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.
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.
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.