Hell's Pools 2010
Dramatic scenery and hidden waterfalls in Mid and West Wales. Pwll Uffern-Gothi, Pwll Uffern, Nant Ystalwyn Waterfall, Dwfr Ddisgynfa Cwm-du.
Located on the other side of Mynydd Mallaen from Cilycwm (near Llandovery), this can be accessed from the Bwlch-y-rhiw farm. It is formed in the upper gorge of the Afon Cothi, where it drops from its source on the low lying Cambrian Mountains, to join the ring of valleys surrounding Mynydd Mallaen. There is space to park by the farm if needed, or you can park on the access track (see below).
- Passing the Fforest Fawr range. On the left is Fan Nedd (663 metres), and on the right is Fan Bwlch Chwyth (603 metres). The dusting of snow seemed to have brought out the worst in people's driving, and I had actually stopped for this picture simply so I wouldn't have to be stuck behind one of the most frustratingly bad drivers, who seemed to have lost their accelerator and misplaced their steering wheel.
- The eastern ridge of the Black Mountain range; Fan Hir (761 metres) and Fan Brycheiniog (802 metres).
- Heading up the part of the ring of valleys occupied by the Gwenffrwd river. The buttresses on the right are Y Foel, Allt Troedthiwbylchau and Allt Troed-yr-heol. Above these is the plateau which rumbles along at around 400 metres altitude, without any major summits.
- At the eastern edge of the farm is a steep access track used to reach the farms in the upper Cothi. Follow this to a split, and take the left branch, where there is some parking space just before a cattle grid. The reward is this view over the Bwlch-y-rhiw farm. On the left are the Creigiau Ladis crags, in the middle are the crags of Allt Isaf and Craig Branddu, and on the right is the start of the upper gorge of the Cothi.
- The upper gorge of the Cothi, with Cefn Branddu (388 metres). The way down into the gorge must be chosen very carefully. Just after a stream (shown on the 1:25'000 map) passes under the track (currently, a fence on the left stops just before it), a buttress pointing out into the gorge offers a slope down on its right side, to reach the main waterfall. Take great care, and only attempt this if you know you can cope with the terrain.
- On the far side, a small stream tumbles down 30 metres of waterfalls, to land just upstream of the main waterfall in the Cothi.
- The tallest fall on the tributary is this 10 metre horsetail.
- At the top end of the gorge is a 3.5 metre thundering waterfall, that can be seen and heard from a path running a little below the track.
- The main waterfall is about 4 metres tall and also very noisy; Pwll Uffern-Gothi, meaning Hell's Pool on the Cothi. Note the frozen discs of flood scum.
- Apparently, a Roman aquaduct starts here, running for several miles downstream to feed some gold mines. All I could see was this tight slot - no remains of the aquaduct.
- Small fall at the start of the slot.
- Deep pools in the slot.
- Cascades by the road on Nant Melyn.
- By Rhandirmwyn. I could swear foxhunting was illegal... There were dogs, and they were searching on steep slopes which a drag-hunt would almost certainly avoid. One rider asked me sternly "you're not anti-hunting are you?" as she rode past - as if I could answer that honestly when surrounded by 20 horse riders. Then the convoy of following off-roaders stopped such that they blocked my car in, but without making it look like that's what they were doing, and one of the guys in them casually asked "so what's the camera for then?". I gave a calm and polite response about waterfalls. Presumably, they could use the same approach if any police attempted to stop the hunt. While I would normally give the benefit of the doubt, and assume it is a legal drag-hunt, their questions and actions certainly did not make it feel like that at all.
Due to lack of imagination, there is another Pwll Uffern right nearby. Head up the Towy/Tywi valley from the Rhandirmwyn Bridge. A few km before the reservoir, just before the Dinas hill appears, take a road to the left, over a weak bridge. Follow it as it gains the Doethie valley. There are several places to park just after it crosses a bridge over the Doethie. Do not underestimate this walk - although a lot of it is on tracks, the parts that are not on tracks require a substantial amount of effort and ability.
