Fforest Fawr Geopark, the first Geopark in Wales, was established in October 2005 as the 24th member of the European Geoparks Network. Situated in the western area of the Brecon Beacons and with all year round access, visitors are invited to explore the Geopark and experience the links between its geology, spectacular landscape, and its natural and cultural heritage.
The Geopark’s significance in the history of geology is assured by its association with the globally recognized terms Llandovery and Silurian, named for a local town and the Celtic Silures tribe who inhabited south east Wales during Roman times. Research by Adam Sedgwick, Roderick Murchison, among the founders of modern geology, and subsequent workers revealed the approximately 470 million years of Earth history in the area now designated as a Geopark. From Ordovician time the Geopark’s rock record developed in response to changing latitudes, rising and falling sea levels, and periods of crustal subsidence and uplift. The Lower Devonian continental Old Red Sandstone deposits, Carboniferous tropical shelf sea limestones and coal bearing forest swamp deposits together with Quaternary glacial and post glacial landforms record the area’s northward drift from the southern hemisphere through latitude determined arid, equatorial and temperate climate zones. During Silurian time the Caledonian Orogeny, involving the closure of the Iapetus Ocean which had separated Scotland and northeast Ireland from England, Wales and southeast Ireland for at least 150 million years, overlapped with the ending of marine conditions and the onset of Old Red Sandstone deposition. A period of uplift and erosion during an event called the Acadian Orogeny coincided with the creation of an unconformity, a gap of 20 million years in the geological record which includes the Middle Devonian. Late Devonian deposition over the Acadian unconformity signalled the onset of the Variscan Orogeny. This event, which includes the economically important Carboniferous age Pembroke Limestone Group, silica rich Twrch Sandstone and coal deposits, culminated in an unconformity spanning almost 311 million years. Uplift and surface tilting during this long time span created the gently dipping sequence of alternating hard and softer rocks which, with their varied resistance to denudation, produced a terrain characterized by north facing asymmetric ridges and south sloping gentle dip slopes. Striated and polished rock surfaces, deep U-shaped valleys, circques with moraine dammed tarns, cross valley moraines, scattered erratic blocks and till draped slopes are the legacy of erosion and deposition during the last Ice Age when the area was situated at the southern margin of the Welsh ice sheet. Pen y Fan at 886m and Corn Du at 873m, the highest peaks in southern Britain, stood as nunataks, isolated peaks, above the ice sheet. Landslips in post-glacial times add further interest to the landscape. Chemical denudation of the limestone created karst landforms with numerous sinkholes, fractured limestone pavements and significant cave systems including Ogof Ffynnon Ddu which at 274.5m is Britain’s deepest cave.
Deep river eroded gorges in Carboniferous sandstones and mudstones are the principal components in the Geopark’s picturesque Waterfall Country. These damp wooded ravines support a rich community of lower plants such as ferns, mosses and liverworts. Arguably the most ecologically diverse part of the Geopark, these Welsh rainforests are protected as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and as a Special Area of Conservation.
Mesolithic hunter gatherers arrived in the area between 11,500 and 11,000 years ago. Their sporadic fire management of the environment marked the beginning of a decline in woodland and development of a cultural landscape culminating in the agricultural practices of the Neolithic and Bronze Age people. The presence of burial cairns and standing stones, such as Maen Llia, are examples of Bronze Age monuments. Numerous Iron Age hill-forts, including those located at Pen y crug and Garn Goch, are places of interest, as are marching forts, the legacy of the invading Roman armies. Norman motte and bailey castles, and mediaeval fortifications such as Carreg Cennen Castle stand out in the landscape. Brecon Cathedral, village churches and field walls are examples of the ongoing use of local stone by the area’s inhabitants. From 1750 the growth of the south Wales metal industry created an increasing demand for limestone as a flux in the smelting process, for the silica rich Twrch Sandstone for manufacturing refractory bricks and for coal, the mainstay of metal production. Limestone quarries, limekilns, coal mines, silica sandstone mines, tramroads and canals, as well as a derelict silica brickworks and a gunpowder works, are the legacy of geo-exploitation during an industrial age. The twentieth century saw the growth of tourism, forestry and water catchment as key industries alongside agriculture and declining extractive industries and the use of the area as an educational resource.
The Geopark collaborates with its residents, communities, local businesses and tourism providers. Local tourism businesses benefit from the Geopark Ambassador scheme and other training opportunities, introducing them to the Geopark concept and enabling them to provide a better welcome for visitors. Numerous geotrail leaflets introduce visitors to the Geopark’s geology, prehistory and industrial heritage. Exploring the Geopark’s Central Beacons, Fforest Fawr Massif and the Black Mountain area provides hikers with challenging and exciting trails. Pen y fan and Corn Du are a popular destination for walkers and provide magnificent viewpoints along the 152km Beacons Way. Gorge scrambling and rock climbing in the Waterfall Country provide visitors with exciting physical activities. Short linear walks lead visitors to the glacially sculpted cirque at Craig Cerrig-gleisiad, a national nature reserve renowned for its arctic-alpine flora and to the impressive folded limestone at Bwa Maen. Spectacular views from the more challenging Cribarth Trail reveal the links between the geology and industrial history. In seeking out the Geopark’s industrial heritage at Penwyllt, by following the Henllys Vale Miners Walk and in walking amongst the abandoned lime kilns at Herbert’s Quarry, the visitor will encounter the relicts of an industrial age set within beautiful and dramatic landscapes. Families can enjoy walks in the Craig y nos Country Park or download the app and follow in the footsteps of the Romans at Y Pigwn and Waun-Ddu.
The Geopark provides an ideal outdoor teaching laboratory for schools and universities. Here students get hands-on experience in using basic principles to investigate the rock record, in mapping faulted and folded rocks and in understanding the relationship between geology, natural history and the landscape. Former industrialized sites are visited regularly by school classes where pupils learn about the Geopark area’s fascinating social and industrial history. For almost a century the area has been used as a resource for the informal communication of knowledge to amateur societies and the general public.
The area’s rich cultural heritage is preserved in stories with roots in the prehistoric past. Information panels at the Black Mountain Centre tell the story of Culhwch and Olwen or the Twrch Trwyth associated with the Twrch Valley, the first record of an Arthurian Romance. The exhibition in the Myddfai Community Hall reveals the story of the Bride of Llyn-y-Fan Fach and The Physicians of Myddfai.
The Geopark is administered by a partnership of organisations from the public, private and charity sectors led by the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority.
Fforest Fawr UNESCO Global Geopark
Brecon Beacons National Park Authority
Plas y Ffynnon, Cambrian Way, Brecon, Powys, LD3 7HP
Phone 01874 620415
Alan Bowring, Fforest Fawr Geopark Development Officer
Email: Alan. Bowring@beacons-npa.gov.uk
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