Visiting Waterfall Country in the Brecon Beacons National Park
The sound of water rushing, gurgling and dripping over stone fills the ears. This is a place of movement, colour and sound, our Celtic rainforest.
Nestled into the southern slopes of the Fforest Fawr massif, west of Merthyr Tydfil, Waterfall Country is one of the most beautiful and popular parts of the Brecon Beacons National Park and the Fforest Fawr Geopark, with steep, tree-lined gorges and an abundance of tumbling water.
Known in Welsh as Coed-y-Rhaeadr (Wood of the Water), Waterfall Country lies within the triangle formed by the villages of Hirwaun, Ystradfellte, and Pontneddfechan. Here, old red sandstone and a long belt of outcrop limestone have created a highly distinctive environment of wooded gorges, caves, swallow holes and waterfalls.
The Rivers Mellte, Hepste, Pyrddin and Nedd-Fechan, tributaries of the River Neath, have their headwaters in the Fans, the old red sandstone mountains further north, and wind their way south through Waterfall Country via steep-sided, tree-lined gorges.
The area contains two Sites of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation with fine specimens of sessile oak and ash trees and over 200 species of mosses, liverworts, and ferns. It is also of historical significance, as it contains the legacy of man’s attempts to make a living from this landscape. It receives around 160,000 visitors a year, including walkers, outdoor groups, photographers, climbers, cavers and canoeists.
The most famous waterfall is Sgwd-y-Eira, the Snow Waterfall, on the River Hepste, where a natural path leads right behind the curtain of water.
Top five things to do in Waterfall Country
Much of Waterfall Country is open access land, which means the general public is free to explore it on foot. However, for safety reasons and to minimise erosion, please stick to the paths – there are around 25 miles of them. You can enjoy the waterfalls, streams and the woodland scenery, spot plants, insects and birds, or discover the remains of mines, quarries, kilns and a gunpowder factory with the help of our audio guides.
The combination of rocky gorges and fast flowing water makes Waterfall Country an exciting and challenging location to explore. Adventurous activities like gorge-walking should only be undertaken as part of an organised group with suitable equipment and training. Groups require permission to operate in the area, and should follow a code of conduct to minimise the environmental impact of their activities. The South Wales Outdoor Activity Provider Group (www.swoapg.co.uk) can provide information.
Porth-yr-Ogof cave, a single cave with over 1.5 miles of passages under the valley floor of the River Mellte, can be accessed from Cwm Porth car park, where there are basic toilets, changing facilities and a small shop selling snacks and drinks. The Nedd Fechan caves and the silica mines near Craig-y-Ddinas are visited by more experienced cavers.
Canoeing and kayaking
The rivers in this area are accessible to all and offer some of the best whitewater canoeing in Wales. Conditions are usually grade 4 or grade 5 and are suitable for experienced paddlers only. The Mellte and Hepste are used by canoeists wanting to practise their skills on waterfalls with a drop of 3m or more.
The Dinas Rock area is one of only two areas within the Park where rock outcrops suitable for sport climbing, top-roping and bouldering are to be found. The main face of Craig-y-Ddinas in the car park is suitable for learners, and there are several bolted sports routes for more experienced climbers to be found up the Sychryd.
Be prepared, be responsible, stay safe
Waterfall Country is magical, but fragile. The mosses, ferns and other plants all cling onto rocks and trees and can easily be dislodged by passing feet. All visitors are asked to keep to marked footpaths and to take care not to damage trees or moss covered rocks. With your help, we can keep this place special for future generations.
Waterfall Country can be steep and slippery underfoot in places, so please take care. Don't be tempted to swim in the water - it can be cold and fast flowing. Even the strongest swimmers have been known to get into trouble.
All visitors to Waterfall Country can play a part in looking after this stunning area. For most of us the biggest contribution we can make is to follow a few common-sense guidelines.
- Keep to the footpaths
- Take litter home
- Avoid disturbing plants and wildlife
- Leave fallen wood alone
- Don’t cut trees for firewood
How to get there
At Glyn-Neath, follow the signs on the B4242 for Pontneddfechan. In the village, head straight on along Dinas Road for Dinas Rock car park, or turn left and drive uphill to follow the road to Pont Melin-Fach car park. There is also a car park at Gwaun Hepste near Ystradfellte, and small car parks at Cwm Porth and at one of the entry points to the path to Sgwd Clun-Gwyn.
Pontneddfechan, Ystradfellte and Penderyn are within Waterfall Country.