Bright water: visiting waterfalls in Wales

Cool in summer, sculptural in winter, wreathed in myths and fringed with ferns, there’s something truly magical about Welsh waterfalls. Tumbling over cliffs and down steep-sided gorges, they add a delightful extra dimension to woodland walks.
 

The tallest waterfall in Wales 

Pistyll Rhaeadr Waterfall, Powys, Mid Wales

For the tallest, you’ll need to head for the River Rhaeadr near Llanrhaeadr in the Berwyn Mountains, close to the English border. At 80m, Pistyll Rhaeadr, the highest single drop waterfall in the UK, is considerably higher than the Niagara Falls. It’s always enchanting and, on the rare occasions that it freezes into an ice sculpture, delightfully spooky. From the car park, there’s a short walk to the base, or a 20 minute climb to the top.

Walks in waterfall country

Sgwd Henrhyd / Henrhyd Waterfall, Brecon Beacons

The forested gorges between the villages of Pontneddfechan and Ystradfellte in the Fforest Fawr Geopark in the far southwest of Brecon Beacons National Park have so many cascades, they’re called Waterfall Country. Visit the Waterfalls Centre at Pontneddfechan to find out about the geology and mythology of its main rivers, the Mellte, Sychryd, Hepste and Nedd Fechan, and explore this magical region on foot.

There are several walking trails, which start from the Waterfalls Centre and wind through shady gorges forested with sessile oaks, the national tree of Wales, and scented with wild garlic. 

One path leads to the River Hepste’s Sgwd Yr Eira, which translates as Snow Falls. Here, you can step right behind the curtain of water as it pours over a mossy rock face, fuzzed with foliage, into a natural plunge pool. 

Nedd Fechan River, Pontneddfechan, Brecon Beacons

The Sychryd Cascades on the River Sychryd are easily accessible too, even for wheelchairs and pushchairs. Then there’s the Elidir Trail along the River Nedd Fechan, this trail passes 4 lovely waterfalls and allows a short detour to Sgwd Gwladus (Lady Falls), a very pretty cascade named after a mythical princess called Gwladus.

Sgwd Henrhyd (Henrhyd Falls) in the Nant Llech valley, further west, is the highest waterfall in South Wales, with a drop of 27m. There’s a National Trust car park nearby, just outside the village of Coelbren. From here, it’s a short, steep and rocky but very nice walk to the falls.

Trust car park nearby, just outside the village of Coelbren. From here, it’s a short and lovely walk to the falls.

Swallow Falls

Swallow Falls waterfall near Betws y Coed

Swallow Falls, Snowdonia by Wales on View

For pure romance, Swallow Falls on the River Llugwy in Snowdonia are hard to beat. They’re easy to reach as they’re just off the A5, around 2.5 miles east of Betws-y-Coed. There are viewpoints on each bank, very close to the rushing water. If you’re taking a trip on the Talyllyn Railway, hop off at Dolgoch station and you can take a beautiful woodland walk to the Dolgoch Falls, a series of three small but very lively cascades whose banks are carpeted with rare mosses and ferns.

Hidden in the heart of Devil’s Bridge the spectacular Mynach Falls drop 300ft in a series of pretty cascades. A challenging circular nature trail will lead you through the sessile oak woods, deep down into the gorge. Views of the waterfalls will be revealed along the way from many different viewing points. ‘Mynach’ falls translates as ‘Monks’ falls but it’s said that the devil built the first of the three bridges that span across the river near the top of the waterfalls. Tourists have visited the village of Devil’s Bridge for hundreds of years to view the waterfalls and bridges, and to ride on the Vale of Rheidol Railway which travels the scenic 12 miles between Devil’s Bridge and Aberystwyth.