Four falls walk in the Brecon Beacons

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Despite living in Bristol for the last 13 years, I have hardly visited the Brecon Beacons. In fact, I think before Saturday, I had only been there once when friends and I climbed the Cat’s back mountain earlier this year. Climbing the Cat’s back was brilliant, apart from the fact my Morrisons own brand thermos did not come through and when I reached the top, unscrewed the bottle and poured a cup of tea that I had looked forward to for the past 2 hours of climbing snowy ridges I found it was ice cold. This weekend, Zoe and I (following a recommendation from a friend) decided to head over the Severn bridge and complete the four falls walk. Following aforementioned tea incident it also gave me the chance to try out my PROPER thermos which I got for my Birthday, believe it or not I’m actually 31 and not 75. As the name suggests, the route takes you to see 4 waterfalls – Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd y Pannwr and Sgwd-yr-Eira and it was so much fun that I wanted to write a blog post about it.

We parked at Gwaun Hepste carpark (CF44 9JF) after heading to the Cwn Porth carpark and finding it full (same postcode and very close by). We arrived at 11am and the warden said in that in half an hour that carpark would be full too so leave early to avoid disappointment. Parking cost £4. There were v.helpful people there in hi-vis who could talk you through the route, toilets aaaand a little campervan serving hot drinks and cakes.



The route is well marked with red arrows to follow. There are green arrows too but the nice man in high-vis said this was a more direct waterfall to waterfall route but was treacherous, rocky and slippy. We stuck to the red arrows but still managed to get a bit lost. We were told to head to the first waterfall, then go to the third and fourth and then see the second one on our loop back to the car. We ended up ignoring him and instead did them in the order we found them in. Warning: each waterfall requires climbing down to the river and then slogging it back up to the main path again. Also it is fairly rocky in places (despite us being good gals and following the red arrows) so good shoes are a must.

Sgwd Clun-Gwyn

The walk to the first waterfall is absolutely beautiful and you get some amazing views out across the Beacons. The descent to Sgwd Clun-Gwyn is steep, but short. The first waterfall is the easiest to access as it is the closest to the main trail. My photo is from right at the top of this fall and doesn’t do it justice, the water cascades down to a deep and beautiful pool at the bottom and it started to make me feel hungry for a wild swim (more on that later). I found that each waterfall got better and better as we found them but this first find still took my breath away and I happily could have sat next to it for hours and watched the water falling over the rocks. But, I had three more waterfalls to find and a finite amount of energy so on we went.

Sgwd-yr-Eira

This was the waterfall we were meant to see last but ended up seeing second. It had the steepest and most strenuous climb down and back up so before we headed to see it, we stopped for some lunch at the picnic benches we passed on our way. We later found loads more idyllic picnic spots right next to the water so there are plenty of places to rest as and when you need to and prettier places to eat your sandwiches. When you reach the bottom of a set of deep steps you are greeted by the large flowing river. However, this time, the river side is very narrow and there are rocks you need to climb over. We saw someone having a photo taken and falling in, in their jeans. Schadenfreude. This is the largest of the falls and you can even walk directly behind it and pretend your Peter Andre in the Mysterious girl video.

Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn

After climbing back up the many many steps we realised we had gone the wrong way but a friendly passerby set us back on course to find the 3rd and 4th falls. The descent to the river is long and steep and is made via sharp flights of steps and a muddy path. There is a large space of flat rocks at the bottom right next to the river which would be a great place to stop. We decided to spend some time paddling our feet in the water and climbing around the rocks. We also stopped to watch a group of people canyon-ing who were jumping off the top of the waterfall which was incredible!

Sgwd y Pannwr

The final waterfall was tricky to find as it wasn’t well signposted. It is really close to the Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn but you have to climb up the bank of twisted tree roots and rocks to find it. Basically, follow the sound of the roaring water – it’s worth it. This waterfall was a fantastic finale and as you climb down from the top you can walk alongside the water’s path as it gathers in parts creating large pools. It was at this point that Zoe dared me to go for a swim. So I whipped off my leggings and got in, in my vest top and pants. This happened to co-inside with the group of canyoners arriving in their full wetsuits, trainers and helmets. They definitely thought I was mad. The water was freezing but beautiful to swim in. I lasted less than 2 minutes before jumping out and desperately tried not to flash any onlookers whilst navigating an inside out jumper with hands that had gone numb. I imagine a swim here in the Summer would be heavenly but no doubt the trail gets jam-packed with people so it would therefore lose a bit of it’s charm.



