Walked 11th November 2012
Map needed: OL Explorer 12
Distance walked: about 9 miles
Starting point: Cwm Porth car park at SN928124, near Ystradfellte. The Pay and Display car park was a steep £4 but there are toilets and a little shop (sorry, can’t tell you what’s in it as I didn’t look – #walkersguidefai lNo1)
Terrain: a circular walk that involves a bit of scrambling about by the waterfalls and one of two short climbs and descents. Very, very muddy in places. Super by the rivers.
On this walk I had three guides to consult with and one in person. The walk is included in Chris Barber’s “Exploring the Brecon Beacons, Black Mountains and Waterfall Country” (1985), Tom Huttons “Circular walks in the Brecon Beacons national Park” (2007) and in Kevin Walker’s “Undiscovered Wales” (2010). The last inclusion is a little odd since the walk is so obviously thoroughly well discovered but we’ll pass over that. My Guide in Person was my friend Paul who lives 20 minutes drive away and used to be a Health Visitor for the area.
All of them agree that this is a fabulous walk and Barber declares that “this will always be my favourite corner of the national park’”. Kevin Walker writes most fully about the route and I have enjoyed his writing about two other walks I have done from his book. But I didn’t enjoy his write up of this one as he moans incessantly about the volume of warning signs that have been posted up. I agree with him that the signs are intrusive and that there are far too many of them. But having had a big moan at the beginning he takes up his complaints at length 4 more times in the 25 (small )pages he devotes to this walk. This is tedious. Towards the end he asks “Isn’t any legislation pointless anyway?” Don’t be so silly, Kevin!
Waterfalls and rivers look best in two conditions: after lots of rain and in bright sunlight. It had rained a lot in recent weeks and the day had the brightest blue skies I had seen for a long time. So it was an auspicious day.
We met in the Cwm Porth car park and first made a pilgrimage to have a look at Porth yr Ogof, which everyone appears to agree is the largest cave mouth in Wales.
It is big. I had a look inside whilst Paul got very excited about a bit of fallen rock. The River Mellte flows into the cave so I didn’t go very far as I didn’t want to get my feet wet.
We clambered back over the double stile (i’d never seen one before- a reflection of just how many people want to have a look) and crossed the road to scramble down to where the river emerges again just a few hundred metres from the cave entrance, passing two more small entrances to the cave system on the way. Paul got very annoyed about some warning signs that had been nailed onto the rock about these small entrances. Having already read Walker going on about signs I couldn’t get so worked up but he was right that such signs ruin the aesthetic pleasure. This led to the first topic of conversation of the day in which were agreed that life is dangerous and bad things happen and that we don’t need to try to be protected from them by warning signs (you should of course hold your child’s hand in such places or rope them to you or leave them at home if your a big worrier).
The Resurgence Pool captivated my attention for a full 5 minutes and Paul got rock-excited again.
The path then follows the side of the Mellte though some woods. The sun was low in the sky and me and a small family of expensive camera carrying Asians (the head of which was, rather pessimistically carrying an umbrella) got taken, as I did, with these side-lit horses.
The Sgwd Clun-gwyn waterfall was less than a mile from our starting point but we had been mooching around so much it must have taken an hour to get there. The light was especially good and the falls very impressive so we stood and looked and took lots of pics.
Paul got very excited about anoverhanging tree branch and I kept liking the yellow leaved Acer growing at the water’s edge. Waterfalls are what your camera’s video facility are all about. So have a look at this. Its only 30 seconds.
I couldn’t see the fun in this. Paul would have had a go.
At this point I think we should have stayed by the river bank to walk past Sgwd Isaf Clun- gwyn waterfall a little further on but we got seduced by other signs and found ourselves climbing up into a wood. Our reward was some beautifully illuminated trees and an interesting conversation about Paul’s impeding Grandparenthood.
I offered him the thought that this was an opportunity for him to create a wonderful new relationship and role in the world (here’s a pic of him seeing the light)……
…..and I confessed to what a useless uncle I had been.
The path takes you down to the Sgwd–yr-Eira waterfall.