- The Dinas (331 metres). Though it is surrounded by taller plateaus, its impressive prominence (nearly 150 metres) make it very obvious. The valley to the right is dry, with the river meandering bizzarely around the left side instead.
- Dangerous white water on the Towy as it reaches the junction with the Doethie, a place imaginatively known to canoeists as Junction Pool.
- Red kite over Troed-rhiw-ruddwen.
- The road ends at the Troed-rhiw-ruddwen farm. From there, continue along the track that leads along the top of the farmyard, up the Doethie valley.
- Craig Ddu.
- Buzzard at Craig Ddu.
- A stream on the other side of the valley drops for 100 metres down waterfalls and cascades.
- At most, they appear to be only 10 metres tall though, and they are separated by significant sections of stream. As a result, I do not count these as a multi-tiered waterfall.
- Mouth of the Pysgotwr Gorge, at its junction with the Doethie.
- The lower Doethie.
- Stay on the track as it crosses the Doethie, then turns right and begins to climb steeply up its side.
- Small waterfall (about 7 metres tall) on the far side.
- The Doethie valley, looking like the Highlands. From here, the track swings away from the Doethie, and runs over the moorland closer to the Pysgotwr.
- The largest part of the Pysgotwr Gorge, looking from the top of Craig Pysgotwr towards Cribyn Du. At this point, the gorge is between 200 and 220 metres deep, and about 500 metres wide. It runs for around 2 km along the Afon Pysgotwr.
- Crossing the Cefn Cnwcheithinog moorland (434 metres max). In the distance on the left is Bryn Brawd (484 metres), while on the right are the stream branches and moorlands around the upper Doethie valley.
- Standing stone on Cefn Cnwcheithinog.
- Cairn with the huge skull of a horse - it's about 75 cm (2' 6") long.
- Distant view of Drygarn Fawr (645 metres), the tallest of the mountains around the Elan Valley.
- When the track swings right and begins to descend into the Pysgotwr Fawr valley, it's time to leave it and head into the valleys. On the left is the forested top of Pen-y-raglan-wynt (423 metres) and in the distance is Bryn Brawd. The low ridge in the middle is Hafod Las (385 metres), separating the Pysgotwr Fach and Pysgotwr Fawr rivers.
- Tree in the Pysgotwr Fawr valley.
- Pysgotwr Fawr. Sadly, the ground here is very unpleasant, with marshy water hiding under the grass.
- The target is the junction of the two rivers. There is no place where the entire junction can be viewed properly, but it would be possible (though monotonous) to approach through the Pen-y-raglan-wynt forest from Pwll Uffern-Gothi, to get an alternative view.
- The first waterfall on the Pysgotwr Fawr is marked as Pwll Uffern on the 1:25'000 map. The name means either Hell's Pool or Hell Pit. In this case, it most likely means the latter, referring to the entire junction, as this one waterfall pales into insignificance next to the drama of the rest of the junction.
- Some white water later...
- The river crashes down some powerful cascades to the junction. There is no good viewpoint on this side of the river, but the gorge is too dangerous to attempt to descend to a better viewpoint.
- Meanwhile, the Pysgotwr Fach also splashes down a cascade, at most a couple of metres high, but very pretty.
- Followed immediately by a waterslide dropping about 8 metres to the junction, making it the tallest of the Pwll Uffern waterfalls.
- The combined river then drops down a powerful little waterfall into the head of the gorge.
- Upper end of the Pysgotwr Gorge. This is the shallower end of the gorge, at about 150 metres deep.
- Small streams dropping down relatively big drops into the gorge. Though they hang cleanly, the slope is too steep to walk behind the waterfalls.
- Waterfalls in the Pysgotwr Gorge.
- I made the mistake of crossing the moorland back to the path. The entire thing is a marsh known as Cors Pwll-y-ci. The thicker patches of grass may be enough to support your weight, but anywhere else is water. Ugh.
