Take a visit to the highest waterfall in all of England and Wales|
The Pistyll Rhaeadr
You know when robins are posing for photo shoots that you've arrived at a tourist
attraction with a difference. But pose they did at the visitors’ centre for one of
the proverbial seven wonders of Wales, the Pystyll Rhaeadr.|
In Welsh this waterfall's name literally translates as water spout. And in the not too distant past, Welsh leaders declared that this stunning, 240ft high waterfall should rank among the greatest natural phenomena Wales has ever known.
To be fair, I can't help but think these decision-makers did not venture far and explore all of Wales' many beautiful nooks and crannies. And to arrive at a list of just seven outstanding wonders is perhaps a gross underestimation of all the exceptional natural marvels that can readily be seen in most parts of the principality
But, attempt to rank this glorious country's stunning scenery and attractions they did. And perhaps what helped this waterfall make it into the top 7 listing is that it is the highest waterfall in all of Britain, outside of the Scottish Highlands.
And visitors certainly do flock to this site to catch a glimpse of this shimmering waterfall in its picturesque and striking setting.
During my visit, foreign students were clamouring for a glimpse of the silvery threads of water as they cascaded down the steep rock face, and a party of motorcyclists posed on various levels beneath the crashing waters as they strained to take in all of its striking form.
Meanwhile, a professional photographer stood motionless while trying to capture robins and other small birds peck at crumbs left on the outside terrace of the wooden structured visitors' centre.
The birds seemed to know they were being filmed and were quite happy to show of their chubby little forms and pose cutely for the camera.
Fear would sweep throughout the little flock if someone came too close, and they would all swiftly dive away to safety, only to regroup near a new set of crumbs, which of course were a little feast to them.
Professional photographers aside, trying to fit the Pystyll Rhaeadr all in one photo frame is a bit of a logistical nightmare. It's hard to know exactly where to position yourself in a bid to include all of its enchanting features.
There is a first drop of about 120ft, then a small plateau and a second smaller drop in to an impatient and fast-flowing river.
Several different strands of water actually converge, diverge and then fall in unison as a fine curtain of water down the rock face. Varying impressions in the rock ensure that the water’s journey downwards is never entirely smooth. After it hits the plateau it tumbles down with renewed vigour into its own miniature plunge pool.
Sometimes it's best just to film it in two sections, so none of its intricate details are missed.
Onlookers are literally dwarfed by its immense height. The strange paradox is that despite its sheer scale, it's located in almost a hidden, miniature valley where the surroundings are all rather pretty, but quite ordinary at the same time.
The river that leads away from the waterfall is narrow and a cast iron bridge that straddles it, is also daintily small too boot.
A tangle of pine and deciduous trees have all set up their own little colonies on the slopes in front of and at the side of the waterfall. Precariously positioned with roots barely entrenched in the hillside, they seem to want to be willing attendants and witnesses to this delightful, natural wonder.
Poets and writers have paid homage to the area and perhaps among the most descriptive is the epithet below by George Borrows, the 19th century author of Wild Wales:
'What shall I liken it to? I scarcely know, unless to an immense skein of silk agitated and disturbed by tempestuous blasts, or the long tail of a grey courser at furious speed .... I never saw water falling so gracefully, so much like thin beautiful threads as here.'
Formed at the end of the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago, the Pystyll Rhaeadr was also reputed to be a haven for fairy folk and the little people.
And perhaps the relatively delicate landscape and geography were structured with them in mind.
Giants of course, not wanting to be left out where also fabled residents in the surrounding Berwyn Mountains. And as legend has it, left two huge boulders on the nearby valley floor after a contretemps with neighbours.
The huge boulders, known as the Giant Burdens, were meant to make a bridge across the local river during the night. But a cock crow startled them and thwarted their plans to attack their unsuspecting foes.
This walk will actually include a ramble around the Burdens. However, there are many sign-posted walking routes in the valley that the adventurous and not so adventurous can try.
The energetic and sure of foot can climb up a steep slope to the very top of the waterfall or veer rightwards off in to the hillside.
