Man arrives in The Brecon Beacons...

Ah, Footprints.....

Ah, footprints...

At around the same time as the glaciers started to melt, man began to appear on the landscape, yet all that remains of his earliest Stone Age presence are rare scattered remnants of early tools made by hunters working stone. Some of these remnants were found around the Gwernvale burial chamber, which lies just outside Crickhowell alongside the A40 road to Brecon.

The sub-Arctic tundra vegetation that existed at the time was made up mostly of mosses, lichens and coarse grass that would have supported migratory elk, horse and reindeer, upon which these early hunter gatherers would have preyed.

As the climate warmed and more vegetation appeared, early man's tools gradually improved to cut and clear bushes and scrub to encourage grazing animals such as deer, which they would have then hunted in the first examples of land management. As the Stone Age progressed early farming methods became more established as some animals were domesticated and crops grown.

Gwernvale Burial Chamber

Picture: Gwernvale Burial Chamber, near Crickhowell

Evidence of man's presence remains from the later Stone Age, mostly around the foothills of the Black Mountains, where sites are thought to have had sacred significance. Some sites appear to be orientated to natural features such as valleys and mountain spurs or ridges, and many of these sites survive today, such as Penywyrlod near Talgarth.

Later, during the Bronze Age, significant areas of forest and vegetation were cleared to enable more extensive farming to be carried out. These woodland clearances gave rise to much of the peaty soil seen in today's upland areas.

Maen Llia standing stone

Picture: Maen Llia Standing Stone.

There is better evidence surviving of the Bronze Age settlers in the National Park, including some significant standing stones, stone circles, stone rows, burnt mounds, burial mounds or barrows, and cairns. Fine examples of these remain, particularly in the Western area of the National Park.

In all, the Brecon Beacons National Park contains 7 stone circles, 5 within a 20km area to the west of Brecon, although one is inaccessible due to its position on the live firing ranges on the Epynt, just north of the National Park. Many ancient cairns are found on the mountain tops and ridges, and very often cairns and barrows are in groups associated with standing stones, stone rows and stones circles. Yet it is the standing stones which are the most obvious of these monuments, and some classic examples exist, such as Maen Llia, a huge 3m high isolated standing stone in the Western Black Mountain, and Cwrt y gollen standing stone, a slender 4m high stone on the old army training camp outside Crickhowell; many other smaller stones exist, such as Carreg Waun Llech above Llangynidr and the standing stone at Bwlch.

Mynydd bach Stone Circle

Picture: Mynydd Bach stone circles above Trecastle

Evidence of stone circles remain with the two stone circles of Mynydd Bach above Trecastle and a fine example of a standing stone, stone circle and stone row of Cerrig Duon in the upper Tawe valley.

By the Iron Age and the rise of the Celts, man was starting to have a significant impact on the landscape.

(7) castell dinassmall.JPG

Picture: Castell Dinas hillfort

As the climate got wetter peat formation became more extensive in upland regions as soils became exhausted, and the Celts moved from the uplands to the more fertile and sheltered valley floors and lower mountain slopes. The evidence of their civilisation remains in the form of settlements rather than sacred stones as the tribes improved farming methods and built fortified hill enclosures. These hill forts are thought to be a sign of status and land ownership rather than primarily defensive, and today all that remains of these are ditches and banks, with some particularly impressive examples such as Crug Hywel, or Table Mountain, above Crickhowell, Castell Dinas which dominates the valley above Pengenffordd near Talgarth, Slwch Tump and Pen y Crug near Brecon.

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