I love waterfalls. There is something so soothing and peaceful about the constant motion of water partnered with the natural splendour of water surging downwards. I also love forests. My ‘happy place’ would almost certainly be a waterfall in a forest (although I am yet to find a real world location that suits), so I was very excited when, back in May, I came across this waterfall walk on Surfnslide featuring several spectacular waterfalls. I added it to my ever-growing collection of routes in Evernote*, so I had it handy when I was planning this Brecon Beacons trip.
The walk starts from the car park just south of the village of Ystradfellte (928124). This area is renowned for its caves, so is very popular with cavers (a sport I never want to do!) and the car park has a small shop and toilets. I was eager to head off, so I completely missed the footpath leading down to Porth yr Ogof, the biggest cave entrance in Wales – instead I set off following the path south into the forest. For just over a mile the path is out of sight of the river – in places I was reminded of the final day on Offa’s Dyke, with twisted gnarled roots and dense foliage overhead. Eventually the path drops down to the river and you are greeted by the first waterfall – Sgwd Clun Gwyn.
Just below Sgwd Clun Gwyn is Sgwd Isaf Clun Gwyn. Although perhaps a lesser waterfall, I really liked this one – where it lacks in height it makes up for it in width.
I was quite frankly in heaven and in a daze from the splendour around me – and this probably goes a long way to explain what happened next. Just below Sgwd Isaf Clun Gwyn I saw a plunge pool that looked perfect for swimming. It was certainly deep and the fast flowing water meant there was nothing slimy clinging to the rocks (important after my experience the day before). I waited…. I had not seen anyone since I left the car park and no one seemed around….. before I lost my nerve, I stripped down to my under-shorts and slipped into the cold water. The dog once again watched my from the shore, unimpressed as I swam around a bit. After taking a quick photo, I got out and no sooner had I slipped back on my baselayer, I was disturbed by a family of hikers who appeared on the ridge just above me. I had the grace to look embarrassed, they had the grace to not say anything! Still – like the day before it was an amazing experience, and I continued on the walk feeling a world better (as I had company I could not change, so I was also putting to the test the quick dry properties of my under-shorts and trousers).
The next waterfall, just slightly further down the river, was Sgwd y Pannwr.
From here the path leaves the Afon Mellte and climbs up the valley and down to the Afon Hepste and the highlight of the walk – Sgwd yr Eira, a pretty waterfall in it’s own right but with the added bonus that you can walk behind it. Whilst there are no doubt better ‘walk behind’ waterfalls across the world, it was an amazing experience – feeling the spray across your face, hearing the roar of the water, seemingly shut off from the rest of the world behind a curtain of water.
After enjoying the moment for a while, I continued following the path steeply up out of the valley onto a muddy high level path following the Mellte valley. Despite leaving the fantastic waterfalls behind me (for now), I was quite taken with this area, with it’s views of the surrounding valleys, so I took a break to brew up some tea and soak up my surroundings. I continued down the path towards Pontneddfechan, eventually joining the main road, and reached The Angel pub. Despite a power cut, the pub was still open, so I stopped for a pint and a sandwich.
As I finished my pint I could see rain coming in fast from the south west, so I quickly finished up and headed under the cover of the trees and began following Nedd Fechan upstream. At this point I was grateful for the time spent as a youth doing judo – the rough uneven ground was really slippery and at one point I slipped. I would have landed badly on my leg, but thankfully the years of learning to fall kicked in, and I managed to twist at the last minute – no broken leg but a slightly twisted ankle. Despite this I still decided to take the slight detour to Sgwd Gwladus.
I was quite jealous of the couple going for a swim (there was a lot of screaming about how cold it was, rather than any actual swimming), but as much as I wanted to investigate the waterfall more (according to @DanSantillo you can also walk behind it), I decided to leave them in peace and headed back to rejoin the main path (and anyway I had finally dried out!). Looking back through surfnslide’s photos, I think I somehow missed Sgwd Ddwli, which looks pretty impressive, but I did find the unnamed waterfall slightly further upstream.
By the time I reached the picnic area at Pont Melin-fach the rain was coming down harder – I loitered briefly to have a snickers bar, before continuing to follow the Nedd Fechan north. Just like surfnslide, I essentially had this part of the route to myself as I followed the narrow path along the edge of the river. Eventually at Pont Rhyd-y-cnau I left the river behind me and followed an old track up the hill and back to the carpark.
A thorough enjoyable waterfall walk that I would recommend (11.8 miles, 2452ft height gain) – thanks again for surfnslide for originally sharing! I headed for home after a memorable three days on Brecon Beacons.