The rather splendid sign in Pontneddfechan proclaiming their USP

Waterfall Country: Ystradfellte, Powys, Wales

November 26, 2012 · 23 comments

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.

View from inside Porth yr Ogof cave in Powys, Wales, photographed by Charles hawes. Walking 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 resurgance pool on the river Mellte after Porth yr Ogof in Powys, Wales, photographed by Charles hawes. Walking in wales.

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.

sun bathing horses near the River Mellte in Powys, Wales, photographed by Charles hawes. walking in wales.

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.

Sgwd Clun-gwyn waterfall Powys, Wales. November. Photograph by Charles hawes. Walking in Wales.

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.

As we stood in wonder a bunch of people appeared stage left dressed improbably in wet suits with ordinary clothes on top and after careful instruction proceeded to get into the river above the waterfall, allow themselves to swept along for 20 yards over some rocky bits and get out again. I have to admit to being a bit disapointed that they were not up for going over the top.

Swimmers on the River Mellte in Powys, Wales. November, photograh by Charles Hawes. Walking in Wales.

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.

Oak wood above the River Mellte in Powys, Wales. Photograph by Charles Hawes. Walking in Wales.

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)……

Photograpgh of Paul Steer by Charles Hawes. Walking in wales.

…..and I confessed to what a useless uncle I had been.

The path takes you down to the Sgwd–yr-Eira waterfall.

Sgwd ye Eira waterfall in Powys, Wales, photographed by Charles hawes. Walking in Wales.

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.

Inside the Sgwd yr Eira waterfall on the river Hepste in Powys, Wales photographed by Charles Hawes. Walking in wales..


View from inside the Sgwd yr Eira waterfall on the river Hepste in Powys, Wales. Photograph by Charles hawes. Walking in wales.

I think I laughed out loud for the sheer joy of standing there.

Charles Hawes inside the Sgwd yr Eira waterfall on the River Hepste in Powys, Wales. Photograph by Paul Steer. Walking in wales.

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.

Woodland near the river Hepste in Powys, Wales. Photograph by Charles Hawes. Walking in Wales.

I’d love to know what this beautiful grass is.

Beautiful area of grassland above River Hepste near Ystradfellte, Powys, Wales. Photograph by Charles Hawes. Walking in Wales.

This forest path alternates between soft mossy gravel and deep horrible mud.

Muddy paths on walk near Ysradfellte, Powys, wales. Photograph by Charles hawes. Walking in Wales.

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)

Entrance to the Hikers Bar at The Angel in Pontneddfechan, south wales. Photograph by Charles Hawes. Walking in wales.

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.

Horsehoe waterfalls near Pontneddfechan, south wales. Photograph by Charles Hawes. Walking in Wales.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.





{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Nigel Buxton November 26, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Very impressive pictures.


Charles Hawes November 26, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Thanks. Not too keen on the writing then!?!?


John November 26, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Somehow, I just know what you want for Christmas:

And for balance, very impressive (and, in places, evocative) writing. Oh, and that photo of you in your Air Jacket is superb.


Charles Hawes November 26, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Thanks John
I’m sure Paul will be very pleased with your appreciation of his photograph!
Actually I don’t like being in the water that much, so maybe I’ll pass on the camera cover. I’ll settle for a big box of chocolates.


Julia Fogg November 26, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Final image of The Hug is not for public consumption? Excellent post Charles – descriptive and tantalising.


Charles November 26, 2012 at 11:38 pm

You must tell me how you give someone a hug and take a photograph at the same time. Glad you enjoyed it, though. Next week, I think, is a celebration of trees in Exmoor.


Paul Steer November 27, 2012 at 12:37 pm

For the record Charles, you would have been more than welcome to stay and have supper. The catering would have been an improvement on the lunch! Apart from the lunch it was the most enjoyable day of walking , falling and conversation I have had in a while.


Charles November 29, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Thank you. Though quite glad it wasn’t forced on you. I did tell you that one of us would fall. I’ve thoughts about another walk sometime


Paul Steer December 1, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Yes lets.


Steve Eddy November 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm

I enjoyed this, Charles. Actually it’s one of my favourite walks, and I may do it on Monday if the forecast is correct and it’s raining, so not good for the peaks. Going behind the Sgwd yr Eira is indeed wonderful. I must tell you about going through the cave, Porth yr Ogof, sometime. I’ve been through a few times. I used to swim out through the resurgence, till my caving buddies and I decided that discretion was the better part of valour: several people, including good swimmers, have died there. No one quite know why. The pub in Ystradfellte is interesting. A slightly eccentric landlord who won’t sell you crisps before your meal in case you spoil your appetite!


Charles November 29, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Great! And I hope it stays fine for you. Though the muddy bits will be just as muddy. But then with your spirit of adventure, what’s a bit of mud. Am deeply impressed. Though I don’t fancy it myself (the cave swim).


julia November 29, 2012 at 4:24 pm
Charles November 29, 2012 at 7:02 pm

There are tons of other walking blogs and several sites around the Santiago one. Was this one special for you for some reason?


Simon Pritchard November 30, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Just a few things for you to know:

Car park price is to pay for the attendant to be there (or at least partially offset it). Previous to that, locals would break / empty cars and minibuses, as they knew they would be away for quite some time.

Porth-yr-Ogof is a great cave to explore – you should get someone to show you round it some time – although swimming the resurgence is not for the faint hearted and should only be attempted in dry conditions (I would say Summer, but, you know…).

Gorge walking is another great past time – what you saw was likely the warm up for the real ‘fun stuff’ – there are plenty of good jumps on the Mellte.

Looking forward to the next adventure (or shopping trip?).


Charles November 30, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Hi Simon. Good to know the locals are friendly. You have a funny idea of a warm up. Jumping into cold water with your clothes on sounds like some form of punishment to me. Happy to watch from the dry.


Debbie ireland December 3, 2012 at 10:06 am

We’ve stood behind that waterfall. I absolutely loved it! The relentless noise of the rushing water, the ferns growing on the rocks behind and the fresh, cool (if damp) air. Could have stayed for hours. Thanks for taking me back there 🙂



Charles December 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Smashing, isn’t it. Think you’d need really warm clothes to be under the falls for hours. Glad to have transported you back there, albeit more briefly than you might have liked ;-).


John February 23, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Fantastic write up, stunning photos, and videos almost as good (though I never ever have enough patience to watch a video to the end, even if it is only 30 seconds long). You captured the magic of the place for me! Just need to persuade my friends to go with me.


Charles February 23, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Many thanks John. It’s very nice to have one of my older posts commented on. I wonder why your video attention span is so short, though. I guess you must watch longer film clips in other platforms.


Brunda February 14, 2016 at 6:24 am

Great write up and photos! Is there a time restriction to park cars at the Cwm Porth car park? we expect to be starting the hike around 2pm and will probably finish past 5pm on a saturday.


Charles February 14, 2016 at 5:41 pm

Thanks, Brunda. I’m sorry I don’t know the answer. Try google?


Phil Jones October 10, 2016 at 9:15 pm

Great write-up and piccys, i did the angel to ystradfellte and back today, being local,(Penderyn) its an area i walk quite a lot, after Pontmelinfach take the higher track, not the low one, its a dead end, the top track would have got you back to your cars.


Charles October 10, 2016 at 9:19 pm

Thanks for tip!


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Copyright Charles Hawes (2012)