“I cannot call to mind a single valley that… comprises so much beautiful and picturesque scenery and so many interesting and special features.” With these words, Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was describing neither the Amazon nor the Far East that he explored on his intrepid travels, but somewhere much closer to home: the Vale of Neath on the southern slopes of the Brecon Beacons.
Spilling water, mossy riverbeds and tree-shrouded caverns – Waterfall Country is a ramblers dream.
Sgwd yr Eira is perhaps the best-known of all the cascades in Waterfall Country ©Getty
The sound of water
The Elidir Trail begins at a metal gate behind the Angel Inn in the village of Pontneddfechan. Words inscribed on the gate welcome you to Waterfall Country. The trail (signposted by purple way markers) retraces the footsteps of local lad Elidir who, legend has it, discovered a cave here that led to a secret fairy kingdom. You are also following the tracks of horse-drawn trams that once transported silica from mines along the gorge, evidence of which can still be seen. Look out for ‘Farewell Rock’, a slice of sandstone that towers above you on your left while the Nedd Fechan river rumbles below to the right.
The route is accessible to wheelchair users as far as the first picnic area, but then becomes rougher and more undulating before arriving at a wooden footbridge. Cross over the bridge and follow the right-hand bank of the Afon Pyrddin (and the green arrow signs) to Sgwd Glades (Lady’s Falls).
An inviting pool
Suitably refreshed, head upstream around a wide plateau of rock, over another wooden footbridge and upwards. Sgwd Ddwli Isaf (Lower Gushing Falls) soon appears – a no-nonsense fall that plunges straight down over a sudden step in the river’s rocky bed. A little further along, the trail saves its finest feature until last.
Sgwd Y Pannwr is one of many falls along the walk ©Getty
You will first glimpse Sgwd Ddwli Uchaf (Upper Gushing Falls) through the trees, before the footpath takes you to its very top. As you watch the river thundering over this classically wide, handsome waterfall, you will appreciate the power that inspired its name.
Down in the valley
After this dramatic finish, it is a gentle, 15-minute riverside stroll to the picnic area at Pont Melin-fach. Or you can go with the flow and simply follow the river on its dramatic journey back down this spectacular valley.
MapClick on the map below for an interactive version of the route
Main image ©Getty