Autumnal Colour: The Four Falls Trail
Updated: Mar 7
“Winter is an etching, spring a watercolour, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all”, said Stanley Horowitz. I must say, I’m inclined to agree with him. There’s something special about Britain’s National Parks, including the Brecon Beacons, the Lakes and the Peak District, whereby a seasonal transformation brings a truly unique experience on every visit.
After hiking the bracken-covered trails and rolling hills during the five-to-six hour Horseshoe Ridge Walk back in the summer, we were met with stunning sights of the Brecon Beacons National Park from the summit of Pen y Fan. This time, both the walk, the terrain and the season would be different, as we sought to take advantage of the recent autumn rains to hike the Four Falls Trail in what is known as “Waterfall Country”.
How to get there
The hiking trail begins at Cwm Porth car park. You can pay for parking at the small visitor centre, where a gentleman was happy to answer any questions we had. We also purchased a small map here detailing the walk for £1.
The address for this location is as follows:
Cwm Porth Car Park,
Car Parking Fee: £4
Visitors can also use the toilets and picnic area available.
Voted 40th in ITV's 2017 poll of Britain's favourite walks, the trail is approximately five-and-a-half miles long, displaying four spectacular waterfalls each possessing their own magic and awe. We’d set off early that morning from my home in South Birmingham, reaching the car park for 09:00am as one of the very first people there. If you read my article on the stunning Vintgar Gorge, you’ll know I’m an early bird who see’s the value in getting up in the early hours to absorb and appreciate the magic of a location. This proved well worth that 06:00am alarm!
Commencing on our route through sodden peat, sheep folds and forest landscapes awash with auburn, orange and red, you could hear the powerful rush of the Mellte river adjacent to our path down in the valley below. The full walk is a loop taking in all four falls and we decided that we would visit Sgwd yr Eira, the biggest fall and furthest away first, before viewing the remaining three on our journey back to Cwm Porth. I’m so glad we made this decision.
Descending the steep steps as you make your way down through green woodland covered with lichen and moss, the roar of the biggest fall is prevalent throughout, with spray and mist visible amongst the densely clad ancient trees. Translating as “fall of the snow”, the powerful Sgwd yr Eira plunges over the edge from a height of 30-feet, providing a mesmerising sight that is hard to take your eyes off. The soft rock over which this fall cascades has been slowly eroded over the years so that you can actually walk behind the waterfall, but be careful, and be prepared to get soaked! It’s not so much directly getting hit by the water coming down, but the sheer amount of spray arising from it. Metaphorically and literally, it is a breathtaking experience that demonstrates the true power of Mother Nature. I couldn’t believe the sheer amount of water and the aggression with which it propelled the River Hepste. With it being 09:30am in the morning, we were so fortunate to have this wonderful location and experience to ourselves. It truly felt like we’d uncovered a secret location and, in the early morning light, made for a surreal, memorable experience. A friend since told me that he’d been at the very same location later on that afternoon and that there’d been circa 70 people there, immediately justifying that sacrifice of a Sunday lie-in!
What I love about this trail is that each fall has it’s own unique design, crafted over thousands of years by Mother Nature. The second leg of the hike takes in two wonderful falls both unique in their beauty; the first, Sgwd Pannwr, located on a dog leg at the end of a peaceful stretch of the Mellte River, is nothing like I’ve ever seen before. The river gently flows downstream, with the water cutting a small canyon-like channel into the rock on the left-hand side before taking a sharp turn and falling over the precipice into the plunge pool below. There’s a fantastic spot right by the fall that offers a wonderful location to sit and appreciate this natural marvel in all it’s glory.
It appeared to me that many were either content with just visiting this fall, or not particularly aware of the awesome Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gywn just a little further up river, as we were two of only a handful of hikers who continued upstream along the canyon trail to the next location. It was a series of beautiful waterfalls, beginning with a round, arcing cliff face down which the river poured before thrashing and flailing through a series of smaller drops. Whereas we viewed Sgwd y Eira from below and Sgwd Pannwr from the side, what I loved about this fall was climbing the valley alongside the river, bringing us to a location where we could admire its full might from above. It’s places like these that make you truly appreciate nature, our role in the world and that we should really be doing everything in our power to protect the environment.
Away from the waterfalls though, this is still a beautiful walk that engages you with some of the best landscapes the Brecon Beacons has to offer. Whilst the likes of Pen y Van offer wild moorland and panoramic views, this hike provides quiet farmsteads, enchanted ancient woodland and winding trails over root and stone. The colours of autumn offer a stunning backdrop, as tree’s begin to die and yield a wonderful palette of red, brown, orange and yellow. It only highlights the changes under which our landscape morphs on a seasonal basis and I’d be interested to experience the trail and how it differs under the blanket of winter snowfall.
In all honesty, my enjoyment of the final fall, Sgwd Clun-Gywn, was tempered by fact that the trail was beginning to get busier by the time we reached it at 11:30am. Maybe I was tired, or maybe I’d been spoilt rotten appreciating the first three with very little to no human interaction in the area! That said, as a spectacle on its own, it was still an impressive sight but for me, nowhere near as beautiful as the other three. Who knows? Maybe next time I'll visit Sgwd Clun-Gwyn as my first destination in the early hours of the morning; under different circumstances, lighting and conditions it may well be completely different. That’s one for the future.
The Four Falls Trail is a spectacular, wonderful portfolio of the British countryside at its very best, under which the autumn conditions extract every single ounce of its beauty. For me, it is one of the best hikes within the park and is of no surprise that hikers voted it one of the top walking trails in the country. I’d thoroughly recommend putting your walking boots on and getting out into this wonderful environment.
If you can, get there early doors. It really is worth the effort, affording the opportunity to enjoy these wonderful, natural attractions with relative peace and quiet. I love the Brecon Beacons, and I’ll certainly be making every effort to continue exploring this stunning national park in each of the four seasons for many years to come.