Shopping & services in the Upper Usk Valley

We hope you will find this list of local businesses useful – there are three who can offer you a good day out and the rest of the information is on where you can shop locally. Continue reading

Crai Gardens Inspire and Delight – were you there?

Eight glorious gardens in the beautiful Crai Valley recently opened their gates to visitors as part of the 2014 National Gardens Scheme  . Over 200 people arrived from far and near, following the easily recognised yellow signs to share the delights of each very different garden. Some traditional cottage gardens with favourite blooms in the herbaceous border, some contemporary with sculptures and zinc troughs as containers for a riot of colour while others excelled in growing fruit and vegetables to perfection. Visitors enjoyed the chance to ask questions of their knowledgeable hosts. Beautiful willow gates enticed visitors to explore further and exclaim at the vistas beyond set to the backdrop of the  wonderful landscape of the Upper Usk Valley.

After a happy few hours touring the gardens visitors could return to the village hall to be refreshed by a fantastic array of cakes, tea and coffee and the opportunity to purchase some plants or produce to take home as a memento of a wonderful day out.

Money was raised for 3 charities including the excellent Gardening Leave which provides horticultural therapy for armed forces veterans.

Grateful thanks go to the talented gardeners who spent many hours getting their gardens into tip top condition ready for the event. Here’s to next year’s event!

 Open Gardens 3 Open Gardens 4Click here to go to the National Gardens Scheme home page

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.

 

Why become a National Park Ambassador ?

Image

Carole Gledhill, National Park Ambassador

Ambassador: a person who is known, without national appointment, to represent certain professions, activities and fields of endeavour. A willing figurehead.

Such is one definition of an ambassador. In 2013 I became a National Park Ambassador and a Dark Sky Ambassador and I’m also a STEM Ambassador ( supporting Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) to boot. Am I a serial collector of ambassadorships? No, I don’t think so! It just so happened that I found myself with some free time and able to finally spend some of it doing things which interest me. The national park interests me. It’s where I live and it’s what brought me to Wales in the first place.

After almost 12 years here I am still discovering new corners and new activities and events and as a keen photographer, endless stunning landscapes to capture. I love it when friends and family come to visit and we can share our favourite  spots and walks with them. A natural extension was to convert our unused barn into a holiday cottage and encourage others to come and explore this special part of the world.

As I run a 5* holiday cottage in Crai  in the Upper Usk Valley region of the Brecon Beacons National Park, I thought it would be a good idea to undergo the excellent 3 day ambassador programme run by the Brecon Beacons National Park to better equip myself to answer the myriad questions which staying guests can throw at us. Brecon Beacons National Park Ambassadors are tourism businesses passionate about the National Park. Ambassadors aim to get visitors to discover the very Heart of the Park and to make emotional connections through meaningful experiences during their visit to the area. Hopefully by meeting one of the Ambassadors you will catch their passion and your visit will be made extra special. Once you qualify as a National Park Ambassador you can proceed to train as a Dark Sky Ambassador and Geopark Ambassador.

The 3 elements of the Ambassador programme are:

  • Sense of Place
  • Customer Care
  • Park in Your Heart.

I heartily commend this scheme to any business in the Brecon Beacons, I gained such a lot of new information but more importantly began to see things in a different way and to consider our own tourism offer here at Madog Barn through the eyes of a visitor. I also found the networking opportunity with other participants to be a very valuable part of the scheme and I’ve kept in touch with many via facebook and Twitter and we’ll meet up at the forthcoming Tourism in Action conference on  5th March and at other courses run by the Brecon Beacons National Park. If you would like more details on the ambassador scheme contact the park.

There are now several ambassadors living in the Upper Usk Valley and in the following weeks and months others will be writing a blog post to share their thoughts on being a National Park Ambassador.

As an ambassador what do I recommend to visitors to the Upper Usk Valley?  A few of my favourites are the Bluebell Woods behind Madog Barn, dinner and a drink at The Tanner’s Arms in Defynnog,  Trecastle Antiques Centre, a walk out to Y Pigwn Roman Marching Camp.

So now, let me ask you this……if you came to visit the Upper Usk Valley what would you hope to gain from an ambassador? Tell us, we really want to know!

Ambassador logo

Brecon Beacons National Park Ambassador logo

5 * Holiday Cottage in Cray

A 5* self catering converted barn in Cray, Brecon Beacons National Park.

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

Upper Usk Valley Walking

The stunning Upper Usk Valley. Photo courtesy of Tomos Bidgood.

Explore the Upper Usk Valley with a series of Community Walks taking in some of the history and stunning views of the area during 2014.

Sunday 26th January 2014: Meet at 2.00pm

Tanners Arms, Defynnog

On the last Sunday of every month, we will visit a different part of the area, moving around the villages within the Upper Usk Valley, discovering more about the history, nature and scenery of the area, encouraging everyone to get out and explore what’s on their own doorstep.

From Roman Camps, hidden valleys, ancient bridges, waterfalls, reservoirs, mystic wells, legends  and old woodlands, the Upper Usk Valley offers some amazing landscapes and views, our aim is to explore these via a programme of short, social walks aimed at all levels, with each one taking 2-3 hours, just about enough to make you feel as if you’ve earned that drink at the end!

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!