- Distant view of the Black Mountain; Fan Hir, Fan Brycheiniog, Picws Du (749 metres) and Waun Lefrith (677 metres).
- A fox track (I think) on the way back. Long may it continue to evade those hunters.
- Reflections of the evening light on the Dothie.
Nant Ystalwyn Waterfall
Located near Nant-ystalwyn in the upper Towy valley, upstream of the Llyn Brianne reservoir, where the narrow lane servicing the valley finally leaves the valley, and heads over to Tregaron.
- Narrow part of the Towy valley.
- Dam holding back Llyn Brianne. At 91 metres tall, this is currently the tallest dam in the UK, and apparently also the World's largest clay-core dam. Some structural engineer somewhere is going all gooey over that tidbit.
- Finally I passed some magic barrier, and the previous dustings of snow were replaced with a proper coating, that the flow of off-roaders had not managed to turn into slush. It was nicely clear wherever it had caught the morning sunshine, but that still left plenty of snowy roads.
- Superb view over Llyn Brianne and the Tywi Forest. From here, the snow got thicker - still only between 1 and 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm), as the road turned tight corners, climbing and dropping on either side.
- Beautiful. Note the melt line on the trees, showing where the sunlight had reached.
- Since the reservoir, I had chosen to follow an off-roader (the pointless type that takes children along the city roads to school and can't park properly in car parks), since their 4 wheeled drive and huge tyres would test the conditions before I got there - well of course, nobody here ever has snow tyres or snow chains. However, another one going in the opposite direction appropriately put them off continuing with their route over the steep hills. Not wanting to turn back, I continued in my small car, with its tiny wheels and front-wheeled drive, boldly going where the off-roaders fear to drive. <Muhahaha!/>
- Upper Towy valley over Dolgoch. At the nearby Nantyrhwch, I was finally faced with an icy slope to a junction that was too much, so I decided to walk the last km. Turned out to be a good idea, since even if I had got up to the junction, the next slope down was sheet ice, and I would not have been able to get back up it if I had gone down it.
- One local with a proper off-road truck sped up the side road to Abergwesyn, kicking the snow around, and making it to the top only because I had waved them through the junction so they could keep up their speed. This hill is a 20% (1 in 5) slope, but on the other side, it drops at 25% to 33% (1 in 4, to 1 in 3). Good luck.
- Continuing up the Towy valley, a track splits off on the right, which then splits again, with the track to the left heading to Nant-ystalwyn. The track to the right climbs up to the waterfall.
- Nant Ystalwyn Waterfall. It's not massive, probably only about 10 metres high for the main fall, but it's pretty enough, and a feature of the area.
- Ice under the waterfall.
- Looking back to Nantyrhwch, where I had left the car, highlighting the contrast between the green fields and white slopes.
- Sunset at Llyn Brianne.
Dwfr Ddisgynfa Cwm-du
One of only two waterfalls in West Wales whose name appears on the 1:25'000 map. It is located in the Gwaun Valley, near Fishguard, surrounded by Mynydd Preseli, in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. The Gwaun Valley has a micro-community; they follow the Julian Calendar, celebrating the New Year 12 days after everyone else, and they appear to have their own variation of the Welsh language, which shows up in the name of the waterfall as a less common variation of the word "water", and a tongue-twisting mutation on the second word.
Despite the main walk being along a fairly simple path, viewing the waterfall requires far more effort and ability. There is no easy route to this waterfall, and there is no proper viewpoint. It is very easy to fall down it if approached from above - take great care.
- Snow on the Preseli range; Cnwc (427 metres), Foel Cwmcerwyn (536 metres - tallest in the range), Foel Feddau (467 metres), Carn Siân (402 metres) and Foel Drych (368 metres).
- And from the other side; Frenni Fawr (395 metres), Foel Drygarn (363 metres), Carn Menyn (365 metres), Carn Siân, Foel Feddau and Foel Cwmcerwyn's Pen Cisty ridge (489 metres).
