SENTA 2010

Access to a restricted, military training site.

Mynydd Epynt is a small range of hills to the north of the Brecon Beacons, overshadowed by the mountains that surround it on all sides. It is known for being the site of the third largest military training area in the UK, at 31'000 acres (125 square km); the Sennybridge Training Area, commonly known as SENTA. The area is used for 350 days per year for many different aspects of military training, such as artillery testing, rifle ranges, survival situations and war zone simulation.

SENTA was set up in 1940, due to the urgent need for training during World War II. It was a highly controversial move, where the government mandated that all 219 residents must vacate their homes and hand them over to the military. Though they were compensated for the nominal value of the 54 homes and land, they were given precious little notice - a mere 2 months (later extended to 4 months). Another of the traditional Welsh-speaking communities was broken up and scattered. Most houses and the school were knocked down, the chapel deteriorated, and a new fake village was built for training. The way the land was taken was extremely unpleasant, but the armed forces have a definite need for such a facility, to prepare for the situations that they must face. Its continued use for this purpose, by over 1000 troops per day, demonstrates the important role that this area plays in helping to defend our nation. For more information about the area's history, see the Abandoned Communities site.

SENTA is crossed by one public road (with another one crossing the public part of Mynydd Epynt) and one military road where the public is permitted to drive. The outer edge of the area contains a walking route known as the Epynt Way. There is limited access to some of the old farmland or forested parts of the area, typically in the form of (unauthorised) annual memorial visits, rally stages, or specially arranged escorted visits. A small few photographers are lucky enough to get special access for research projects. However, vast amounts of the area are used as the impact zone for the artillery ranges, and are off-limits at all times. Even the military themselves do not visit these parts, except for the teams that infrequently clear any unexploded munitions. 93 farmers have licenses to use the area for somewhat risky sheep grazing, and they may occasionally need to (very carefully) enter the impact zone to retrieve them. However, they will only do so at selected times, and would almost certainly prefer to send dogs in place of themselves.

The Pwll Ffrwd waterfall, one of only two named waterfalls in the Mynydd Epynt range, is located on the Ysgir Fawr river, as it passes Twyn Rhyd-car. The waterfall lies within the impact zone for an artillery firing range. The range sustains regular impacts from military ordnance and may contain unexploded munitions at all times. It absolutely must not be visited without authorisation. There is no public access whatsoever. Although the surrounding area hosts the Epynt Way, you absolutely must not stray into the area containing the waterfall. The only way to view it is through satellite images or using long range aerial viewing.

By a lucky chance, I met one of the high-ranking SENTA officials as a major 70th anniversary event was beginning; the first time in those 70 years when limited access was being granted for a large, organised group for just one day, while the entire site was not in use. They would be allowed to do a small walk through the farmland, and get a tour of the fake village. My waterfalls project was of significant enough interest to get a special tour to visit Pwll Ffrwd, with the official as my personal guide. I say special, but I mean one-off. I doubt there will be another opportunity to visit this area in this way, due to the danger posed by it being an active impact zone.

My visit then included a guided tour of the majority of SENTA, something for which I am extremely grateful. Of course, I know how incredibly lucky I was to get this rare opportunity, so I have tried to do as much justice to the area as I can, by photographing the parts that are inaccessible to the general public, and getting permission to publish the pictures. Please enjoy.