Bank Holiday Monday 25th May 2015
I’m somewhat relieved to be able to recount this walk here on my blog, as if I were to produce a video in this moment, I would fail stupendously to correctly pronounce many of the Welsh words and names you are like to find below. From the title, you should have an idea of what’s to follow in the photos. This was officially our last day in Wales. We’d already packed up and departed from the campsite before this walk began. You could view it as a convenient means of deterring the long drive home however, from having seen it myself, I can only now hoister it as an essential pit stop! There were mixed feelings about heading home but no doubts to cloud the thought of exploring an area of the Brecon Beacons more commonly known as Waterfall Country. It was almost ironic, the fact that this drive (at around thirty-minutes from the campsite) was 33% shorter than the one to the Four Peaks Walk two-days earlier. Later in the afternoon, my SatNav would reveal that we would still have to endure a ninety-minute drive back over the bridge to Bristol. From our journey to the car park just north of Penderyn, I realise now that the reason my SatNav led us down a dead-end lane was because I couldn’t find an exact post code to the location and, even after finding one nearby, I’d allowed myself to become too reliant on technology, ignoring the written instructions stuffed beneath my driver’s seat. You take a left-turn for Ystradfellte [I can almost pronounce that!] and then continue straight (which I didn’t do, on attempt No.1) until a sign for ‘Waterfalls‘ soon appears. I was pleasantly surprised by how well-directed to route to such a rural location is. I can think of car parks this side of the Severn that would benefit from such guidance. It was late-morning, getting close to lunchtime as we arrived and, well, we were soon informed by a volunteer at the site that the car park was filled beyond the brim! What’s more, I happened to have a Police [Heddlu!] car on my tail and I very nearly embarrassed myself in front of a growing audience as I attempted an ambitious six-point turn… Let’s just say, having previously driven a small van has increased my confidence at reversing towards stationary vehicles. Despite the screams and cries of others, I had no intention of writing off another motor. I apologise to my friend for the harsh braking and embarrassment that followed but really, some people need to have more faith. I’ll throw in, at this point, that you should be prepared to spend £4 for a day’s pay-and-display parking at Gwaun Hepste! I thought that was quite steep and I’m also certain I read somewhere online that it was only £2.50… But then, it was somewhat reassuring to be told the money goes directly towards the maintenance of the footpaths here. I’m not one for carrying change but I happened to have just even to see us through, even though the machine was at first hesitant to accept my £2 coin. Ahead of the weekend, I’d already mapped out an intended path for us to follow the course of several waterfalls within this vicinity. I felt a bit disorientated as we got out of the car, even rushed with the swarms of people about, as I faffed about struggling to fold my enormous OS map on the grass beside us! But we eventually realised that the route I had drawn was almost identical to the Four Falls trail, which was illustrated in red on the sign board.
It also appeared to be very well signed and clearly waymarked, as such woodland walks often are. So, I put my map away, felt my shoulders ease and we followed in the direction of the arrows.
At the car park, I think we both almost ‘scoffed’ a bit at the warning that this was to be a ‘strenuous‘ route… Less than two-days ago, we had only scaled three mountains, after all! The path ahead, with stone embedded in mud, was broad and easy to follow. People had bought their families out for the climax to the Bank Holiday weekend. But, as my friend quite rightly stated; waterfalls don’t exist upon flat land.
But would it really take us four-and-a-half hours to walk six-miles, as the signs stated???
Our path lead us downhill almost immediately. This was when I began to reconsider the ‘strenuous‘ rating of this route. It didn’t seem too long before we were overlooking our first waterfall. Even looking at the map now, I can only guess that it was Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, which is definitely the most northern of the four falls. From here, there was a good half-hour of walking. A half-hour of good walking. All before we arrived at our second waterfall and the pinnacle of the walk. Descending a seemingly never-ending set of steps (mud reinforced with timber at the front), we could hear the water through the trees; following a consistent line of visitors, all queuing up for the same. I’m very certain, thanks to Instagram, that this was Sgwd yr Eira. These photos don’t quite tell you how busy it was and I now regret not shooting some brief video footage of the water. We manage to squat over some large stones just beneath the stairway in order to have our lunch, while also hoping that some of the crowd may begin to reduce. But, as I’ve been telling people ever since; it was “Cheddar Gorge-Busy” and as for the line to walk behind the fall, well, we could not see its end. We’d been sat down for long enough, in high anticipation of the experience soon to follow. If we were to wait for every last person to vacate, we’d have been returning to Bristol very late in the day and that steep return to the car park would always remain. I know I took one of my images (perhaps the one above) with the ISO reduced on my camera. My friend showed me on her DSLR that if you’re also able to reduce the lens apeture then you can capture the falling water in an image almost as smooth as cream. Ahead of the waterfall from this side, the path has already disintegrated and you must clamber over large rocks and slippery terrain in order to progress. We also donned our waterproof coats at this point, as large drips rained down from the cliffs above. Almost ironically, signs warn you not to linger beneath the cliff here due to the threat of falling rocks – yet, every man as his dog (yes, we saw several canine companions) was here for that photo opportunity. This was the first time I’d ever walked behind a waterfall. It was surprisingly dry, in behind. Quite calming. Very hard to see out, where it is much easier for others to look in. I hit my head on a rock. It would be good to return on a day that’s less congested. My friend had gladly interpreted the map from the beginning and reminded me that we’d deterred from the Four Falls Trail (marked in red) and would have to re-trace our steps up the same side of the gorge in order to continue the circular section of this lollipop-shaped walk. I remember passing another waterfall as I remember hearing it in the valley beneath us. But we refrained from heading down as it wouldn’t made for an exhausting detour within the first portion of the walk. But I thought I had photographs of a third waterfall? Even without the water, it’s a lovely setting to walk within and yes, a portion of our return to the car park resulted in striving uphill. On the way in, we’d spotted piles upon piles of freshly stacked tree trunks, leaving some parts of the Brecon Beacons to look exceedingly bare and frail. Leaving the car to follow the trail, we then got to witness the machine in action, literally uprooting trees from the ground… Although, the driver seemed to be toying with us and our mostly obscured view… As we moved towards a clearing where action became available to our eyes, he suddenly stopped uprooting and was either removing the branches or sawing the ends off each trunk. We kept looking back, hoping for a clear view of its strength. But the moment we marched on, our heads turned away, we heard the crunch, turning to see that, once again, we’d not quite been able to witness the powerful process first-hand! Sod’s law! 🙂 It was a great way to end a spectacular weekend that was so much more filling than I could’ve anticipated. We arrived back in Bristol around 17.30 – admittedly, later than either of us would’ve preferred. But then, we’d have been in regret now, had we not seen those waterfalls. Looking at the map, I can see now that we probably missed two of the four waterfalls as they required you to leave the red route for the green. But for any minor regrets I may have, they will only encourage me to revisit this area again! Thanks for reading.
PS. We completed this “four-and-a-half hour” walk with two-hours to spare!