To be brutally honest, the weather was looking just a little bit worse than awful. The heavens had opened yet again the day before, causing more flooding and I was in two minds as to whether to join the 8 Waterfalls Walk organised by Andrew Lamb of Wales Outdoors. I had arranged to meet one of my oldest friends, who introduced me to the organised group walk. I’ve walked these falls many times, told countless people about the hidden beauty of the Neath Valley and I’ve got very muddy and wet before. (It’s the sort of thing that happens in Wales). I’ve also been gorge walking in the Afon Hepste but one thing I haven’t done is the whole loop of 8 falls in one single walk.
I took the plunge (excuse the pun) and headed from home, through a heavy snow shower, up the Rhymney Valley and along the quite beautiful Heads of the Valleys road to Pontneddfechan, and the meeting point, The Angel Inn. For those who might want to rest up in Gellihaf House B&B, the journey to the car park at The Angel Inn from the house is only 40 mins. That’s the beauty of our location at Gellihaf, you’re never more than 30-40 mins from so many wonderful places in and around the Rhymney Valley. I parked up and changed into my wet weather gear, essential for this sort of day. Walking boots were absolutely essential, so if your planning to do this, please do wear the right gear. Andy greeted us and we were introduced to his walking companion (or minion) Isabelle and Charlotte. They were accompanying the group to ensure everyone was safe and enjoyed the walk.
I was looking forward to an organised walk as I was hoping for a little bit of history or some interesting facts along the way. I wasn’t to be disappointed. There were 29 of us in the group or varying ages. Andy introduced himself and lay down some ground rules. Don’t worry, this is not like signing up for the armed forces or anything like that, it was all about making sure everyone was happy, safe and properly dressed for what was to be some rough terrain. Andy asked that we all make sure to chat to as many different people as possible (I knew that was going to be difficult as it was a great opportunity for me and my friend to catch up) but we tried. The recent wet (huge understatement) weather had meant that the ground was saturated. Andy explained that in parts, it was extremely muddy, and that care should be taken. Taking into account the ground conditions, Andy suggested that we may not manage to complete all 8 falls, but that we’d try and get as many done as possible. We headed off.
The first part of the walk takes you along the Afon (that’s Welsh for river) Neath. We were heading for the first fall, Sgwd Gwladys. Andy asked different people in the group to take the lead over the changing sections of the route. This was a nice touch. We paused along the way to learn a little about mining in the area. Now most of you will associate Wales with coal mining, but in this particular area, silica rock was mined. Silica rock was mixed with clay, baked and made into fire bricks. The quality of these Welsh bricks was revered and sold across the whole of the world. My great Grandfather was a bricklayer and used these bricks to line the inside of the blast furnaces for the Steel Company of Wales (Tata) as it used to be called. The valley is beautiful, even in February. Moss drapes the branches of the trees, making the whole area feel magical. You could imagine seeing a fairy peeping out from behind a tree trunk. The river was fierce and flowing very fast after all of the rain that’s fallen. I had never seen it so full, and I was really looking forward to getting to the falls to see just how full they were. I wasn’t disappointed. Sgwd Gwladys was crashing over the limestone rock. I love the sound of the water tumbling over into the river, although this time it wasn’t a tumble, but a full on race.
Onwards we trekked, further up the Neath valley until we reached a point where the walk took us out of forested area and onto a road and across farmland. I think we reached to muddiest point here, as we trudged through ankle deep welsh mud. By this time, we’d enjoyed some sunshine, been snowed on and blasted by horizontal hailstones. Being outdoors, certainly makes you feel alive. Andy had been tempting us with a lunch stop but not before reaching the strangest shop I’ve seen. It’s been there for years, only you just wouldn’t know it. Next to a dormant petrol station is a house, which is also a shop. If you’re old enough, like me, you’ll remember the taste of ‘apple cider ice lollies (one dressed in a white paper wrapping but now wrapped in a fancy wrapper). They sell them here, and it was clearly something that Andy couldn’t wait to buy. Apparently, there is a limited stock, so make sure you’re first through the door!!!
We continued along the road. Care must be taken along here as farm traffic can speed past you. Take a moment to enjoy the view across the valley. It’s pretty special. Next stop Sgwd Isaf Clud-Gwyn, and lunch. This is a waterfall that I’ve actually walked behind, however today was not a day for attempting this. The force of the water was incredible. It was a perfect spot to watch the fall and eat a much-awaited lunch. Andy made the trip interesting, and also fun. Just before we headed down towards Sgwd Eira, he gave some of us a challenge. I can’t give too much away but I was amazed. There is a very steep stepped walk down to the next waterfall. You really have to take care. You are rewarded at the valley floor with a spectacular waterfall which you can safely (I say that with caution) walk behind. On a day similar to ours make sure you zip everything up and that ALL of your clothing is waterproof. It was a lot of fun walking behind the rushing water. Very refreshing indeed. Of course, we’d walked down to the fall, which only meant one thing. Yes, a steep climb back up. I consider myself fit, so didn’t find it too challenging, but it is quite tough, so be prepared. Actually, stopping to catch your breath is a good excuse to have a look around at the stunning scenery.
Now for a very muddy walk back to Dinas Rock. Just take your time and soak up the wonderful views. Just a word of caution on the way down to the rock. The path is steep and rocky and particularly slippy when wet. There is a handrail to help steady weary legs. Just a short walk along the road back to the car park and a welcomed cuppa at Sgwd Café.
Thank you Andy for a very enjoyable 9 mile wander through the beautiful Neath valleys.