Clothes back on and feeling returned to my body, we started the journey back to the car with the thought of my thermos full of hot tea and a milky bar encouraging each (uphill) step. The walk took us 4 hours to complete at a leisurely place including a stop of lunch and impromptu dip. After downing my tea and munching through our chocolate I promptly fell asleep the whole way back to Bristol. What a fantastic day.

If you like to be extra organised, you can find a proper map of the route here. The trail is described as an intermediate walk and includes muddy paths, steep descents and strenuous ascents. 


What 2021 taught me

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2021 was a funny old year wasn’t? I started it allowing myself to feel a tiny bit hopeful that we would see the end of Covid’s impact on our day to day lives. In reality, it has been so confusing and tiring that I now see 2021 and 2020 as one big blur in my head. I let that tiny bit of hope on the 31st December 2020 encourage me to throw some ideas out into the Universe just incase something sticks. I didn’t end up consistently using Duolingo but I did use Olio a lot more. I gave up on 1 second every day (because I missed a day or two and then the perfectionist in me told me I might as well stop all together) but I did buy a house. So I’m taking that as a win. Even though the past year has been an absolute clusterfuck, it has taught me a lot and I wanted to take a bit of time to appreciate those lessons.

January
January taught me that I could get through hard things. We went into our 3rd lockdown in our one bed flat and we did all we could to keep our spirits up (strictly no Zoom quizzes). I fell off my bike and then made myself ride it home again because I knew if I didn’t, I’d have the wobblies forever. I went for walks and runs with friends, even in the snow. It was a slow start to the year but I leaned into it.

March
March taught me that sometimes smaller Birthdays are better. It was my 30th this month and I always thought that my 30th would be when I would go all out. I am usually pretty extra when it comes to my Birthdays and stretch out the attention as long as I can with numerous different plans with different friendship groups and family members. It’s fun until it isn’t and I end up exhausted and inevitably have a break down. Instead of launching into a week long festival style celebration of another year of me I spent the day with Zoe in our flat. She gave me a spa day, made an amazing charcuterie board lunch, organised an online horror escape room with my best friends and made it v.v.special. I loved every minute of it and it’s encouraged me to keep my Birthday small going forward – it’s much nicer.



June
June taught me that I am a real grown up when Zoe and I got the keys for our new house. The process of buying a house was eXtremely stressful and I could have just summed up January – May by saying ‘These months taught me that buying a house is hard’. It was so worth it in the end. We found our dream house that we could make our own, it has 2 bedrooms, a dining room, a kitchen, a living room, a dining room and a garden! It’s in a lovely pocket of Bristol and I now say every day, without fail ‘I love this house’. It’s the best thing I have ever done, with the best person I have ever met.



July

July taught me that I should take myself on dates often. Growing up, I haaaated spending time by myself and regularly spent the Summer holidays counting down until the start of school but as I have grown up I love being on my own. I love being selfish with my time and doing exactly what I want to do. It fills up my self love cup and makes me a nicer person to be around once I am done being by myself. This month I took myself on solo lunch dates and solo cinema trips to see musicals that no-one else wants to see. I sand along, ate popcorn and cried. It’s better than therapy (not really – *see November).

August

August taught me that holidaying in the UK can be wonderful. We went on a mini road-trip of Cornwall for a week and spent our days swimming in the sea, walking, reading, eating and being together. I highly recommend it. August also taught me that I really wanted guinea pigs for pets (who I am kidding) I’ve known since I was 14 and my last of 4 guinea pigs passed away – RIP Snowy, Sooty, Patch and Fudge, that as soon as I had a house of my own, I wanted piggies back in my life. After some excellent persuading/begging on my part – Zoe agreed and after our holiday, I picked up Rhubarb and Custard who quickly changed my life forever. I completely fell in love with them, my mental health improved and I honestly felt like the luckiest girl in the world to call them mine.

