route back to the Tanners Arms, Defynnog with the accompaniment of a hailstorm, sleet and even a clap of thunder, which made for a complete contrast to an hour or so of pleasant sunshine!

You can see more photo’s from the walk on our Upper Usk Valley Facebook Page.

Very pleasant to have everyone’s company and that everyone enjoyed – we look forward to the next walk on February 23rd in Trecastle.

Defynnog Walks

Twyn y Gaer Walk Route

5 birds to spot in the Upper Usk Valley

If you’ve been inspired by the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend you’ll find plenty of birds to spot in the Upper Usk Valley in the Brecon Beacons National Park.

Upper Usk Valley in the Clouds

Visit the Upper Usk Valley

Eagle owl in Defynnog in the Upper Usk Valley Brecon Beacons

Many birds to be seen!

Special birds that have been seen in the area include:

  • Greater Spotted Woodpecker
  • Red Kite
  • Snow Bunting
  • Eagle Owl
  • Pied Wagtail

To find out more about birdwatching in the Brecon Beacons, Brecknock Wildlife Trust has bird-spotting tips and there are stunning nature reserves in and around the Upper Usk Valley area

Feed red kites – red kite feeding station