However, this walk takes in the stunning scenery on the left bank of the river and its quieter, less populated terrain.
As said earlier, a tiny cast iron bridge straddles the narrow river that tumbles purposefully down the undulating hillside. And this must first be crossed to begin this walk in earnest.
Trees line the rough pathway, but start to thin out as you progress deeper and further along the mountain slopes.
What stands out immediately is the joints and crevasses in all of the overhanging cliff face and the mass of scree that shrouds the hillside.
This apparently can be accounted for by the slate business. Since Roman times, this area is said to have been an important source of the roofing material.
Without explosives, the rock was removed by first heating it to a high temperature and then cooling it quickly. It would then be easily pliable and breakable after such treatment.
A mass of ferns, mosses, gorse bushes and lichens all have begun to colonise the slopes. And some hawthorn trees and yew trees also appear every few hundred yards.
There are panoramic views from every angle with gently sloping mountains in the foreground, to the left, to the right and behind you.
Clouds seem to be determined sometimes to overshadow the area with their gloom, but the sun is a fierce opponent and makes a concerted effort to break through them and move them on to pastures new.
With a deep blue sky, a fresh breeze on your face, this walk can certainly be ranked among the best that there is.
Fortunately, a gravel path is maintained throughout much of the initial stages. There is very little scrambling required or a need for a map. It is well sign-posted and suitable for most ages and levels of walker.
As you start to leave the gawping crowds behind, you can truly start to appreciate the natural beauty of the area.
The Giant Burdens, or Ffedoga in Welsh, come into view. One of them is to be climbed and gives you a better view point of the surrounding hillside and valley.
It's perhaps fun to suppose that the rock is made up of a hundred of so gurning or grimacing faces. If you look carefully, you could see perhaps, giants, gnomes or elves all petrified (turned to stone) in one huge, jumbled mass.
Alternative accounts of the giant story say that indeed the giants, a male and female, were in fact turned to stone. They were not so another legend said ready to attack a neighbour, but were planning to lay the foundations of a new house for themselves. However, they were forced to abandon their plans, and were then doomed to be held forever as prisoners within the rocks.
And to go back to the walk: the next Burden, much larger than its smaller brother (it might also be female!), is then passed, but not as easily climbed. Next on the route, a dry stone wall, covered in moss comes in to view. There is a gate here, but the walk actually continues up along the side of the wall.
It's quite something that this wall is largely in tact and the skill and craftsmanship of the workmen has kept it in such good repair.
As you wander along the side of the wall, you will come to two stiles. The first is behind a small, silvery stream which trickles slowly down the hillside. And the second after a slightly steeper and rougher ascent brings you to a relatively level pathway that has been etched thoughtfully into the hillside.
A lone walker was spotted on this stretch of the pathway, but blissfully no-one else is met at all en route.
A carpet of ferns adorns either side of the trackway and even the metal lattice-style fence to the left has a hard time holding a lot of them back.
Cattle and sheep dot the landscape and the only reminder of the 21st century are a few cars and a plastic-formed yurt, which seems to be the next big thing in outdoor living.
Several yew trees, with their gnarled and worn trunks sometimes overhang the trail. But perhaps what’s most striking is the expansive view of the valley in front of you, and the rocky outcrops and undulating hillside to the right of you.
Sometimes, one or two huge boulders will have managed to make their descent to the very edge of the pathway, and although rough in form, they can almost seem like replica giant heads, which are sulking in the morning light.
Eventually, the fenced part of the pathway will be left behind, and people will arrive at an open expanse of terrain, which is dominated by scree-filled slopes. Perhaps a remnant from the slate quarry trade, there is almost a scree-type waterfall at one point with rock just falling down the hillside in a river formation.
Sheep scramble for any vegetation or grass to eat among the rough and patchy ground. And you can veer leftwards towards a bridal path or continue rightwards up the side of the hillside for a much longer stretch of walking.
But on this occasion, the edge of the bridal path was chosen as the walk’s midpoint, and when steps were retraced the total walking time came to around an hour.
You can experience the flavour of this walk with this slideshow