September

September taught me that I didn’t want to drink anymore. There was no final blow out or bad drunken decision which lead to this but more a quiet bubbling under the surface which finally came to a solid plan this month. Zoe sent me this article last week and it absolutely sums up how I feel about alcohol. Because I am rubbish with rules and any thing I commit to I immediately want to rebel against I am not saying I am sober and never drinking again. If I want to drink, I will but so far I haven’t wanted to and I am thoroughly enjoying the benefits of that.

October
October taught me that grieving for a pet is necessary and the pain of this loss is very real. A tragedy meant that Rhubarb and Custard were taken from us far too soon. It is no exaggeration to say that my heart shattered. Just before this loss I was signed off work for 1 month due to declining mental health and the loss of the girls came at the worst possible time. However, October also taught me that processing difficult things has to happen for you to be able to move forward. I spent this month doing a lot of crying but I also spent this month leaning on loved ones and letting myself be held. It was very tough but very necessary.

November

November taught me that I deserve good things. I was able to adopt 2 senior guinea pigs from a local rescue and although they won’t ever replace Rhubarb and Custard, they helped my heart to heal. They are called Cookie and Snoop and I am obsessed with them. I returned to work and felt calmer, more present and confident. However, October and November also taught me that I needed some more therapy. However much I begrudged the cost, the results have been worth it sevenfold. I felt safe to share things I have never shared before and I put in the work. I found someone who helped change my relationship with my body and food forever.



December

December taught me about rest which is a lesson I need often. An ongoing issue with my knees saw me finally visiting a physio who has signed me off running for around 3 months and given me daily exercises to do. I am hopeful that I will be back racing soon but for now I am taking things slowly and enjoying swimming, walking and stretching. I also followed a busy Christmas with a lovely few days of resting (my final day before the return going to work being tomorrow) and I feel really refreshed for it. Endless cups of tea, cross stitch and reading have made me very happy – as well as regular guinea pig cuddles.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the year ahead will teach me. 2022, I’m ready for you.

Sea swimming in Cornwall

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Goodness me. I haven’t written a blog post in 2 months. I guess I have been busy getting back into the groove of the ‘new-normal’, returning to the office, being social again and.. getting guinea pigs! More on that another time. Recently, Zoe and I took ourselves on a mini road trip around the Cornish coast and it was a joy. We stayed in 4 different places (including a book-ended trip to my parent’s house where they happily did mountains of clothes washing for us, offered endless cups of tea and there was my elderly cat to cuddle. Lush). Our 3 other stops were in the areas of Polzeath, St Agnes and Penzance. Despite being a Cornish gal, I haven’t actually been to that many different parts of my home county and it was so nice to have the time to explore various beaches, towns, coves and cream tea offerings. I thought it would be fun to do a round up of the trip via our outdoor swims and the snacks we ate afterwards.

Seaton

Our first swim took place the evening that we arrived at my parent’s house who are based in Saltash (a place I regularly moaned about growing up but now love to return to. Absolute small town vibes but a stones throw from some amazing beauty spots). After dinner my Dad suggested we kicked off our Cornish adventure with an evening dip at Seaton. Seaton is a large, pebbly beach with a carpark right next to it meaning no climbing required. It is very busy in the Summer days and popular with families and dogs but at around 7pm when we headed there it was fairly quiet with lingering day time bbq-ers and a few brave kids in wetsuits dipping their toes. This is the first evening sea swim I have done in a while. I will say now that all of our swims were cold, initially, but after the initial shock passed it felt great. Getting your chest/shoulders in is definitely the hardest bit, I usually wait to do this until my legs have adapted – or maybe gone numb. We bobbed about for around 20 minutes and revelled in the fact that our holiday had begun. We got changed gracefully underneath our towels before Zoe ventured into the v.fancy restaurant to ask for two takeaway hot chocolates, with whipped cream and marshmallows, obviously. It turns out that I can stress about money no end but will happily depart with £7 for two hot chocs after a swim without a second thought and did so regularly on this holiday. We took said hot chocolates to another level by dipping in some salty pretzel filled milk chocolate from Aldi which was a taste sensation. After warming up we went for a walk along the coast path. There is a really nice pathed walk underneath some houses that look straight out of ‘Selling sunset’ and some rocks to climb if you’re feeling adventurous.

