Some of the best things in life are free, and in Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales exploring the heights and the depths of the park is free to everyone.
Pen y Fan, at 2,907 feet, is the highest point in the park, and the hike up Pen y Fan is one of the most popular in Wales. The well-trodden footpaths are easily accessible, and on a beautiful day, the line of hikers going up the mountain can resemble old-time photos of miners trudging over the Chilkoot Pass in Alaska during the Gold Rush.
The Corn Du and Pen y Fan circular walk not only rewards the hiker with beautiful viewpoints, but also includes a bonus peak -- Corn Du, the second highest peak in the Brecon Beacons.
Begin the hike at the Daf car park trailhead. Once you reach the aptly named Bwlch Duwynt, or Windy Pass, at the top of trail, skirt the southern side of Corn Du on the left to come to a saddle between the two peaks. From there, it is an easy hike to the top of Pen y Fan and views out over the Brecon Beacons.
After you've taken in the view from Pen y Fan, return to the saddle and take the trail to the top of Corn Du for a different perspective on the Brecon Beacons. Finally, take the path at the northern end of Corn Du and descend to Storey Arms, an old coaching inn that is now an education center. A trail in front of the Storey Arms will take you back to the Daf car park.
Once you've conquered the highest point in the Brecon Beacons, it's time to go 300 feet underground and visit one of the lowest points, the Big Pit National Coal Mueum. A working coal mine from 1880 to 1980, the Big Pit now provides visitors with a glimpse into the lives of coal miners over the years.
Led by former coal miners, visitors are outfitted with headlamps and tool belts before descending deep into the mine. Water drips down the walls and total darkness waits just beyond the range of your headlamp as you explore the tunnels of the mine, following played-out coal seams, ducking under low ceilings, and walking through stables where hardworking collier ponies lived and died.
Walking through the mine office as you leave, the bright yellow canaries in their cage there are one last reminder of the dangers faced by the Big Pit miners over the years.