I can’t remember when waterfalls you can walk behind first came up in conversation with my children, but they’ve been fascinated by the idea for months and months now.
Last weekend, we made that little dream a reality by visiting Sgwd yr Eira, one of the most famous waterfalls in the Brecon Beacons, and is part of the wonderfully named Waterfall Country, so called because of its abundance of falls.
Meaning Snow Waterfall in Welsh, Sgwd yr Eira is part of the Four Falls Walk. Situated between the villages of Hirwaun, Ystradfellte and Pontneddfechan, north-west of Merthyr, it took us about 40 minutes to get there from North Cardiff.
The site itself is of massive national and international environmental importance and receives around 160,000 visitors a year. Part of Fforest Fawr, a European and UNESCO Geopark, Waterfall Country is famous for its wooded gorges, caves, swallow holes and waterfalls, as well as oak and ash trees and more than 200 species of mosses, liverworts and ferns.
We arrived at 11am and spent around four hours exploring the woodlands, river banks and the waterfalls.
My children are 6¾, 5 and 2.5, so we decided the full four falls walk (which takes around five hours) may have been a bit much, in particular for my toddler. So instead we concentrated on two falls – Sgwd Yr Eira and Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn.
Most walkers park up at the official Four Falls car park at Cwm Porth Car Park. It’s a good-sized car park with picnic benches and toilet facilities and a popular base for school and youth groups going pot holing and caving and so on. However, we headed to the little car park a few miles down the road (grid reference SN 91863 10585), because it means you can get to the falls more quickly. It’s worth noting that while there are toilet facilities at the Four Falls car park, there are none at the smaller car park or in the woods.
As you would imagine, the paths are not buggy friendly. There were a few rocky paths and hills, and the ascent to Sgwd yr Eira involves around 170 steps (which you then have to climb back up), but my children managed fine. Well, I saw fine but we had the odd bout of complaining, as you would imagine with three young children. But generally it was fine.
We heard the gushing waters of Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn – the lower part of ‘the fall of the white meadow’ – before we could see it. The tree-lined and fenced path meant we had to view from the cascading falls from a distance, although you can access it from the other side of the river.
It was then around another half hour’s walk along a well sign-posted path to Sgwd Yr Eira. Along the way, we came across a beautiful footbridge which was perfect for playing pooh-sticks.
Just before we got to the steps leading down to Sgwd Yr Eira, we found a fantastic area of woodland. It was a natural playground, with half-built dens to hide in and fallen trees to climb on. As you can see from the photo, I had just as much fun as the children.
Sgwd yr Eira itself is every bit as beautiful as you would imagine, as a curtain of water from the Hepste river falls over 50-foot high cliff. The path behind the falls was once used by sheep farmers, but now it’s a well-established tourist destination and rather busy with visitors snapping away on their cameras.
The path directly to the waterfall is rocky and slippery. My eldest two managed fine but I was so worried about Toddler slipping and falling and so he ended up going on Cardiff Daddy’s shoulders.
We saw a few people who had got quite wet from the spray from the falls. We had waterproof coats on, although we saw other people with plastic ponchos. As the ground here is so wet, I think my children would have struggled in wellies. We managed fine with trainers but we deliberately chose to visit after a few dry days when we knew the woodland paths would not be too muddy. I can imagine if the weather had not been so good, proper walking boots would have been helpful.
Being behind the falls was a surreal experience. You can see where the ‘snow’ in its name comes from, with the white water falling constantly. It’s loud, too, and the spray left us all a little wet. We stayed behind the waterfall for around five minutes or so, before making our way back across the rocky side of the river bed.
And then, came the descent back up the 170 steps and the walk back to the car. On our walk to the falls, Cardiff Daddy and I had spotted a flat, accessible part of the stone-lined river bed, perfect for throwing stones into the water. We saved this for the way back and spent around half an hour here, a great way to break up the journey.