Great British Drives: Nissan X-Trail (with optional drone) in the Brecon Beacons

Nissan X-rail with optional drone
The drone is a £500 option with the revised X-Trail. It is perfect for capturing the family's outdoor adventures Credit: Richard Bradbury

The term “roadside camera” could soon have a very different meaning thanks to Nissan, which is now offering the ultimate “lifestyle” accessory with its latest X-Trail SUV – one that captures every moment of a weekend family adventure.

The Parrot Bebop 2 drone fits snug in its own lightweight backpack. The fact that a technophobe like me can fly it suggests true simplicity of operation. Equipped with GPS, a “follow me” function makes it possible to track any mud-splattered activity from the air.

It’s a stroke of marketing genius to include a drone - a techy toy that will have boys of all ages haggling over the control box. A full charge provides 25 minutes of flight time and the resulting video or photography is beamed direct to your smartphone.

But please be aware that drone use is not permitted in many areas. The Brecon Beacons National Park, for instance, has a strict policy regarding drone use and using one there without agreed permissions, licences and contracts is actually breaking the law. Given the increasing popularity of drones, its wardens are currently policing the situation to provide an environment that everyone can enjoy.

Buoyed by a successful test flight in my garden, I’ve packed off to the Brecon Beacons for a mini “lifestyle” adventure. I have a posse of helpers, seven up in a new X-Trail that has just undergone a mid-life makeover.

The minor tweaks include an angular front nose job and some trim and tech updates. Unfortunately, the small infotainment screen remains – it could do with some new graphics, too. The paintwork is a brash bronzey orange – presumably to make it easier to spot from the air.

The abandoned quarries of the Llangattock escarpment in the Black Mountains near Crickhowell, in the Brecon Beacons National Park Credit: Michael Roberts/Moment RF

Today there’s an element of Scotch mist about the Welsh weather, so droning isn’t on the menu. Instead, we’ve arrived in the middle of nowhere, not far from Pen-y-Fan, the highest mountain in South Wales. Porth-yr-Ogof is a popular location for caving - exactly the kind of pastime Nissan lifestylers would approve of.

Attractively kitted out in wetsuit and wellies, I don a hard hat and follow our guide across a fast-flowing river. From here, we drop down into an underground network of caves that feature some terrifying obstacles, such as Death Ledge, Cork Screw and the appropriately named Washing Machine.

Back in daylight and the weather has improved. It’s still ridiculously cold for October and a portable kettle would be more useful than a drone for a bedraggled team of cavers. Shivering, we pile our soggy clothing into the X-Trail’s enormous (optional) roof box and set off in search of lunch.

The Bakers’ Table in Talgarth produces feel-good scones and cakes that should be available on NHS. The café was created by local volunteers, who pitched for a Big Lottery Fund grant to restore the derelict water mill. The wheel now grinds flour for the bakery.

The splendour of the Brecon Beacons Credit:  iStockphoto

Suitably refreshed, we head south on the A479. This stretch of road is often busy in the summer but today it’s quiet. There are spectacular views of the Brecon Beacons as we pass through Cwmdu and on down the valley to Tretower.

The fortified manor house and castle of Tretower Court date back more than 900 years. It sits on a strategic position near the River Usk, where a medieval lord could keep a close eye on his surroundings lands without the need of a drone.

The original castle was textbook motte and bailey – a large earthen mound topped with wooden defences. It wasn’t well suited for domestic living so by 1400 the residents decided enough was enough and moved to neighbouring Tretower Court, a fortified house built around a courtyard.

Tretower has been brought back to life in recent years thanks to a detailed restoration. It imagines how life would have been in this unsettled region during the 15th century, complete with a feasting hall and some uncomfortable-looking latrines.

The X-trail isn't the largest SUV but it's a tight squeeze on what appears to be the world’s narrowest bridge Credit: Richard Bradbury

Nearby sits the awkwardly named village of Bwlch and our home for the night – Buckland Old Mill. The self-catering cottage is less than two miles from Llangynidr but has successfully escaped the attention of satellite navigation, or mobile phone signal.

Follow a dead-end lane, drop down a slippery track and suddenly you’re in a different century. The water wheel has long gone but perched right next to a raging River Usk, Buckland looks ripe for an episode of Location, Location, Location.

Heaven forbid because the banks and waterway are teeming with wildlife of every description. Kingfisher, heron and otter patrol the grounds. You can walk for miles without seeing anything in hiking boots.

Llangynidr village is a hidden gem but first you have to get there. Steering the Nissan across what appears to be the world’s narrowest bridge is something of a challenge – ensure the road is clear first to avoid an embarrassing reverse manoeuvre.

The Coach and Horses at Llangynidr is popular with narrowboat users on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal Credit: Richard Naude/Alamy

Four miles west of Crickhowell, both the River Usk and the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal flow past Llangynidr. The latter supplies an endless stream of narrowboat enthusiasts to negotiate the locks, towpaths and heady ales of the Coach and Horses Inn.

It’s a short drive east from here on the A40 to bustling Abergavenny, then on via the B4521 towards the Welsh border and Skenfrith Castle. I know this road well – it was where my father taught me to drive 30 years ago in another orange car.

The Datsun 120Y wasn’t a memorable machine but it eventually became my first motor. Reliable to the point of boredom, I immediately swapped it for an Alfa Romeo GT Junior that disappeared in a pile of rust.

Most people head to Skenfrith to visit the remains of the 13th century castle, or to eat at The Bell, a 17th century coaching inn on the banks of the River Monnow. Excellent food but keep the neatly piled newspapers in order to avoid the wrath of the barman.

The castle is a good starting place for a circular walk across the hills of Upperhouse Wood. At this time of year the trees are laden with mistletoe and there are fine views from the top of the village and surrounding area. Stunning – and you don’t need the buzz of a drone to see for miles in any direction.

breconcottages.com; cadw.gov.wales

THE FACTS

Nissan X-Trail dCi 177 Tekna

PRICE £37,410 (drone £500 extra)

ENGINE 1,995cc four-cylinder diesel

POWER 175bhp

TOP SPEED 121mph

ACCELERATION 0-60mph in 10sec

FUEL ECONOMY 46.3mpg (EU Combined)

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Credit: Jessica Saunders