Virtual escapes: magnificent waterfalls and crashing cascades

Experience the blissful sights and sounds of the British countryside with our stay-at-home tour of Britain's most amazing waterfalls.

waterfall in autumn trees
Published: December 3rd, 2021 at 9:37 am

We all love the great outdoors, but sometimes actually getting out there can be difficult. Perhaps you have limited mobility and find the logistics of experiencing the wider landscape challenging, or maybe the Coronavirus crisis means you don’t feel comfortable travelling. Perhaps you don’t deal well with the cold, or maybe that dream location – and the time and money it takes to get there – feels just out of reach.


We at BBC Countryfile Magazine have always shared wonderful wildlife stories and beautiful landscapes, not only to inspire future trips but also as a means for vicarious adventure.

Our virtual escapes series brings together some of the most awe-inspiring nature and landscape videos from across the UK, meaning you can sit back and relax from the comfort of your home and get your fix of the great outdoors even if you can’t physically be there.

Experience the sights and sounds of the British countryside with our stay-at-home guide to the UK’s most magnificent waterfalls.

Discover more virtual escapes

Our virtual escapes series brings together a collection of spectacular films, taking you on a visual journey through the British landscape. Discover majestic mountains, shimmering shores and peaceful rivers with our virtual escapes.

Cornish coastal scenery at Porthmeor Cove near Zennor, UK

Waterfall Country, Powys

Brecon Beacons waterfall, Wales
There is no bad season to visit Waterfall Country/Credit: Michael Murphy, Getty

“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. Experience the force of the falls with this virtual visit, brought to you by James May:

Glenariff Forest Park, County Antrim

waterfall, boardwalk and river and trees
The spectacular wooden boardwalk at Glenariff Forest Park offers views of the waterfalls/Credit: Dawid Kalisinski Photography, Getty

The Rivers Glenariff and Inver have cut right through this spectacular steep-sided gorge – the Queen of the Glens. These Northern Irish rivers can be lively and dramatic as they tumble over boulders and a series of three impressive waterfalls. But then they become suddenly calm and tranquil, flowing lazily through oak and beech woodland, sunlight streaming through the fresh new leaves.

This humid and moist microclimate is home to rare ferns, mosses and liverworts, as well as spruce, fir, pine and larch.

Visit the falls from behind the lens of Gravity Films:

Pistyll Rhaeadr, Powys

The Pistyll Rhaeadr falls are born in the Berwyn mountains. The Afon Disgynfa is, at first, not unlike the other streams formed by rain leaking out of the moors.

But the Disgynfa doesn’t survive its sudden plummet over a sheer shelf of volcanic rock, a landform tough enough to have escaped the scouring of the glaciers in the last ice age.Transformed by the falls, the waters continue their journey as the Afon Rhaeadr.

Spray from the cataract nurtures mosses and ferns. Around them, protected from sheep in a walled enclosure, beeches, birches, oaks and pines thrive. From a distance, the wooded gorge and falls resemble an almost Tyrolean scene, which is usually a fecund refuge for squirrels, woodpeckers and finches sheltering from the Berwyns’ icy blasts.

Take a journey up the waterfall with Neil Godlieb's film:

Aber Falls, Gwynedd

Person and waterfall
Aber Falls in full force/Credit: Dennis George Booth, Getty Getty

Cascading through oak, birch and hazel woodlands below a scree-strewn hillside is Aber Falls. The river boasts one of the steepest gradients from source to sea in England and Wales and the 120ft-high falls are at their most impressive after heavy rains.

The woodland is a good habitat for birds, which are more easily spotted in the winter months when the trees have no leaves. Look out for dippers bobbing on the boulders in the river, while ravens, buzzards and peregrines soar in the skies above.