Swim rating: A solid 7/10. Got the holiday off to a great start
Snack rating: 8/10. Anything involving two types of chocolate doesn’t deserve anything less
Beach rating: 4/10. Severe lack of amenities. Wouldn’t go here for a ‘day on the beach’ but nice for a walk or swim




Tregonhawke

Tregonhawke beach is probably my favourite beach in Cornwall. It’s what my Mum calls a ‘locals beach’ but I think it is more that a lot of people can’t arsed with the effort required to climb down and back up to your car. It is steep but worth it, promise. We parked at the top of the cliffs in a farmer’s field (£5 for the day). You can park on the side of the road but there are strict rules on wheel placement and rumour has it that if your car wheel is placed at an angle and onto the main stretch of road, you’ll get a ticket. We met our friends April and Lucy and their dog Ruby and spent such a nice day in the sunshine. Tregonhawke is part of Whitsands bay and is biiiiig. There is plenty of space even though we were there on a bank holiday August weekend. We spent a good hour in the sea before deciding to hire a paddleboard (£10 for an hour) from the rental shack next to the café. It was great fun but the waves made standing atop of the board extremely difficult so we mainly stayed on our knees and pursuaded someone else to push us around. We even got Ruby to have a go, but she wasn’t so sure.

After our paddle boarding we headed to the café for snacks and managed to get ice-creams and fresh watermelon slices! The café does loads of great options including hot food and they have an adorable pully system that carries the stock down the cliff to them. There isn’t a loo so you either need to climb back up the cliff or use the sea (no number twos allowed). Before returning to the car we were eager to find a giant rock pool that we had seen last time we visited when we looked over the cliff top. We had seen a woman swimming there naked and she looked like an actual mermaid. To get there we had to walk the length of the beach towards Sharrow point and tuck in to the cliff. I wasn’t feeling so confident we would find it and worried that the mermaid we had seen was the result of severe dehydration but we turned the corner and it was there! There were 2 young girls and their Dad jumping in from a rock (it was sooo deep) but they left after a little while and we had our own little spot of paradise. We kept our cossies on but did decided to eat some seaweed for a dare and I impressed myself by not being scaredy cat and jumping in from what felt like a dizzying height but doesn’t look so impressive on the video.

Swim rating: 9/10. Absolutely dreamy, added hilarity of trying to paddleboard earned this swim an extra point
Snack rating: 5/10. Aldi’s own brand ice-creams being flogged at Magnum prices
Beach rating: 9/10. If there was a loo on the beach I honestly think it would be deserving of 10/10




Trevaunance Cove

On our way to our first Air BnB we decided to stop off at Trevaunance Cove to break up the journey. We parked at the top of the cliff at a place that only accepted change so I had to ask someone to lend us 10p. We then found out there was a cheaper and card accepting car park right by the cove. You live and learn. When we arrived you could barely see the beach but there were a few keen people sat on rocks waiting for it to appear. It did slowly get bigger throughout the morning but it was still a small space which got very busy! That being said, we managed to find a nice spot on a stone step providing an excellent back rest for reading. In fact we got so involved in our books that we hadn’t realised we were sat in complete shadow once the sun had come out so we relocated once we could see some sand.

The sea was choppy and there were a lot of children with body boards meaning we had to swim out a little way to get some space. Despite that it was a really nice spot which boasted toilets(!!!), an RNLI charity shop, a v.boujie restaurant and a decent café serving sandwiches, cakes, pasties, ice-creams and more. As we finished our swim prior to the sun appearing we opted for hot chocolate after a quick change hidden behind an unclaimed beach hut where I definitely flashed my bum by atleast 3 times (not on purpose).

Swim rating: 5/10
Snack rating: 7/10. A score to match the cost of 2 hot chocolates. They were better than the ones at Seaton but I didn’t have any pretzel chocolate to dunk. Gutting
Beach rating: 5/10




Polzeath

Polzeath is touristy heaaaaven. There are tons of gift shops, cafés, ice-cream and fish and chip shops and lots of posh looking people ready to spend their money.. not as posh as the people seen in Padstow and St Ives but still second-home-by the-sea level. We parked in a farmer’s field again for £5 and these farmers must be making a bloody fortune. We ended up right by the main strip of shops and close to the beach. There was a car park closer but this was jam (after the cream) packed. The beach was full to the brim of people and it felt like a proper brits at the seaside sort of day. There were endless amounts of group going for surf lessons but a distinct lack of waves which made watching their lesson very entertaining.

