The Road to Brecon
In the heart of Wales sits 15 1/2 square miles of spectacular mountainous countryside. Taking in two of Britain's most famous rivers, the Wye and the Avon, it's easy to see why Powys - the largest county in Wales - attracts thousands of visitors year after year. Whilst it has to be said that most of these people can either be found wandering up hills with their trousers tucked in their socks or throwing themselves down a hill on 4 grands worth of child's toy, there's a hidden gem between the market towns of Builth Wells and Brecon that everyone should flock to see.
I give you the B4520, a 16mile stretch of smile-inducing tarmac. Heading south out of Builth Wells, the road climbs like a rollercoaster and fills you with a sense of excitement of what's to come. Unfortunately you're rewarded with three miles of blind crests, farm vehicles and single lanes. I felt a bit like I'd just queued an hour for the Behemoth, only to discover that I'd been in line for the tea cups, but I drove on regardless hoping the road would warm up a bit.
Sure enough the road starts to unravel and it finds its rhythm. Before you know it, you're stringing together sweeping turns across the undulating moorland terrain. It's at this point that you'll probably find yourself with a case of TAFS (twitchy accelerator foot syndrome), but before you get too enthusiastic with your right foot remember this: you don't own the roads round here the sheep do, and they don't seem to be too scared of cars. Get out for a pee and they'll run like hell, papping their woolly little pants, but cars - pah. So this means that your chances of a little lamb chop tango around the corner is quite high and it won't be just his jumper you'll ruin.
Whipping over cattle grids you sweep from turn to turn and the road really starts to put you through your paces. It's a busy little road and in one section in particular you can feel the road getting quite hostile as your tyres cling to the tarmac, while the road does its best to buck you into the hedgerow. You can feel it urging you to drive it harder and that it secretly quite likes it.
You may or may not be aware that the MOD are rather fond of this area and as you head closer to the Beacons you may notice a few explosions in the middle distance but, to be honest, you will be too focused on the road to care. As you venture on, the mood seems to mellow a little in comparison with what's gone before and the road starts to resemble your more familiar country lane but, by way of a few thanks for the memories', the old gal pulls out a few big dippers any theme park would be proud of.
At times I guarantee you'll find your lips curling into a smile when you round a corner or reach a brow and are presented with the road ahead. It's this uncertainty of what lies beyond that makes this schizophrenic stretch of road so engaging to drive. The B4520 is an energetic drive and its characteristics are as changing as the scenery. I'd recommend you double check your driving position before you start because, believe me, once you get going you won't want to stop to correct it. If you're looking for a rollercoaster of a drive you'll not go far wrong with this. The B4520 may like the rough stuff but she's still a lady that will burn you if you don't treat her with respect.
At a glance
Things you'll love.
The varied and unpredictable nature of the road, the impressive countryside.
Look out for
Blind crests, cattle on the roads, farm vehicles.
In and around Builth Wells to Brecon
South Wales Borders army museum
The regimental museum of the 24th Regiment of Foot is purported to have the finest collection of weaponry in any UK regimental museum.
View artefacts from the regiment's 300 year history including the infamous 1879 Anglo-Zulu War.
Brecon Beacons National Park
Explore scenery that is both beautiful and diverse. Visit the traditional market towns, stunning landscapes, canal paths and castles.
Brecknock Museum & Art Gallery
Brecknock Museum occupies an historic building at the heart of an outstandingly attractive area with a rich and varied past. It offers fascinating glimpses of this past.
Dan-yr-Ogof, The National Showcaves Centre for Wales
Wales' top award-winning visitor attraction the National Showcaves Centre for Wales, is the most breathtaking Showcaves complex in Northern Europe. Every year tens of thousands of visitors step back in time, as they walk within the limestone rocks, and deep into the subterranean world.
Driving in Britain
The UK is the only country in Europe to measure their speed in Miles Per Hour, not Kilometers. Along with Malta and Cyprus they are the only country in Europe to drive on the left hand side. The UK speed limits range from as low as 20mph in built-up city areas up to 70mph on the motorway. It's understood that Police will allow you to drive 10% over the speed limit but it's the speed cameras you need to look out for. They are scattered everywhere and will take a picture of your car / plate while speeding. If you're driving a hire car when caught by a speed camera you'll probably be tracked down through your rental agency and issued with your ticket! Speed cameras are always accompanied by warning signs so look out for them while enjoying your drive.
The law states that it is illegal to ride a motorbike or drive a car while you are using a hand held communication device. Hands free phones may be used, but they are ultimately a distraction and you are still open to a charge of careless driving should a police officer think you are driving poorly while using one.
Things you might want to have with you
Driving licence (if from UK both card and paper licence)
Vehicle registration form
Headlight beam deflectors
First aid kit
High visibilty jacket
For more information on driving in Europe visit the European Traffic Police Network website www.tispol.org