It’s odd because as you approach it, the river is running towards you, whereas it had been running away when you left it. But it’s a different river. This waterfall is on the River Hepste, which joins the Mellte a bit further on.
I had read about how you can actually walk behind the sheet of water. It was in full spate and very, very noisy and altogether exciting, so I put on my waterproofs (see my recent blog post for a back story here) and edged along the narrow ridge of rock behind the falls.
It was AMAZING!
I think I laughed out loud for the sheer joy of standing there.
And I took another video:
And bumped my head on the rock. Paul examined my bleeding head and declared the injury to be inconsequential.
The path on the far side of the fall climbs up to the woods again and we were happy to take this as the views through and of the tress were priceless in this warm soft light.
I’d love to know what this beautiful grass is.
This forest path alternates between soft mossy gravel and deep horrible mud.
I told Paul about Sara Maitland’s short story Moss Witch and how she came to find The Veddw for Gardens of Illusion (which Veddw is in) and about her new book – Gossip from the Forest. He thought she sounded right up his street. In fact she lives in Scotland, which Paul also has an affinity for.
It being after 1pm and lunch still about an hour away we stopped for our flasks on a very well paced bench. Paul produced two Mars bars, which was almost as miraculous as the beauty of the robin’s coat which came to observe our break and pick up crumbs. Paul told me Robins have a winter song but he didn’t know the words. We decided this particular Robin has the life of Riley as the bench is clearly a popular spot for a sit down and a munch.
Although we were undoubtedly behind in our schedule (of making it back to the car park in daylight) we were also agreed that we wanted to have a stop for lunch at The Angel at Pontneddfechan, so we raced past the signs off the path towards the nearby Glyn-neath Gunpowder Works and the Dinas Silica Mine, saving their exploration for another time. The rather ugly wire netted rock face at Criag y Dinas only received a cursory grumble.
The Angel was packed and still doing lunch. I couldn’t remember the last time I had had a pub Sunday lunch and the Angel gave me cause to resolve that it might be as long untill the next time. It was shockingly bad. A grey slab of beef, sprouts cooked to death, flaccid roast potatoes and pale boiled ones. I left half. Someone else left it all. (nb. there are other pubs in the village)
From Pontneddfechan (where there are public toilets) our path now headed up the Afon Nedd (or river Neath if your prefer) and lots more waterfalls. It’s a nice wide path (an old Tram road in fact, built to service the silica mine) at first and was very popular with people walking off their Sunday lunch. We were down in the bottom of the valley now and it was nearing 3pm the light levels were quite low. Processing these images I found that the camera (which I had set to automatic sensitivity to light) was at its highest setting and even then a couple of pics were blurred because my shutter speed was insufficient.
At the point where another stream joins the Neath we decided that we really didn’t have time to take the left hand fork to the path, above which are two more waterfalls (Sgwd Gwladys and Scwd Enion Gam) but kept to the River Neath . We did pass these splendid “Horseshoe falls” before reaching the fine stone bridge at Pont Melin Fach.
In the ever- increasing gloom our conversation moved seamlessly from Christian faith to death and dying and I felt rather pleased afterwards that we had felt safe to talk freely about such potentially difficult areas.
At Pont Melin Fach we started at first to try to follow the path that hugs the river side but it appeared to disappear and it really was quite gloomy so we retraced our steps and opted to take the minor road that joins the one we had both taken to the car park. Paul became a little anxious that we were going in the wrong direction and I did my best to reassure him and he was fine when we got to the more familiar road.
Then he became anxious that, it being now almost dark, we might find our cars locked into the car park. Since we both remember that there was gate at the car park, and a hut that no doubt contains things of value, I joined Paul in this anxiety and for the next mile and a half we contemplated what we might do if we were locked in. Would there be an emergency number to ring? Would we have a signal to phone anyway? Was there an nearby property we could approach? Would they shoot us if we knocked on their door in the dark? (and, privately for me, would I need to ask Paul if I could stay at his house? What would we have for supper? Would I like Sue’s cooking?).
I think I can safely say that there was much rejoicing to find the gate open and our cars still there and intact. I took a sweet from Paul in celebration and gave him a hug.