Before Lockdown 2.0 set in, Mr Fletche and I headed back to the Herefordshire countryside for an autumn minibreak. And despite rumours of Wales beginning to shut up shop in preparation for their two week “Fire Break”, we snuck over the border to hike the Four Waterfalls Trail.
I’d foolishly planned to double up the Four Waterfalls Trail with walking up Pen y Fan back in August. However I’d forgotten that I was far too unfit to manage multiple hikes in one day. Plus I had an afternoon tea booked in Llandeilo which took priority. This time, we made the walk our sole planned activity. It’s a 80 minute drive from our Herefordshire base to Ystradfellte in the Brecon Beacons National Park – with a couple of additional photo opportunity stops on the way.
The trail starts at the Gwaun Hepste Car Park (CF44 9JF). Look out for the brown signs for Ystradfellte from the main routes through the national park. Gwaun Hepste is a pay and display car park which costs £4 for the day (card payments are accepted). There are handy portaloos on site – I never miss an opportunity to spend a hypothetical penny.
It’s by no means a long walk, coming in at around 5.5 miles, but it’s also no walk in the park. There are some never-ending hills, and lots and lots of slippery steps if you want to get a good view of the falls. So sturdy walking shoes are a must. And probably something waterproof if you’re intending on getting up close and personal with the waterfalls.
The full route, including the additional paths down to the falls, will take around 3-4 hours so make sure you plan enough time. It’s clearly waymarked so you know you’re heading in the right direction. There’s a route map here.
One benefit of travelling on an off-season weekday, in the middle of a global pandemic, is that the whole trail was relatively quiet. I can imagine you’d struggle to get a car parking space in high season, and would have to join a snaking queue to get a decent selfie in front of the falls. So plan your trip wisely if you can.
You have to work to get to the waterfalls. The trail from the car park to the head of first set of falls, Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, is around a 30 minute walk. As we fork off the paved path into woodland, the trail descends. Which is fine now, but not so fine when you’re walking back up later.
We realise when we reach the junction above the first waterfall that the red route is a circular walk which doesn’t really take you near any waterfall action. So we head onto the green route to get a closer look. Being October, the falls are nowhere near full flow but it’s impressive all the same. I’m buoyed by the knowledge from prior research that the waterfalls get more and more spectacular as we continue.
We retrace our steps back to the red route. This has been the easiest of the falls to access. We don’t know this yet. We make our way through the woodland paths. I stop to pick up acorns along the way, not entirely sure what I’m planning to do with them.
We leave the relative ease of the red route to head down towards our second set of falls. And down. And down some more. A kind gentleman making his way back up warns us of a steep and slippery rock staircase below. We gingerly make our way down, memories of Mr Fletche’s recent hiking incident chiming in our brains. Sgwd y Pannwr is a wide 15m cascade, flowing over multiple cliff edges, and is probably my favourite of the falls. It’s also the perfect place to linger for a while. Especially after that descent.
We head along the river toward the third fall, Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn. We soon realise that to get the best view we would need to climb up a steep rocky slope. The rocks are slick with spray from the waterfalls, and we judge this one an unnecessary detour. If climbing up is dangerous, coming back down would be nigh on crazy. Neither of us fancy adding Mountain Rescue to our lists of emergency services required this year.
So we head back to Sgwd y Pannwr; the flat riverside rocks provide a perfect spot for a picnic.
As if the descent and the ascent from Sgwd y Pannwr wasn’t enough, it’s another 170 or so horribly steep steps down to the final waterfall. But it certainly doesn’t disappoint. A broad curtain of water tumbles 50ft to the pool below. You’ll definitely hear the roar of the falls before you see them, and the spray can be felt some distance away.
If you’re feeling brave, you can pick your way across the rocks and walk behind the cascading veil of Sgwd-yr-Eira. My legs are still wobbly from the descent on the rocky staircase so I decide not to risk life and limb just for an Instagram pic. Instead, we head back up those 170 steps for the final leg of the walk – the return to the car park.
This is a spectacular walk, and although the final leg from Sgwd-y-Eira was an arduous slog at times – after all, what goes down must come back up – it’s a moderate walk which is suitable for most. We had the beauty of the autumn colours, but I can imagine that each season brings its own charms. I wouldn’t have fancied the rocky staircases if it has been raining heavily so I was thankful for a dry day beforehand.
The Four Waterfalls walk was definitely worth the trip, and worth gushing about. Pun absolutely intended.
Want to read more about waterfalls on our travels? How about Plitvice, and Krka, both in Croatia? Or the falls along the stunning Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies? Or closer to home, back in Wales, that time I jumped over a waterfall that was rudely blocking my path?