Similar to Trevaunance cove we had to swim a little bit out to find a quiet spot of sea to bob about in via an obstacle course of bodyboards but there was a great atmosphere in the water. Due to aforementioned lack of waves you could do a lot of lying on your back and looking at the sky without fear of being carried off into the depths of the ocean which is always a bonus. After our swim we wandered around the shops and bought some supplies for an evening in at our Shepherd’s hut (they have a very well stocked Spar).

Swim rating: 6/10
Snack rating: 6/10. Just had our classic packed lunch after a swim but did step things up a notch with a trip to Vanilla where I had a rhubarb and salted caramel ice-cream!
Beach rating: 6/10. Busyness lost this spot some points but lots of shops, toilets and cafés mean it is great for a day trip

Chapel Porth/Porthtowan


We decided to have one walking day during our trip and decided on the stretch between Chapel Porth and Porthtowan (around 3 miles but we added in a walk to and from the hotel which we heavily regretted on the return journey). The start and end of this walk offers the opportunity for a swim but we decided to have our dip at the half way point, on Porthtowan beach. We detoured over to the Wheal Coates tin mines once we got to Chapel Porth, as the tide was in, before turning around and passing Chapel Porth on route to Porthtowan. At this point I must mention the Hedgehog ice-cream which we continuously read about in reviews of the area and only available from Chapel Porth. There was a lengthy queue at 10am in the morning for good reason but we decided to have ours on the return leg to give us a boost before a hilly ascent back to our hotel. The walk was glorious and totally took me back to reading the Salt Path, one of my all time favourite books. There was a decent amount of up and down hill along the way and much appreciated benches to stop and take off your back pack, rest your legs and wonder ‘how much further?!’.

We originally wanted to go to Porthtowan because we had read about a beautiful tidal pool in our Wild swimming book. However, despite trying to get it just right for a prime-time swim the pool was pretty much empty. It was still nice to see though and maybe next time we’ll get to go in. Despite our tidal pool woe we still managed to have a lovely swim at Porthtowan which was fairly quiet and had beautiful golden sands and still waters although it is fairly shallow. There is a popular restaurant/bar next to the beach, a village shop and some clean toilets which we used to wash our feet and get changed in before our pilgrimage back to the Chapel Porth ice-cream shop.

Picture this: A scoop of vanilla ice-cream (or you can have chocolate or blackcurrant too) topped with clotted cream and then lazily rolled in honey roasted hazelnuts *chef’s kiss*. They also offer 2 other toppings, the foxy – rolled in homemade flapjack or a kids version – rolled in pick n mix. Hedgehog ice-cream is worthy of every accolade the Chapel Porth TripAdvisor page gives it and in the words of countossie “Been coming here for over 30 years and there is no other ice cream to compare. Go there, get a hedgehog and enjoy”.

Swim rating: 5/10. Mainly because I was disappointed about the tidal pool!
Snack rating: 10/10. I bow down to the Hedgehog ice-cream
Beach rating: 7/10




Praa sands

Our final stop off took us to the very bottom of Cornwall and to the wonderous Praa sands which is genuinely, beautiful. It offers a huge stretch of white sand and plenty of space for you to feel like you are the only ones there! Apparently, and here’s the science, the light sand is made from seashells that have been pulverised by wave action over millions of years and in the sunshine, the sand can look almost blinding (not that we would know..the day we went was very grey and windy but the beach was still a looker!). As we wanted to have a quiet day on the beach we headed away from the lifeguards swimming flags (sorry Mum) but we got our comeuppance as the sea was really rough so we didn’t stay in for too long. It was still a nice but brief swim and accompanied by some chunky chips, the perfect way to finish our road trip. There are some nice cafés, plenty of beach side parking, a restaurant and somewhere to hire surf boards, body boards etc. A great beach for a family especially as a large stretch of the sea is nice and shallow (when the tide is behaving!).

Swim rating: 4/10. Purely due to the sea conditions that day
Snack rating: 6/10
Beach rating: 8.5/10


There were a few other places which we passed and didn’t swim and the one I really wish I’d packed my swimming gear for was Rock. We got a boat from there over to Padstow and on the return leg a beautiful sandy beach had appeared and water that almost begged for you to get in! Next time..

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you’re interested in reading more about my more local wild swimming, check out this blog post. It feels nice to be writing again.