Defynnog 2

Looking over the Senni Valley towards Pen y Fan & Corn Du

Do I have to be fit to do these walks? No – our aim is that everybody can enjoy these walks at their own pace. The walk leaders from Expeditions Wales will normally be at the back to make sure everybody gets back safely.

Will there be big hills? To get the best views, we will need to go uphill at times, though we’ve set the routes out so the gradients are fairly gradual and there’s nothing wrong with stopping to gather your breath while you take in the views!

What if the weather’s bad? Luckily we aren’t going too high, so we’ll escape the worst of the wind and rain (although we’d like to promise that it’ll be sunny), most of the routes are sheltered, so nobody will get too cold. A waterproof jacket of some kind will keep the wind off and although they aren’t too bad, some of the routes will be a bit muddy after all the rain recently.

The path coming down from Twyn y Gaer

The path coming down from Twyn y Gaer

Do I need specialist kit? No – just what you’d normally wear outdoors, wellies or boots are fine and a waterproof jacket, hat, gloves and a pocketful of snacks will be enough for the few hours we’ll be out. The leaders will be carrying all the emergency equipment and first aid kits. It’s better to be dressed warmly and walk slowly, than feel cold and rush it to stay warm.

I’ve got a medical issue – can I still come? Of course, it is walking for all wherever possible. We will be asking for medical forms to be completed, though, if you are concerned at all, you can email Aled Davies (aled@expeditionswales.co.uk) or phone 07791 739025 if you have any questions. We’d rather know about any medical conditions in advance rather than have nasty surprises out on the hills.

Walk 1 is based from the Tanners Arms, Defynnog, where following the walk, there is the opportunity to try a small glass of local ale, or if you’re feeling brave, book yourself in for Sunday lunch, using our walk as an excuse for some post lunch exercise?

The route takes in Abersenni Bridge and weir, before exploring the old hill fort of Twyn y Gaer, offering excellent views over the Crai & Senni valleys and looking down onto Defynnog and Sennybridge.

This walk is 6km or 3.2miles long and should take around 2-3 hours at a relaxed pace, there are some muddy sections and about 30 minutes of walking uphill, though the views will be worth it! See the poster below, or email Aled Davies from Expeditions Wales (aled@expeditionswales.co.uk) with any questions or for more details.

For more about the area follow Upper Usk Valley on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Walks Poster January 2014

Dark Skies in Winter

With the iminent return of BBC’s Stargazing Live we thought we’d share some of our own dark meteor showerskies experiences in the Upper Usk Valley, part of Brecon Beacons National Park.

The long nights mean that the planets, stars and moon become visible from early on, within a few hours of darkness, clear skies can produce an amazing show, with many of the more famous constellations at their height during the winter months.

In the Upper Usk Valley, we have the 2 darkest locations within the Brecon Beacons Dark Skies Reserve area, so where better to witness these wonderful overnight shows and to discover more about the dark skies around us, with clear views and very little light pollution.

Not only are the stars in clear view, but December offers a great opportunity to see meteor showers (or shooting stars) with this year’s Geminid Meteor Shower peaking on the 13th & 14th December.

Taking advantage of some clear skies, Carole Gledhill of Madog Fechan Barn, a Brecon Beacons National Park ambassador explains more…..

One of the absolute joys of living in the Upper Usk Valley (UUV) is the lack of light pollution and easy access to sheltered spots from which to observe the night skies. Brecon Beacons National Park recently became only the fifth destination in the world to be granted prestigious International Dark Sky Reserve status and Crai was awarded Dark Sky Discovery Site, Milky Way Class recognition in 2012. You can find out more about the Dark Skies movement at www.darkskydiscovery.org.uk

The Upper Usk Valley is very fortunate to have several Dark Sky Ambassadors residing within its boundaries and many accommodation providers have equipped their properties with telescopes and binoculars. It is hoped to host stargazing events in the UUV in 2014.

What sort of events would you like to see happen?

At certain times of the year the stargazer can look forward to meteor showers and last weekend it was the turn of the spectacular Geminids, named after the Gemini constellation, the direction from which its parent asteroid, 3200 Phaethon, originates. As this asteroid passes close to the Earth, bits of debris will crumble in the upper edges of the atmosphere, vaporising as lights in the sky.

We set ourselves up late at night outside Madog Fechan Barn in Crai, wrapped up warmly and seated on deckchairs, just the right angle for viewing the stars! No need for telescope or binoculars, the meteors were very bright and easy to spot streaking across the sky. We do provide 4 pairs of astronomy quality binoculars for our guests to use, along with insulated mugs and blankets to make the experience more comfortable. Then it was just a matter of turning our backs to the moon and allowing our eyes to become accustomed to the dark and we didn’t have long to wait to enjoy the spectacle of reportedly, 100 and 120 meteors every hour at its peak, although unfortunately a number were obscured by patchy clouds and we weren’t counting anyway!

Did anyone else catch the Geminids this year?

Why not share your experience here?

Having quality dark skies is as much an attraction to residents and tourists as it is a massive boost for tourism operators in the Upper Usk Valley. Do your bit and keep outside lighting to a minimum to help preserve our wonderful dark skies.

Click Here to find our more about the stargazing events in 2014 maybe an ideal time to plan a visit to the Upper Usk Valley and witness these incredible spectacles!

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