As well as the hills and peaks of the Brecons, there are so many other features of the area that make it so attractive and enjoyable. One of my favourite features is that it has so many waterfalls. Pretty much where ever you decide to go for a walk, before long you are wandering across a small stream or river with the most picturesque cascades and falls, some just little trickles and some absolute torrents.
Unfortunately, my stay in the Brecons was just one week so I didn't get much time to visit many of the waterfalls, but I thought I would do a little feature on the two main locations I did manage to visit. Both are wholly recommendable... in fact I would say both of them should firmly go on your "Absolute must vist" list if you do head into the Brecons.
Waterfalls are found throughout the Brecon Beacons, but nowhere in such high a concentration as the Ystradfellte Falls. In fact, this is the highest concentration of significant sized waterfalls in the whole country, and possibly the UK too. It also boasts a number of extensive cave systems.
This area is extremely popular with tourists, and justifiably so. It's rare not to encounter other walkers in the area, no matter what the weather, day of the week or season of the year. In fact, during bad weather is an especially good time to visit. Heavy rain shows the waterfalls at their dramatic best and a long cold spell sometimes results in frozen waterfalls.
There are five rivers in all, two main ones, the Afon Nedd Fechan and the Afon Mellte, each boasting three main falls, as well as cave systems and a gorge further up the valleys. Then there are two main tributaries, the Afon Pyrddin and the Afon Hepste, each boasting two main falls, for a total of ten main falls in the whole area. Additionally there's a fifth river, the Afon Sychryd, often overlooked, which offers a few additional small falls.
The best route around the waterfalls starts at Cwm Porth. If/when you do visit the falls, I really do recommend the walk shown below:
Park in Cwm Porth car park near Ystradfellte. This is half way between Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil. From Merthyr Tydfil take the A470 towards Brecon. About 8.5miles north of Merthyr turn sharp left almost back on yourself just before the first reservoir by a stone draw off tower. Follow this across the open Brecons for about 6.5 miles and then turn right to Ystradfellte. Ignore a first turn to Gwn Hepste car park and continue a little further and then turn left to Cwm Porth. This is a pay and display car park with toilets and an information centre.
It may be a little further to drive for some of you, but it's well worth it. This circle follows the Mellte and Hepste rivers to find four spectacular waterfalls.
Winter is a good time after rain when the falls make a real show and hopefully there should be few visitors. At the last waterfall, if there is not a tremendous flow of water, you may choose to walk behind without getting too wet. The valley is wooded for much of the way and contains a wide variety of ferns and lichen.
The distance is not great and the route is well signed, but there are scrambles, some near edges and steep climbs back up from the falls.
Wear good boots and a walking pole could be a help. You need to be quite fit, flexible and sure of foot. There is no refreshment en route. Well-controlled dogs should enjoy this dramatic circle, too.
Cross the road from the car park and follow the yellow footpath arrow. It's not long before you see the Mellte River flowing on your right. Gradually you get closer so you're walking alongside as it sweeps down into the ever-steeper valley.
Ignore the first footbridge and just stay with the river on the right. Start to climb on quite a rocky path and you can hear the roar of the first falls.
2. WHITE MEADOW FALLS
Soon, get an amazing view of the river catapulting over the steep drops at Sgwd Clyn Gwn falls (White Meadow Falls). Continue to follow the path along the gorge edge, watching your footing, and drop down to reach the second falls.
3. LOWER WHITE MEADOW FALLS
Here again you have a great vantage point for the falls, known as Sgwd Isaf Clyn Gwn. Now the going gets harder as you continue to descend steeply over a difficult path which takes you down to reach the edge of the river.
This is certainly the hardest stretch of the route. Along here, the path crosses several boardwalks over the muddier sections of the river edge. You reach the third falls.
(The beauty of Ystradfellte Falls is that whatever time of year you visit it, the scenes are amazing. From one day to the next things change and you can see a whole new picture. The photograph above was taken in the Autumn of 2010 after a rainstorm and the photograph below was taken in the summer of 2012)
4. WATERFALL OF THE FULLER
These falls, Sgwd y Pannwyr, are at the furthest point of the path right, alongside the river.
Now you have to climb out of the valley following the arrows and at pole 29 turn right and continue the ascent. At the top, continue on the path towards Sgwd Yr Eira, walking now alongside the River Hepste way below. Pass a bench and then a marker post and here is the stepped descent to one of the most dramatic falls in the area, known as the Fall of Snow (Sgwd Yr Eira). Turn right down the steps.
5. FALL OF SNOW
It's well worth the effort, and when you reach the foot you feel the spray, hear the roar and watch the river (the River Hepste at this point) as it plunges down like a curtain.
There is a narrow, rocky path along the bottom and a sign which says you can walk under the falls, but don't linger! Obviously, use your common sense about how much water is flowing when you are there – and wear a waterproof! Retrace your steps back to the top and the marker post. Turn right towards Gwyn Hepste (55 minutes). This is a good path which soon bears left up through the edge of a fir wood, ascending. Turn left at a signpost (50 minutes to Gwyn Hepste). This is a wide forest track which can get muddy after wet weather but there should be enough room to find a reasonably dry way through. Now that you have moved away from the river and the falls, notice the silence.
Reach a junction of paths and a signpost and go straight over, now heading towards Cwym Porth, and crossing a broadwalk. Continue through the woods and start to hear the river again over on your left. Go through a gate and continue on.
Eventually, reach a stone cottage. The path runs in front. Cross a stile by a gate and maintain direction. You now have the main forest on your right. There are open views across the valley. Continue straight on, ignoring any side-paths or signs. Pass a farm on your right. Cross a stile ahead by a gate and the track takes you to the lane. Turn left and then right to the car park.
The falls of Talybont On Usk.
Not as well known as the falls of Ystradfellte but equally as impressive in their own right as they are crammed into a small area.
Talybont is a classic "hanging valley" where water cascades into a glacial valley occupied by the largest reservoir in the Brecon Beacons. There is a short clearly signposted footpath that leads from the waterfalls car park into the woodland. If you are walking on a wet day just after rain you will often find parts of the path flooded, so be sure to wear sturdy walking boots.
(I was able to stand in the middle of the falls to take the video clip shown above, just as the rain started to fall. The below clip is a few hours later after a long downpour of rain. It may come as no surprise that I didn't stand in the midlle of the falls to take this clip)