What is it about waterfalls? There’s something surreally magical about a torrent of water plunging off a cliff and into a crystal pool. They belong in fairy tales, or Hollywood fantasies. Like the 2012 Batman film The Dark Knight Rises, in which the Batcave was hidden behind – wait for it – Henrhyd Falls, the tallest of dozens of cascades in the western Brecons Beacons, the bit of Wales known as ‘Waterfall Country’.
Before you set off
Please be aware the roads around many waterfalls can be very narrow, and are often single track with little visibility and few passing places. Be prepared to give way and reverse on narrow lanes. Before making your trip, please check the Brecon Beacons website for up-to-date information.
- Please note that none of the waterfalls are close to the car parks.
- All car parks are cash only so please ensure you have change with you to pay for your parking.
- Make sure to follow one-way advisory signage where requested.
- Car parks are small and get very busy, and are often full by midday.
- Keep an eye on Brecon Beacons social media for any important announcements on the day you are visiting.
Looking after yourself and the countryside
Waterfall Country is a fragile landscape that can be easily damaged. Follow these guidelines and help preserve its beauty.
- Keep on the waymarked paths – they will offer you the safest route.
- If you bring it here, take it home – litter can spoil everyone’s visit.
- Watch where you step! – plants, especially mosses, are fragile and slow growing and easily trampled.
- Fires are devastating, leave standing and fallen trees for the wildlife.
- Peace and quiet are appreciated by the local residents, both people and animals.
Exploring the outdoors is fantastic fun, but please read up on the risks and make sure you are prepared.
- Find safety advice for exploring Wales' National Parks.
- Visit AdventureSmart.uk for information on how to stay safe whilst exploring Wales.
You can see why Hollywood chose Henrhyd Falls. As well as being epically tall, it’s one of the easiest falls to reach: a short, steep walk down steps from the National Trust-run car park, and you soon arrive at the foot of a jaw-dropping 27-metre cascade.
Spectacular as this is, the true heart of Waterfall Country lies a few miles to the east, where three rivers – the Mellte, Hepste and Neddfechan - have carved their way through soft rocks to create steep wooded gorges full of caves and cascades.
Four Falls walks
On a bright February morning, my children and I are setting off to discover some of the most stunning, on what’s known as the Four Falls walk. It begins in the Cwm Porth car park, where the River Mellte vanishes into the biggest cave entrance in Wales. It’s hugely popular with potholers, and we can hear the chatter of several school groups echoing from the caverns down below.
As we walk alongside the dried river bed, it’s odd to think that the actual river is thundering through tunnels far beneath our feet. When it eventually emerges, a few hundred metres downstream at the aptly-named Blue Pool, it becomes a lovely woodland stream, where we stop to watch a pair of dippers, a pretty little bird which feeds by walking along the river bed.
Before long, we arrive at Sgwd Clun-Gwyn – the ‘fall of the white meadow’, which is actually two sets of falls, a few hundred metres apart. The upper falls are the highest - a broad Niagara with a scarily big drop – but we like the lower falls even more: a picturesque series of cascades that flow like a magical staircase into a steep gorge. It’s popular with white-water kayakers and, in summer, canyoning groups, although today we’ve got the place entirely to ourselves.
From here we walk along the river to Sgwd y Pannwr, whose Welsh name reveals that it was once used for washing wool. Here I demonstrate my epic parenting skills by producing a flask of hot chocolate, which will prepare us for the 30-minute hike to our final stop, Sgwd yr Eira, the ‘waterfall of snow’.
Walk behind a curtain of water
This is the most photographed of all our waterfalls, because you can actually walk behind the curtain of thundering water on a rough path used by sheep farmers. Today it’s looking especially pretty, with icicles hanging from its fringes, and pied wagtails frolicking in the spray below. Every country in the world has its ‘hidden gems’, but this genuinely deserves the title. It’s a perfect spot, made all the more special because it’s far from any road.
A word of advice on the walk, by the way: it’s safest to stick to the waymarked trail, which tends to follow higher ground. You can follow the rough riverside paths, but there are moments when the path hugs the cliff on one side, with a scary drop on the other – definitely not the place to be with young children, especially when the rivers are in full spate. The Four Falls is a long walk, too – at least three hours, plus snack-stops, with a fair amount of up-and-down terrain, and no toilets en-route.
But as an unforgettable family experience – well, Waterfall Country beats anything that Hollywood has to offer. Sorry, Batman.