Waterfall Country

Rufus stayed over last night. We dined on sausages and chips. We watched the Olympics, stayed up late to look for meteors and generally had a blokes night in.

This morning we headed off early to Ystradfellte, deep in waterfall country at the head of the Neath Valley. Two rivers, the Mellte and the Hepste, flow through the valley which was originally formed by glacial action. The rivers have cut deep into the bedrock but where they have encountered harder sandstones, a series of spectacular waterfalls have formed.

I’ve been going to this part of South Wales for more than 20 years. I must have hundreds if not thousands of photographs of the area, mostly on 35mm and medium format slide film. The walking is tougher than it might seem at first glance. The paths are clear but rough and they remind me of the trekking paths in the Himalayas. In fact, this was one of the places I came to prepare for the treks. Tree roots criss cross the way ready to trip the unwary. Short but steep drops are inevitably followed by what seem much longer and much steeper climbs. The effort is worthwhile, however, as the reward is some photogenic waterfalls along the way.

We were there in good time; the sun wasn’t too hot and we had the area to ourselves. We headed off past Sgwd Clun Gwyn, which can be heard roaring all the way from the car park. Rufus was happy to be near, and then in, the cooling water and chased every stone and stick I threw for him. He was more tolerant of my picture taking too, and only barked if I ignored him for more than two minutes!

We crossed the river and headed up the side of the valley to emerge on top overlooking the river and the waterfalls far below. The path leads through a forest and where the trees have been cut down, it catches the sun. This morning, it was also catching a cooling breeze that we both welcomed. Rufus led the way and I wondered if he remembered the route, as we hadn’t been here for a year or so.

Eventually, we came to the steps leading down to Scwd y Eira. They zig zag sharply down and once again I was reminded of the trekking in Nepal. This part was as steep as Namche Hill, although not so long and without the added hardship of altitude. All the time we descended, I could hear the water falling over the fifty foot drop. I like Scwd y Eira when there isn’t a full flow of water and I was hoping that with the days of dry weather, the river wouldn’t be in full flood. Thankfully, it wasn’t. It was close to my ideal for photographs; enough water to give a smooth image without dominating the little valley.

While I took long exposures using two polarising filters to darken the scene, Rufus scrabbled about on the bank. As many of the exposures were in the order of 30 seconds, I had time to toss stones for him to catch or chase. I moved up and down the bank finding new viewpoints exposed by the low level of water. Rufus followed, finding new places to paddle. The water was quite deep and fast flowing in places so I was glad he showed no interest in swimming.

All too soon it was time to head back to the car and when I checked my watch I found we’d been more than 2 hours. It would take the best part of another hour to reach the car park and neither of us were in any hurry to get back. We strolled along and had an extended paddle in the river while we watched gorge walking groups going through their final safety briefings before setting off up the valley.

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