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Wales: Waterfalls

We had planned to hike the Beacons on our first day in Wales but the weather forecast—for very high winds—gave us pause. Fortunately there was a more than adequate substitute hike that would keep us out of the wind: Wood of the Waterfalls [Coed y Rhaeadr]. The mildly strenuous walk (made somewhat more difficult by dampness) along the Rivers Mellte and Hepste was thoroughly enjoyable and the waterfalls were just gorgeous. And, being some kind of waterfall connoisseurs after all our hiking in Colorado, we know what we're talking about!

You can read more about our waterfalls hike in this blog post.

Such lovely scenery warranted the taking of many photos. This page displays a selection of our favorites, but many, many more can be found in this Flickr set. I've organized the Flickr set to mimic our experiences of the hike, with first Henry's photos in the order taken, then mine. The photos on this page are also organized to display the falls in the order that we saw them. I'm giving them their lovely Welsh names, with translations when I can find them. In addition to "rhaeadr" meaning waterfall, "sgwd" also does, and that's the word used for each of the falls on our hiking map, obtained at the very helpful Mountain Centre.

Before the first waterfall, though, we took a little side trip to see Porth yr Ogof (which means "mouth of the cave"), the largest cave entrance in Wales. It's a beautiful and impressive cave, even just seen from the outside, which swallows the River Mellte temporarily, before it can emerge a ways downstream and make the wonderful waterfalls we saw later.

Here I am standing by a little side entrance, our first look at the main entrance, and a warning sign posted nearby:

me at Porth yr Ogof
Porth yr Ogof
warning sign at Porth yr Ogof

Here are a couple of closer looks at the entrance and the incredibly clear water flowing into it:

cave entrance [spacer] cave entrance

And, pulling back a bit, you can get a better idea of the scale of Porth yr Ogof with a tourist in the frame. The photo on the left is looking in, and on the right is looking out. Henry didn't go in too far (he remembered the sign!) but couldn't resist going in a ways and looking back out.

Porth yr Ogof [spacer] looking out of Porth yr Ogof

You might have noticed in some of these previous photos the long, flat shelves of black slate. Here's a better look at these handsome rocks, with which we were to become quite familiar during the rest of our hike:

shelves of slate by Porth yr Ogof

The first fall on our circuit was Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, the one furthest upstream on the River Mellte. I couldn't find a definite translation of the Welsh, but looking at the individual words in the University of Wales' nifty dictionary, I came up with something like "white (or blessed?) leg waterfall." By whatever name, though, it was beautiful:

Sgwd Clun Gwyn [spacer] Sgwd Clun Gwyn
Sgwd Clun Gwyn

Along the trail between waterfalls, there was plenty of other scenery to impress. Great trees, for one thing, like these:

tree near Sgwd Clun Gwyn [spacer] trees along the trail [spacer] woods along the trail

The second fall is the most famous, the star of the circuit, Sgwd yr Eira [Falls of the Snow]. It's the only fall we saw on the River Hepste, not far upstream from its confluence with the Mellte. Due to the rainier than usual summer, all of the falls were flowing in spectacular fashion, and Sgwd yr Eira was especially voluminous. One of the other hikers there said it was flowing 10 times heavier than on some of his other visits. And we got to see all this water up close and personal, since you can actually walk behind the falls—no doubt a big reason it's the most popular spot on the trail.

On the left below is how it looked as we approached it, and on the right is a shot from the other side, after our transit behind the tumult:

Sgwd yr Eira
[spacer] Sgwd yr Eira
Sgwd yr Eira

And here we are on that transit, fully enveloped (or so it felt) in the roaring waters, then exiting along the shelf on the other side. The barely discernible figure with the somewhat ineffectual umbrella on the left is me about to enter. Thank goodness we were wearing somewhat quick-drying clothes!

behind Sgwd yr Eira [spacer] behind Sgwd yr Eira

Here's another look at this lovely fall including other tourists. There were many more hikers here than anywhere else along our hike:

Sgwd yr Eira

The trail was heavily wooded, so there weren't a lot of open vistas, but here are a couple of photos that can give you an idea of the countryside away from the rivers. Such lovely fall color!

along the trail [spacer] along the trail

Number three on the circuit took us back to the Mellte, and since it's the farthest from any of the car parks, it's little visited and we had it to ourselves. It's called Sgwd y Pannwyr, translated as Falls of the Fuller (so their must have been some sort of mill here at one time? we saw no evidence of it). Less spectacular than Sgwd yr Eira, I still think it was my favorite of the four falls we saw. A lovely feature it sports is this little "pre-fall," a great showcase of that fine Welsh slate:

Sgwd y Pannwyr
me at Sgwd yr Pannwyr
Sgwd yr Pannwyr

And here's the main fall, certainly quite impressive at these water levels. I wonder if the "pre-fall" dries up when rainfall is below normal? I'm sure the main fall wouldn't be as wide in those conditions.

Sgwd yr Pannwyr [spacer]

Getting to the last waterfall, Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn, involved some very strenuous climbing and clambering on some of that lovely slate. We think we might have gotten off the trail, which made our descent more difficult, but we weren't ever in danger of getting lost. "Isaf" means lowest, but it doesn't refer to the height of the fall, which was impressive. It's just downstream from Clun Gwyn.

Here's a look from up top down at the falls, and a shot of Henry sitting by the river at the bottom:

Sgwn Isaf Clun-Gwyn
[spacer] Henry at Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn

Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn twists and turns a bit, which makes it difficult to get a portrait-type photo of the whole thing. But we tried!

Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn
[spacer] Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn

Finally, here's what the River Mellte looks like, when it's not falling so photogenically—still very scenic!

River Mellte [spacer] River Mellte

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