A walk that’s been on my bucket list for a while is the Four Falls Trail over in the Brecon Beacons. Reaching number 40 in ITV’s Britain’s Favourite Walks, this is a well-known and popular short hike visited by thousands (and thousands) of people each year. They even colloquially call this area waterfall country.
Yes, there are some amazing waterfalls in Great Britain that are more remote, harder to reach, and therefore much less busy. You know, the kind that you can visit and see one other person, or could wild camp close by without fear of being stumbled across. But sometimes there is a reason a particular place is popular, and this is certainly one of those iconic routes.
I headed over to the Brecon Beacons National Park recently to see what all the fuss was about, and I have to say, had one of my favourite hikes of the year so far.
The Four Falls Trail
The Four Falls Trail is a 5.5-ish mile hike (when done from Cwm Porth) taking in four large waterfalls and a bunch of smaller ones near the village of Ystradfellte inside the Brecon Beacons National Park. The four waterfalls are Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd Y Pannwr and the most famous – because you can walk behind it – Sgwd Yr Eira.
It’s important to note before you continue that while the main circular trail is accessible, you cannot see the waterfalls from that trail – you have to take link trails down to the falls to see (and feel) the rushing water.
It was utterly wonderful. Honestly. As I say above, possibly one of my favourite hikes this year. The rain stopped as I arrived, the waterfalls were full and flowing aggressively, the scenery was lush and green. The falls were noisy, the rocks gnarly, and the nature is incredibly stunning. The whole walk, even the accessible path at the top, has a soundtrack of rushing water. And I fell in love.
I parked at the Cwm Porth car park (CF44 9JF – ish), which cost £5 for the day (£4 if you arrive before 8am or after 4pm), and has toilets and a small visitor’s centre. You can also park at Gwaun Hepste (same general postcode), which is a larger car park that you get to first when driving in, but doesn’t have toilets according to the map.
Everything I read suggested these car parks are cash only but that’s not the case these days; the pay and display machine at Cwm Porth took cards/contactless payments.
Both of these car parks fill up quickly, especially at weekends. I arrived at Cwm Porth just after 8am and it was practically empty, but when I returned at 11am it was full and there was a no entry sign at the gate. You can check if there are spaces in the main car parks before travelling.
There are some other parking options in the area, but please do remember to park considerately (as in don’t park in passing places along the narrow country lanes, that’s just arrogant and entitled). I don’t mind paying for parking when doing trails like this, as the money goes towards maintaining the trails and running the facilities, and for a busy trail like this, that is much needed.
Route wise, while I am an Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champion and certainly promote taking a map and understanding how to use it, you’ll find the Four Falls Trail is waymarked and route finding is very simple.
There are three colours on the overview map; red is the top-level route that is undulating but accessible, green shows the link trails that importantly get you down to the waterfalls – these sections are rocky and steep, and white shows the side trails that get you to the car parks.
It’s all very well signposted, with information boards at each main junction to keep you on track. This isn’t a hike where navigation should be an issue.
If you’d like to have a map as a backup (always recommended), my friends over at The Outdoor Guide have one plotted on OS Maps that you can use.
If you have never tried OS Maps and want to, please start here (affiliate link, thank you for supporting my hobbies).
Hunting for Waterfalls
It took about 20 minutes of wandering for me to reach the main red loop from the car park, a trail that was a lovely introduction to this walk, winding through farmland and woodland. I shared the trail with horses and sheep, stepped over a couple of streams, and enjoyed the solitude of arriving at the trailhead early.
It’s very clear when you reach the main trail; you come to a cross roads with a prominent signpost and an information board. As I say, navigation isn’t difficult on this one, the local rangers have made it as easy as possible for people to find the right path.
The link trail to the first waterfall is short but steep. It’s the easiest to access of all the falls, being the closest to the main forest trail – just a couple of minutes downhill. You can hear it loud and clear from the main path, and if you’re like me, when it comes into view, you’ll let out an audible “oh wow”.
You can clearly see the falls cascading over the rock, even if you don’t leave the viewpoint. The River Mellte rushes towards the drop, tips over the edge, and disappears below the cliff edge out of sight. I did head further down, though, and was pleased I did. I love getting close to waterfalls; the power and noise is invigorating and soothing at the same time.
To continue to the second of the four falls, you can either backtrack up the same path to the red route and follow the main path to the next link trail, or follow the old riverside path to the next falls (which links post 15 and 32 and is no longer marked on the information boards). If you choose the latter, you will regularly see signs reminding you that this is a dangerous path in places. The way isn’t closed off, but you need to watch your step (and use your hands occasionally) as it’s narrow, steep and craggy in places.
Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn
The old path between Sgwd Clun-Gwyn and Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn is wonderful. Yes it’s rocky and difficult in places, but this is the kind of hiking I love.
The second falls on the trail is the smallest of the four, but it certainly doesn’t lack in impressiveness. The water flows reasonably gently over the rocks to begin with, before tumbling down several more drops and continuing through the valley.
Being deep in woodland everything is green with moss and drooping branches, and you feel like you’re in some kind of fairy land. If you’re really careful, you can get towards the middle of the river for great views right up this series of cascades.