More like this

Witness Aber Falls from the air with this video from Bangor University:

Waterfalls gallery

Pistyll Cain, Gwynedd

Pistyll Cain, Snowdonia
Pistyll Cain is one of several waterfalls in Coed y Brenin forest/Credit: James Wood

In Snowdonia’s rain-soaked forests, everything is clean and wet. Mist rises, trees transpire, moisture kisses your skin and wets your lips. Oxygen-rich air lifts your spirits and the sound of water fills your ears as it trickles down tracks, bubbles through moss, and crashes in creeks.

The Mawddach bashes and caresses the rocks in its bouldery creek. Flashing water, too swift for plants to grow in, scours the rock and shingle bare. As you leave the evergreens for broadleaf woodland it sounds louder, ricocheting round its rocky creek, the whisky-coloured water exploding into jacuzzis of white bubbles.

At Pistyll Cain, the noise is cacophonous. You can see the falls well enough from the footbridge, but if you’re sure-footed you can scramble around the slippery rocks to perch where little plants grow in crevices. White water plummets into the canyon down a stepped cliff, crashing with such force into the dark pool that it creates a permanent uprush of wave and spray, its turbulence shifting the air into cool thrilling winds

More than 30 species of mammals have been recorded within a five mile radius of Coed y Brenin, including water voles. Check out Jack Perks' incredible underwater footage of these elusive animals:

High Force, County Durham

Waterfall, river and trees
High Force waterfall in full flow/Credit: David Head, Getty

You’ll hear the roar of High Force long before you see the falls. The first sighting, from a juniper thicket on the lip of the gorge, is rendered even more impressive by its abruptness.

People often mistakenly name High Force, which is 21.5m (70ft) tall, the highest waterfall in England. But it’s Cautley Spout in the Yorkshire Dales, which boasts a single 76m (249ft) drop, that truly deserves the title. High Force is, however, England’s largest waterfall by volume – something that you can’t fail to notice as you watch the thunderous deluge from your vantage point.

The upper whinstone layers of High Force contrast sharply with the lower, sandstone, shale and limestone. The water erodes these softer rocks more quickly, to the extent that periodically, they can no longer support the harder dolerite, which collapses into the river. The waterfall has so far retreated 700m (2,297ft) into its gorge.

Experience High Force bliss with this aerial tour from SlammDunk Productions:

Falls of Clyde, New Lanark

Forest and waterfall
Falls of Clyde in early autumn/Credit: Stuart Stevenson, Getty Getty

This achingly beautiful wild haven in southern Scotland is famous for its spectacular salmon leap waterfalls and scenic woodland walks along the river. Over 100 bird species have been recorded, including ravens, dippers and kingfishers along with bats, otters and badgers.

Discover the falls in spate with this film by Greenock Drone Guy:

Lydford Gorge, Devon

Lydford Gorge
Lydford Gorge is found on the western boundary of Dartmoor National Park/ Credit: unknown, Getty

Lydford Gorge is a sylvan delight of laurel, cherry, elm and lime trees. You might catch the blue flash of a kingfisher or a heron lifting elegantly from the water as you encounter the impressive White Lady Waterfall.

This is the deepest gorge in south-west England and includes beautiful ancient oak woodland; the trees’ fresh green leaves newly unfurled. A series of spectacular potholes line the gorge, the largest of which is Devil’s Cauldron. After heavy rain, dramatic whirlpools form in the craterous riverbed.

Drop beneath the the water at the base of White Lady Waterfall with the National Trust:

Falls of North East Scotland

Salar the salmon may long ago have turned up his tail fin, but kin of Henry Williamson’s feisty fish still return to the rivers of Britain in significant numbers, particularly in autumn.

Their aim is simple – to reach spawning grounds in the higher reaches of clean, fast-flowing rivers where they themselves were born. This is perfect for eggs and milt to intermingle to secure the next generation of this king of fish.

Countless obstacles block the salmon’s progress from sea to spawning beds; some, such as nets, otters and fishermen, are ephemeral; others are far more formidable barriers, of which waterfalls are the most spectacular and challenging.


This film by Project Media: Conservation Through Education explores the life of the Atlantic salmon, including its incredible navigation of north-east Scotland's waterfalls:


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