- Carn Ingli crags (347 metres), the top of Mynydd Carningli.
- Pentre Ifan, an impressive Neolithic portal dolmen near Brynberian, and the best preserved in Wales. This surpasses the famous Irish Poulnabrone in almost all respects. It is a similar age (around 5500 years old), 5.1 metres long, and over 2 metres high to the base of the slab. The slab is estimated at 16 tonnes. This compares with Poulnabrone's 3.7 metre length, and 1.8 metre height to the base of the slab, which weighs around 9 tonnes. The design of Petre Ifan is also very different, with 3 razor thin stone supports, holding the slab in a tripod formation. Finally, it also has far fewer visitors, and does not have restrictions that prevent visitors from getting close to it.
- The front of the tomb, showing two of the supports and the doorway, as well as the surrounding facade stones that lined the edge of the mound of stones that once covered the tomb. The mound has been weathered away over the last few thousand years.
- A small part of a hugh flock of starlings at Trewern, near Felindre Farchog.
- Approaching Cilgwyn at the head of the Gwaun Valley, between Mynydd Carningli and Carnedd Meibion-Owen (244 metres). Fachongle Isaf, the farm of the late self-sufficiency pioneer John Seymour, lies at the foot of the forested ridge on the left of this picture. Much of the Cilgwyn community is made up of his extended family and followers, who continue to try to follow his self-sufficiency principles.
- The main road down the Gwaun Valley. We were lucky - a couple of weeks earlier, the roads had suffered from 2 metre snowdrifts.
- Upper Gwaun Valley at Llanerch.
- The middle of the Gwaun Valley.
- At Cwm Bach.
- Park on the roadside near the Dan Coed farm, and walk up the track to the farm.
- Just before the farm, a gate on the left reaches a ford and footbridge over the Afon Cwmau.
- Follow the track on the other side as it swings right and climbs up the side of the valley. Stay with it as it passes a track sloping down to the right.
- Shortly afterwards, a signpost points down a deteriorating path to a bridge over the stream.
- Bridge over the Afon Cwmau. From here, you have a choice; if you want to visit the waterfalls, the safest approach is to follow the right bank downstream. If you just want to walk the safer path without viewing the waterfalls, continue over the bridge, turning right at the junction beyond it.
- Cascade just below the bridge.
- Allt Hendy. This is a private field, and is lined by a fence. You will need to get around the fence to remain on the right bank of the stream.
- Cascade on the Cwmau.
- A second cascade, marked on the 1:25'000 map.
- Only a little further downstream is the top of Dwfr Ddisgynfa Cwm-du. This 3.5 metre waterfall may be viewed with care from above, on the right bank (when looking downstream). The name translates approximately to "the place where water descends in the black valley".
- Immediately below it is the main 6 metre waterfall. This is best avoided for now - do not try to get to where I took this picture from; it is far too exposed.
- Nicola (in blue) made her way downstream on the left bank, clinging to a very steep slope above the waterfall. I hope this picture will convey the precipitous nature of that route, and be enough to discourage you from following it.
- Below the main waterfall is this 8 metre tall cascade. There is a slope that can be used to descend to the base of this, where it is also possible to see the main waterfall above it. The total height of the waterfalls adds up to a little less than 20 metres.
- Return to the path above the left bank. The safest way to do this is to return firstly up to the bridge, and then cross the river there to regain the path, turning right at the junction on the other side of the bridge.
- At the next junction of the paths (near the end of the little Cwm-du valley), turn right, heading down through the forest towards the farm. Turn right at a junction at the bottom, to arrive back by the lower footbridge.
- Grumpy-looking Welsh Black calf.
- Foel Eryr (468 metres), the last major hill in the Preseli range.
- Mynydd Carningli.
- Nearly sunset by Maenclochog.
- Rainbow near Llanddewi Velfrey.
- Found; end of two rainbows. Wanted; two pots of gold.