If I’d been ready for lunch this would have made a great picnic spot, as you could easily sit and watch the water without getting in other people’s way. There are no benches but plenty of rocks to perch on.
The footpath continues along the river (now waymarked as the green trail), less scrambly than previously but with some very muddy sections; you’re walking along a river with lots of waterfalls after all. Some boards have been installed to help with the boggiest sections, but if you’re wearing the right sort of shoes to keep you safe on the rocky sections, you shouldn’t have any difficulty here.
Sgwd y Pannwr
Third on the list of falls is Syed y Pannwr, which is the highest of the four falls on this trail. It really is loud, wonderfully noisy, blocking out any thoughts other than those associated with the rushing water – a conversation would be nearly impossible here.
It’s not as easy to get close to this one, and a couple had taken one of the best viewpoints to sit and eat their picnic. I mean I don’t blame them, it is beautiful, but it is a bit annoying for others wanting to get a perfect photo. There was also a group of about eight wild campers packing up their gear, I was surprised to see people camping on such a popular and well-known trail, but as with the couple having their picnic, I can totally see why you’d want to linger here.
The green link path leaves the riverside here and heads very steeply up, back to the forest trail. There is a combination of steps built into the hillside and steep rocky slopes, but even with my current poor fitness it was no bother – I took it nice and slowly. The man coming down swearing at the loose rocks did amuse me though, I wonder what they’d done to him?!
Sgwd yr Eira
A short stroll on the main red forest trail and you reach the link trail to the final waterfall of the loop, Sgwd yr Eira. The information board at the top will warn you that this is a very steep descent, with 170 steps, followed by a scramble across boulders if you want to get close to the falls. And this time it’s a there-and-back with no other option, what goes down must come up and related physics.
It certainly is strenuous, but oh so worth it. This is the largest waterfall of the four falls on the trail, and you can have all the views here – from the bottom of the steps with the whole falls in view, and right up close.
The highlight of this waterfall – and of the whole hike in my opinion – is that you can walk right behind the curtain of water as it falls from the clifftop above, looking out at the scene from the other side. First, you have to tackle the stretch of rocky boulders to reach the falls, and then get up on the ledge that takes you behind, but it’s perfectly doable. It’s slippery and a little narrow in places, but safe if you are careful with your footing.
Making the effort to walk behind the water is an absolute must if you come here, and another reason why coming early is a must. There were a small handful of people around taking it all in, but I had that ledge to myself without having to wait for anyone else to finish or hold anyone else up. You don’t even get that wet; there’s some spray from the falling water, sure, but unless you choose to get in or under, you’ll be fine.
After back tracking over the field of boulders, and walking up the series of 170 steep steps (slowly, very slowly…), you join the red route for the remainder of the hike. There’s a bit of a hill here but then it opens up and you are left with some beautiful views of the Brecon Beacons before the path returns you to that main sign-posted crossroads. It’s very sedate compared to the rest of the walk, but an excellent way to stretch your legs and allow your lungs to fill with air again.
A Busy Trail with Steps and Scrambles
This is a popular and busy trail, so I got up early and was walking before 8.30am, which was definitely the right choice as when I was on my way back along the main trail to the car park at 10.45am or so, I passed at least 60 or 70 people starting their loop. It’s wonderful to see lots of people enjoy the outdoors, but as someone who enjoys solitude when hiking, I choose to arrive early (ish on this occasion) and beat the crowds. I can imagine some of the steeper sections of this hike get rather difficult and frustrating when busy.
While the main forest trail (the red one) is accessible, if you want to see the waterfalls it is a reasonably challenging hike. I would say it’s doable by most with reasonable fitness (I had no problems), and is well worth the effort.
It’s fair to say I was very pleased for my study and grippy walking boots – it’s a bit scrambly in places (I had to use my hands a couple of times), and there are a lot of steps to descend and ascend. I had my walking poles with me, but they stayed attached to my pack, the ups and downs didn’t seem to warrant them here.
Don’t Miss the Cave Entrance
I should add that if you park at Cwm Porth as I did to do the Four Falls Trail, you should definitely take a minute or two to visit the cave that’s just a couple of minute’s walk in the other direction.
Porth yr Ogof, which translates as Gateway to the Cave, has the largest cave opening in Wales, and it’s very impressive indeed – a real split in the landscape.
It’s a short 50-metre walk from the car park and is marked on the car park signage (I’m not giving away secrets by recommending you take a look!). When I headed down at the end of my Four Falls walk, the car park was absolutely full to bursting with people, but I had the cave entrance all to myself – everyone else seemed to ignore it.
I didn’t go in beyond the reach of the sunlight as it’s a proper cave requiring the right gear and experience (and long-time readers of Splodz Blogz know how I feel about that), but it was nice just to sit and sip on my tea for a moment or two before heading back to my car.
I took a whole bunch of mediocre photos and a few videos with my thoughts as I walked the Four Falls Trail, which I’ve saved as a highlight over on my Instagram stories if you want to go and see some more images once you’ve read this post.
You can find out more about visiting Waterfall Country and the Four Falls Trail on the Brecon Beacons National Park website.
If you have never tried OS Maps and want to, please start here (affiliate link, thank you for supporting my hobbies).