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In the southern half of the Brecon Beacons National Park, due south of the small village of Ystradfellte, there lies an area of Carboniferous Limestone and Millstone Grit containing steep sided gorges, cave systems and numerous spectacular waterfalls….a landscape photographers paradise: Waterfall Country
The area can be confusing to the first time visitor as the most popular falls are situated on 4 separate rivers, the Nedd Fechan, the Pyrddin, the Mellte and the Hepste. These rivers eventually unite to become the River Nedd (Neath) at Pont Nedd Fechan. In the interest of simplicity I have divided my description of the area into 2 separate articles, this first will concentrate on the falls which are probably the easiest to reach (with one notable exception) on the rivers Nedd Fechan and Pyrddin. The falls visited will be Scwd Gwladus and the 3 falls that can be loosely grouped together and called the Ddwli's. Walking here is fairly easy, the paths are well constructed though I stress that you will in all probability get damp and a little muddy, even if visiting in the height of summer. Walks to the more well known falls, those on the Mellte and Hepste, including a visit to the most famous of all, Scwd yr Eira (you can actually walk behind the wall of falling water here) are included in the second article. This set of falls are harder to reach, the paths are not as good and can be confusing, it can be hard work climbing up and down the steep sides of the gorge.
A sign of the times that we live in I’m afraid, but none of the the car parks in the area are free from visitations by those who have no worries in breaking in to your vehicle and removing anything of value left in view, please make sure that you leave nothing on display. There are numerous reminders to this effect throughout the area.
How to get there
Easily accessed by leaving the A465, Heads of the Valleys road, at Glyn-neath and then by simply following the Waterfalls signs to the outskirts of the village of
Pont Nedd Fechan
Free parking, shown by an arrow on the OS map (and marked CP 1 on the sketch map) is alongside the pub, The Angel and is a popular spot. Opposite is a Tourist Information Centre where you can pick up more information on both the waterfalls and the surrounding area, in particular a leaflet published by the National Park entitled "Waterside Places" containing photos by Jon Dixon can be obtained here.
Behind The Angel a gate leads you to an easy walk of a mile or so upstream along the Nedd Fechan which flows swiftly by on your right, passing the remains of silica mines on the way. Eventually you will arrive at a spot where the Pyrddin comes in from the left to join the Nedd. A footbridge crosses the river here, for the moment however don't cross it but continue upstream for a short distance (along the Pyrddin) to view the graceful Scwd Gwladus (Lady Fall) at a viewpoint. Return to the footbridge, cross it and walk back upstream to view the fall from the opposite bank and from above (if the water state is low you can walk behind this fall too, but it isn’t such a spectacular experience as at Scwd yr Eira.
(At this point I’ll mention that here is another superb fall much higher up the Pyrddin known as Scwd Einon Gam, but it is VERY difficult to get to as it requires at least half a dozen careful crossings of the river (there are no bridges). At times one has to wade up the the river bed itself through a deep gorge, if this is impassable due to water conditions then the only other option is to follow a dangerously narrow and slippery sheep track high above the gorge, clambering over and under fallen trees on the way. Getting to Scwd Einon Gam in low water conditions is feasible but I can't recommend it even then. In normal water states one can get very wet, in flood conditions it can be a killer. You really do head for this fall at your own risk!!!
From Gwladus retrace your steps back to the footbridge and continue to your left, to head up the Nedd Fechan. Up to this point the path you have followed has been very good, well drained, flat(ish) and popular with visitors to Gwladus (where many call it a day and return to the car). Though the path ahead is not difficult, it is muddy in places at most times of the year, even high summer.
The river runs in a gorge below until you reach the Lower Ddwli fall (also known as the Horseshoe Falls). Here a footbridge crosses a side stream where the Middle Ddwli falls await ahead. It is possible to walk up the limestone riverbed to view the middle fall from below, take great care though, the rocks are very smooth and slippery and you will need to retrace your steps back to the footbridge to continue your walk.
From the footbridge the path rises to look down upon Middle Ddwli. Another half mile or so of walking brings you to the lovely Upper Ddwli fall. Though there is another fall upstream of this, it is small and doesn't come close to matching the ones you've already visited so now is probably the place to turn back and retrace your steps to the car at The Angel. All in all a walk of some 4 or 5 miles and not too strenuous.
An easier alternative walk
The Ddwli’s and Gwladus from Pont Melin Fach
A shorter walk to these falls can be made from the car park/picnic area at Pont Melin Fach (shown by an arrow on the OS map and marked CP 2 on the sketch map). The road down to the car park is steep and very narrow, with few passing places. A relaxing spot with a meadow and a ruined limekiln, and popular in the summer with picnickers. From the car park simply head downstream to arrive at the Ddwli's and continue downward to meet the Pyrddin where Scwd Gwladus awaits just around the corner to your right. Retrace your steps back to your vehicle.
Flora and fauna
Most visit the area for its spectacular scenery, however, despite its popularity, wildlife is abundant, you just have to look a little harder to find it! Otters, pine martens, pole cats and wild mink have all been spotted here, along with a profusion of bird life such as dippers, kingfishers, herons, buzzards and the occasional red kite soaring overhead.
The damp conditions mean that mosses, ferns and lichens thrive in these valleys.
When to visit
High summer is best avoided, water conditions can be low and the whole area almost over run with visitors. Additionally bright sunshine can make photography very difficult with enormous contrast between the sunlit falls and deep shade in the gorges. The tree canopy can also intrude, blocking the view at times.
Autumn is probably the best time to visit with the heavily wooded gorges showing some superb colour variations. Keep a check on the Forestry Commission website for a daily report on the changing colours.
These days the the falls rarely freeze over in winter. In a prolonged cold snap Gwladus and Einon Gam are more likely to freeze than any of the others as the water flow is less and the sun doesn’t percolate through to them for a few months. The days of spending many happy hours climbing the frozen falls are possibly long gone
At any time of the year should you choose to visit after a day or two's torrential rain the falls make a truly spectacular sight….but you will get very wet!
Enjoy your visit, take plenty of EC’s, but most of all take care.