Brecon is a very popular destination for visitors to the Brecon Beacons National Park. It’s an interesting mix of heritage sites, outdoor shops for walkers, and more than its fair share of lovely cafes. With superb views of the surrounding Brecon Beacons and the terminus of the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, it entices you to get out and about. Here are a few facts to help you explore the town.
The Cathedral houses the largest cresset
stone in Britain
A 'cresset stone' is a flat stone with cup-shaped hollows, each being used to hold a quantity of tallow and a wick, which were burned to produce light. This was a common method of lighting churches and monasteries in medieval times. Although some thirteen cresset stones remain in various parts of England, the cresset stone in Brecon Cathedral is the only one so far known in Wales, and is the finest yet discovered. It is a rectangular block of native stone containing thirty cups arranged in five parallel rows, with six cups in each row - 14 more cups than at Carlisle Cathedral, where the largest cresset stone previously discovered is located.
Brecon cathedral, though modest, is set in an impressive walled close which is unique in Wales. It started life in 1093 as the Benedictine Priory of St John the Evangelist, built by the Normans on the site of an earlier Celtic church. At the dissolution of the monasteries in 1537 it became Brecon's Parish Church and was made a cathedral in 1923. Today, the remains of the former monastic buildings provide the administrative centre for the Diocese, as well as a Heritage Centre and Pilgrims Tearoom which are certainly worth a visit. The site has also been a filming location for Doctor Who in more recent times.
Brecon is named after King Brychan
Brecon comes from the old Welsh word for this kingdom, Brycheiniog, which was named after the 5th century King Brychan who ruled this area. The name later became anglicised to Brecknockshire or Breconshire. The Welsh name for the town 'Aberhonddu' indicates the position of the town as being at the 'mouth of the Honddu' - where the river Honddu meets the river Usk near the town centre. A few miles outside the town, the Monmouthshire & Brecon canal passes over the Brynich aqueduct (pictured) to cross the river Usk.
The town has a strong tradition of performance
In the mid-18th century actor-manager John Ward arrived in Brecon with his company of ‘Strolling Players’ for a season of performances. His family stayed at the Shoulder of Mutton Inn in High Street, where his granddaughter, Sarah Kemble was born on 5th July 1755. As Mrs Sarah Siddons, she went on to become the greatest tragic actress of the London stage, retiring in 1812. The pub where she was born has since been renamed The Sarah Siddons Inn. Today, Brecon is fortunate to have an independent cinema, a Jazz Festival and a Baroque Music Festival. Theatr Brycheiniog, at the end of the canal, is a super setting for a lively programme of arts events including drama, dance, concerts and exhibitions. On the ground floor, with tables outside in warmer weather, there’s Tipple’n’ Tiffin offering coffee and cakes, light lunches and informal dining.
Brecon is a garrison town
The Army has long played a large part in the affairs of the town and the surrounding area. Brecon Barracks, near the centre of town, is the present Administrative Headquarters for the Army in Wales, while an Infantry Battle School is based at Dering Lines on the eastern edge of the town. A few miles to the west of the town is Sennybridge Army Camp and Training Area, one of the largest range and training centres in the UK. Many thousands of service personnel use these facilities each year, training on the rugged hills of the Brecon Beacons. The Gurkhas have particularly strong links with the town. They were honoured with the Freedom of the Town of Brecon in 1985 and an annual parade, known as the Brecon Freedom Parade, marks this association.
The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh is located next to Brecon Barracks. It houses objects and archives from four centuries and across four continents. Best remembered is the tragedy and triumph of Zulu war of 1879. Members of the regiment won a handful of Victoria Crosses at Rorke's Drift, when 140 soldiers of the Regiment stood firm against an attack by 4,000 Zulu warriors. The Regimental Chapel of the Regiment in Brecon Cathedral contains the Colours saved after the British disaster at Isandhlwana which occurred 12 hours before Rorke's Drift.
Brecon has an industrial past
The Brecknock & Abergavenny Canal (as it was originally called) was built to transport the raw materials and finished goods from the coal mines and ironworks of the South Wales valleys during the 19th century. Limestone, which was quarried in the region, was often transported by water and tramroad to canalside lime kilns. Here it was burned to produce lime for use as a fertiliser and a building material. The remains of lime kilns can be seen at various locations along the length of the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal. About half a mile from the now picturesque end of the canal you’ll come across a wooden sculpture of a man with a horse. This is a reminder of Brecon’s industrial past, along with the former lime kilns nearby on the opposite side of the canal. It’s a gentle stroll along the canal towpath or a little jaunt in an electric boat which can be hired from the end of the canal.